Cablegate: Unga Fourth Committee Debate On United Nations

Published: Tue 17 Nov 2009 07:20 PM
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1. SUMMARY: The UN General Assembly's Special Political and
Decolonization Committee (the Fourth Committee) held its
general debate on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on November
2 - 3. The Commissioner General of UNRWA opened the debate
with a report detailing the Agency's operations, reform, and
financing. The special rapporteur of the working group on
financing highlighted the shortfalls in the UNRWA operating
budget. Twenty six member states and two observer missions
spoke during the debate. There was unanimous praise of
UNRWA's work and multiple calls for more funding for the
agency. Arab states and the Palestinian Observer Mission
used the debate to accuse Israel of violating international
UNRWA Report on 2008 Operations
2. UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd stated that there
is a funding shortfall that UNRWA is at risk of suspending
essential services. A 12 million dollar shortfall would mean
that the agency could run out of money for salaries before
the end of the year. AbuZayd said that the "scale and
intensity of Israel's offensive (December 27, 2008) in Gaza
were unprecedented in the recent history of the conflict."
She noted that UNRWA had been active during the conflict in
providing relief services and is now attempting to rebuild UN
facilities and homes of the refugees, but is hampered by the
Israeli "blockade" of Gaza. AbuZayd described the West Bank
as a "shattered economic space" due to the separation
barrier. She noted that in Lebanon, UNRWA is working towards
the reconstruction of the Nahr El Bared camp and is working
with the Lebanese government to help the refugees.
3. AbuZayd discussed the reform of UNRWA's managerial
structure and functions. She stated that the decades of
inadequate resources have had an adverse effect on UNRWA's
management capacity, but the organizational development
process started in 2006 is yielding positive results. The
Commissioner-General stated that she would be retiring at the
end of 2009 after nine years with the agency.
4. In the interactive dialogue after the report of the
Commissioner-General, the Palestinian Observer, Syria, Egypt
and Lebanon spoke -- all praised the work of UNRWA and
attacked Israeli actions. The Palestinian Observer stated
that UNRWA allowed Palestinians to survive the "onslaught and
aggression" committed by Israel in Gaza and asked about
financial claims against Israel for UNRWA facilities
destroyed during the conflict. Lebanon, Syria and Egypt
noted the Israeli "blockade" of Gaza. The
Commissioner-General responded that they are still working
towards resolution of the compensation claims and that the
blockade, although legally not considered one even by UNRWA's
own legal advisor, hampers access of UNRWA staff and
materials and has significantly slowed services and
UNRWA report of Financing
5. The Special Rapporteur of the Working Group of the
Financing of UNRWA Andreas Lovold (Norway) noted that demand
for UNRWA's services continues to grow as while funding
remains static - creating a budget gap of 89 million for
2009. Norway has worked to increase funding from a broader
base of donors but the funding gap is projected to increase
to 116 million by 2011, unless a permanent solution for
funding UNRWA is found. He called on G-20 members to become
more involved and the Arab states to honor funding pledges.
He also advocated that more of UNRWA's funding come from UN
regular budgets, thus making funding more predictable and
equitably distributed.
General Debate Highlights
6. Palestinian Observer Mission: The Palestinian Deputy
Permanent Observer said that 4.7 million Palestinian refugees
and their descendants continue to be stateless. She
expressed hope for resolving the refugee problem in
accordance with international law and UN resolutions but
expressed doubt about the chances of that due to Israeli
action. The Palestinian delegate called for a rejection of
Israeli rhetoric denying responsibility for the plight of
Palestinian refugees. She stated that the Israel "military
onslaught" on December 2008 and its aftermath, particularly
the "immoral, inhumane, unlawful blockade" had gravely
impacted the Palestinian people. She noted that in December
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2008 Israeli forces destroyed the main UNRWA warehouse and UN
schools "where civilians were known to be sheltering." She
concluded by noting that the return of refugees is a core
final status issue - key to peace in the region.
7. Israel: Israel thanked UNRWA for its work and reiterated
support for its humanitarian mission. It noted that Israel
will continue to "do its utmost to facilitate UNRWA's
operations, subject to the upholding of its own security."
Israel criticized politicized statements by other delegations
whose governments are not engaged in supporting UNRWA in ways
that could improve the conditions of Palestinian refugees on
the ground. Israel called on UNRWA officials not to exceed
the humanitarian mission by becoming involved in activities
of a controversial political nature, stating that this
undermines its neutrality and harms its humanitarian role.
