United Nations Seminar on Assistance to Palestinian People

Palestinian Panelists Prevented by Israel from Leaving Palestine to Participate

The U.N. Seminar on Assistance to Palestinian People was convened from 20-21 February 2001 at the U.N. Office at Vienna, Austria. The Seminar was a success despite the Israeli closure and restrictions imposed on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which prevented Palestinian panelists from traveling to Vienna to participate in the Seminar.

The Assistance Seminar was organized by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) for the purpose of reviewing the state of the Palestinian economy and examining efforts being under taken by governments and intergovernmental and civil society organizations to alleviate the current humanitarian emergency of Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. While focusing on the deteriorating situation on the ground, the Seminar also looked at the overall detrimental effects of the occupation on the Palestinian economy and its long-term prospects. Ways of mobilizing support for the attainment of the legitimate economic rights of the Palestinian people as an integral contribution to the broader goal of building peace in the region were also discussed.

In organizing the Seminar, the CEIRPP invited the participation of high-level officials, expert panelists, and representatives of governments, U.N. agencies, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Regrettably, for the reasons indicated above, senior officials from the Palestinian Authority, as well as representatives of several Palestinian NGOs, were prevented from attending the meeting. Seminar participants were thus deprived of the first-hand experience and evaluations of the Palestinian representatives concerning the prevailing economic situation. Such evaluations would clearly have been valuable in examining and coordinating assistance efforts at a time of severe economic crisis and daily hardships affecting the entire population of the Occupied Territory due to the ongoing Israeli military campaign, closures, and economic siege. Taking into consideration the absence of those panelists, the Seminar was reorganized to convene one and half days, rather than two full days. Moreover, the CEIRPP issued a statement expressing regret that the Palestinian panelists were prevented from participating, denouncing the closures and urging the Israeli government to desist from such illegal practices.

The Seminarís opening session began with a statement by the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Mr. Kieran Prendergast, who spoke on behalf of the U.N. Secretary-General. Stressing the seriousness of the situation in the Occupied Territory, he stated, "The dramatic upheavals of the past several months and the tragic loss of life have underlined the urgency of reaching a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine." Opening remarks were also made by, among others, Mr. Albert Rohan, Secretary-General of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on behalf of the host country, Ambassador Ibra Ka, Chairman of the CEIRPP, and Mr. Faisal Aweidah, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the U.N. in Vienna.

In his statement, Mr. Rohan emphasized, inter alia, the important role of the U.N. in the peace process and also spoke about Austriaís focus on development cooperation in assisting the Palestinian people. Ambassador Ka stressed that, although the focus should be long-term development of the Palestinian economy, the protracted hardship and violence had a disastrous effect on the Palestinian economy and living conditions of the Palestinian people and clearly affected immediate goals. As such, he stated that now the Palestinian people were forced to struggle for their daily survival rather than work towards long-term development and prosperity.

Four different panel discussions were convened following the opening. Panel I was entitled "The Crises of 2000-2001: The impact of Israeli policies on the Palestinian economy". The keynote presentation was made by the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the U.N., Ambassador Nasser Al-Kidwa, speaking instead of the Minister for Economy and Trade of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Maher Masri, who was unable to attend for the above-mentioned reasons. Ambassador Al-Kidwa focused on the crisis situation that Palestinians were facing at the hands of Israel, the occupying Power. He urged the international community to take clear political positions towards halting Israelís illegal policies and practices. He also stated that international protection for Palestinian civilians was a necessary prerequisite for stability and any improvement in the poor socioeconomic conditions of the Palestinian people.

Panel II was entitled "The role of the United Nations system: Assessments and efforts to alleviate hardships". Speakers in the panel included high-level officials of the U.N. system organizations operating in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip such as representatives of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Panel III, "Assistance by Arab States and intergovernmental organizations to the Palestinian people", included participants representing, inter alia, the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Islamic Development Bank. The last panel, "Efforts by international donors and other sectors of the international community to alleviate the economic hardships of the Palestinian people", was addressed by representatives of donor countries as well as IGOs and NGOs, including the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The closing session was addressed, inter alia, by the CEIRPP Chairman and a representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union (EU) presidency, who emphasized that the crisis situation in the Occupied Territory required political action by the EU and other actors. In this regard, he stated that the EU had called upon Israel to end its collective punishment against Palestinians, lift the closures, ensure unrestricted humanitarian access, lift restrictions on the clearance of goods for humanitarian and development assistance and fulfill its obligations to the Palestinian Authority regarding the Value Added Tax and customs payments. He also concurred with previous speakers, stating that ending the violence and promoting stability were essential elements in improving the economic situation of the Palestinian people.