PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES. Palestinian institutions have been so weakened by the crises, fiscal uncertainty and political divisions of recent years that they will have to be rebuilt and reformed if they are to lay the foundations of a credible future state, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told a meeting today of key donors to the Palestinian people.
Ban told the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which met at United Nations Headquarters in New York, that the efforts of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to draw up a comprehensive reform and development plan for the territory were a positive first step.
“The consolidation of security, justice and the rule of law are of immediate priority in this respect, and vital to build confidence among Palestinians and Israelis alike,” he said to the Committee, which serves as the main coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people.
Today’s meeting, which was attended by Dr Fayyad and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni among others, was held in part to help prepare for an international pledging conference slated to take place in December. Dr Fayyad’s development plan will serve as the basis for discussions at the conference.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who chaired the meeting, said the Committee reaffirmed its view that economic progress in the occupied Palestinian territory is an essential component to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Improved living conditions for the Palestinian people will facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said in a summary of the meeting. “Hence, the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the donors all have to take stronger action to ensure the economic revival necessary to improve the daily lives of the Palestinian population.”
Støre added that development assistance is not enough to create a sustainable economy or to deliver tangible results on the ground.
“Easing restrictions on movement and access is vital for the revival of the Palestinian economy. Israeli security concerns should be taken into account,” he said.
Committee members also stressed that the Palestinian Authority should implement policies with a view to enhancing governance, strengthening institutions and improving the security environment.
In his address Ban noted that the recently appointed Representative of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet, Tony Blair, has already started working with the parties to determine how best to strengthen the Palestinian economy and the institutions of Palestinian statehood.
“Only if the peace process rests on solid institutional and economic foundations does it have a chance of succeeding,” he said.
The UN Secretary General also voiced concern that the living conditions of a growing number of Palestinians are deteriorating.
“I am particularly concerned for the welfare for the ordinary people of Gaza, who find themselves and their goods increasingly cut off from the outside world,” he said, stressing that the world has a shared responsibility to help the population.
Ban said he was deeply concerned about “the de facto separation of the two parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, the efforts of Hamas to set up a competing government and the continuing violence and in and emanating from Gaza.”
Israel should take its own steps as well, he said, to encourage economic renewal. Access and movement for Palestinian workers and business operators and for commercial goods “will need to be eased as a matter of priority.”
Although Israel faced “continuing security threats which cannot be ignored,” Ban said a political solution was essential to providing the country with long-term security. “There are risks in taking action, but the risks of inaction at this time are far greater.”
Tony Blair, who briefed the Quartet – which comprises the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States – yesterday on the latest developments in the region, also addressed the Committee meeting today.
The Quartet issued a statement after yesterday’s meeting welcoming the international peace conference on the Middle East scheduled for Washington and calling for the talks there to be “substantive and serious.”
Ban described yesterday’s meeting as extremely productive and said the recently renewed dialogue between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has already yielded positive results.
He cited the resumption of tax and customs revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority and the resulting payment of full salaries to Palestinian public sector workers.
“We have a new opportunity to build a cycle of mutual confidence, one in which calm, moderation and growing trust have a chance to prevail,” Ban said.