Israel noted that it was prevented from addressing the 60th
anniversary of UNRWA commemorative event. Israel noted that
the thousands of rockets fired at Israeli civilians from Gaza
and Hamas's placement of weapons in the midst of civilian
populations and near UN facilities deliberately endangered
civilians. Israel reiterated that its goal is to resolve the
refugee problem and continue negotiations, but that the
Palestinian Authority will not resume bilateral peace talks.
8. The Palestinian Observer Mission exercised a right of
reply to respond to Israel's statement saying that the
Palestinian delegate was "surprised by Israel's support of
UNRWA despite the restrictions on staff, destruction of
facilities and taxing of goods." The Palestinian delegate
also stated that Israel was not barred from the 60 year
anniversary of UNRWA, but chose not to participate as they
were not accorded a speaking role in line with the criteria
established by the UNRWA Advisory Commission.
9. Senior Area Advisor Laura Ross delivered the United States
statement, emphasizing that the US is the largest donor to
UNRWA, and supports the Palestinians, including refugees,
through USAID projects and direct budget assistance to the
Palestinian Authority. Ross noted the importance of UNRWA
focusing on the humanitarian principles of neutrality and
impartiality in its highly charged working environment in
order to fulfill its mandate. She said the US views UNRWA's
role as important in encouraging stability and moderation in
the region and promoting the human development of the
Palestinian refugees. Ross stated that the U.S. remains
concerned about the chronic shortfalls in UNRWA's budget and
their effect on UNRWA's ability to provide humanitarian
assistance, and accordingly asked states to redouble efforts
to secure funding for UNRWA.
10. Sweden (EU Presidency): The EU noted that UNRWA has
improved the living conditions and human dignity of millions
of Palestinian refugees and their communities over the last
60 years. It stated that the EU is the largest donor to
UNRWA, contributing over 60 percent of the budget. It
condemned the shelling of UNRWA facilities in Gaza during the
conflict and deplored the civilian casualties. It called for
the immediate and unconditional opening of the crossings for
the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to
and from Gaza.
11. Egypt (NAM chair): Egypt began by noting the inalienable
right of return and fair compensation for the Palestinian
people according to General Assembly Resolution 194. Egypt
expressed concerned with Israel's illegal occupation and
systematic violations to international humanitarian and human
rights law, and UN resolutions, citing in particular the
targeting of UNRWA's personnel and obstruction of General
Assembly-mandated activities. Egypt said living conditions,
particularly in Gaza, suffer as "a result of the continuing
punitive measures and blockade imposed by Israel and its
military aggression, which caused the death and injury of
thousands of Palestinians and widespread damage and
destruction to Palestinian civilian infrastructure and UN
facilities". Accordingly the NAM called for reconstruction
to begin immediately and the sustained and permanent opening
of Gaza's border crossings.
12. Lebanon and Syria: Lebanon noted that the fact that
Palestinian refugees had been uprooted from their homeland
and unable to return their homes for 60 years is more
important than the funding of UNRWA and must be the focus of
the international community. Lebanon stated that Israel is
fully responsible for the suffering of the Palestinian
refugees and the international community must hold "Israel
accountable to its obligations under international law,
including humanitarian law and human rights law." Lebanon
said that Israel should bear financial responsibility for the
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damages incurred by Israel's "deliberate attacks" on UNRWA
facilities, and condemned the "blockade" of Gaza and the
disruption of humanitarian access in the West Bank. It
welcomed UNRWA's commitment to organizational development
through the reform and strengthening of its management
structure and processes. Syria stated that Israel has flouted
all resolutions passed by the UN on the issue of refugees and
has prevented the application of resolution 184 by
introducing "alien settlers from all parts of the world, in
order to dominate the homes, territories, and country of the
Palestine people." Syria claimed that Israel turns a "deaf
ear" to established facts in United Nations reports such as
the Goldstone report and refuses to pay compensation for
bombarding UN buildings. Syria stated that it spent 150
million dollars in 2009 for education, social and health
services, food provisions and security for refugees.
13. The following additional countries spoke during the
debate: Cuba, South Africa, Switzerland, United Arab
Emirates, Qatar, Norway, Vietnam, Jordan, Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, Turkey, the Holy See, Mexico on behalf of the Rio
group, Senegal, Japan, Sudan, China, Morocco, India and
Australia. Australia condemned "all the Hamas actions that
deliberately endanger civilian lives." Norway stated that
the final status issue of right of return remains unsolved,
leaving millions in encampments with no end to their
situation in sight. It noted that even if a peace process
was established and a solution to the refugee issue found,
UNRWA services would be needed for at least another 15 years.
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