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    25 March 2010

    United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People Assesses Palestinian Authority Programme for Ending Occupation and Establishing the State

    Participation of civil society urged

    (Received from a UN Information Officer)

    VIENNA, 25 March (UN Information Service) - The second plenary meeting of the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People heard a panel of experts assess in detail the Palestinian Authority's Programme entitled "Palestine: Ending the occupation, establishing the State" and address such themes as gender equality in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as economic independence and the role of civil society in building an independent State.

    The two-day Seminar under the theme "Building institutions and moving forward with establishing the State of Palestine" was organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and aimed at raising the profile of and garnering support for the Palestinian Authority's Programme.

    A Palestinian expert on gender and human rights issues, Suhair Azzouni, explained the current position of women in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, who were subject to different regulations regarding citizenship, heritage, marriage, work and residency in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and addressed such issues as violence against women and women's participation in the decision-making process of the future Palestinian State.

    Geoff Prewitt, a representative of the United Nations Development Programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, noted some weaknesses in the Palestinian Authority as it was functioning in a hostile environment of occupation and dealing with a divided population, geographically and politically.

    Two experts with an economic background, Mohammed Samhouri and Yousef Daoud, assessed the Palestinian Programme for state-building and ending the occupation, pointing to various challenges among which the blockade on Gaza and the continued Israeli occupation were most important.

    Jamal Zakout, Special Adviser to the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister and Head of the Civil Society and Media Units at the Prime Minister's Office, stressed the necessity of civil society participation in building institutions and gaining independence, saying that the Programme was also intended to build up the population's resilience to the "settlement mentality" of the Israelis.

    Husam Zomlot, Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, addressed State-building from a more theoretical and historical point of view, highlighting the unique circumstance in which the Palestinian Authority was trying to achieve statehood.

    The representative of Cuba made a statement in her national capacity.

    Plenary Two

    Before experts started their presentations, the opportunity was given to Government representatives to speak in their national capacity, if they had not been able to do so during the opening session on the previous day.

    NORMA M. GOICOCHEA ESTENOZ (Cuba) said the Cuban people had always taken a clear and unambiguous stand of support for the struggle of the Palestinian people and for an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. She condemned the Gaza blockade, as well as Israel's decision to establish new settlements, which undermined any chance for negotiations to succeed. She also deplored the "dividing wall of shame".

    She said there was a lack of political will to work towards a solution. Full implementation of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions was required. Paying tribute to the staff of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), she said UNRWA should be supported through an increased regular budget. Israel should also compensate that body for the damages it suffered as a result of Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip.

    SUHAIR AZZOUNI, a Palestinian expert on gender and human rights issues, said that women and many men in the Occupied Palestinian Territory aspired towards a democratic State characterized by a culture of social justice, where men, women, boys and girls would enjoy equal citizenship rights and opportunities in both the public and private spheres. The present Palestinian Authority had committed itself to gender equality and to building a State that would treat men and women equally. Such commitment required working at three levels: enactment of gender equality laws; enforcement of those laws through the creation of gender-friendly structures; and the transformation of restrictive cultural norms and traditions. The Palestinian Basic Law -- the constitution until the establishment of the State - regarded Palestinians as equal before the law and the judiciary, without distinction based upon race, sex, colour, religion, political views or disability, she said.

    She said that women did not yet have equal nationality rights as men, as the nationality rights of Palestinians remained covered by laws and regulations valid before 1967, namely the Jordanian Nationality Code in the West Bank and the Egyptian Nationality Code in the Gaza Strip. Both denied the right of women to pass their nationality to their spouse or children. Palestinian women from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip who married Palestinians with Israeli citizenship faced difficulty in transferring citizenship to their family members. Israeli law prohibited Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territory who were married to Israeli citizens or permanent residents from receiving Israeli citizenship or residency.

    Palestinians in Jerusalem faced harsh measures aimed at evicting them, she said. After 1967, Jerusalemites were regarded by Israel as mere residents and were required to have Israeli residence cards. Thousands of those cards had been confiscated. Those measures, combined with family fragmentation, house demolitions, and destruction of agricultural land, as well as restrictions on movement, the right to education and work, affected women and violated the fourth Geneva Convention. Building the future State of Palestine entailed ensuring that Palestinian women and men of Jerusalem preserved their right to residency, movement and nationality. To ensure those rights required international bodies such as the United Nations and States Parties to the Geneva Conventions to act immediately to stop Israeli violations of basic human rights of Palestinian Jerusalemites.

    She said that the future Palestinian State should also safeguard the social rights of Palestinian women, including the rights governing marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody of children, as Muslim women in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, were still subjected to the Jordanian Personal Status Law of 1976 and the unmodified 1954 Law of Family Rights of Egypt. Palestinian Christian women were governed by laws established by their respective churches. A family law must be introduced that would ensure equality, equity and justice, and women should be able to receive the rightful share of their inheritance. They should also be well protected by the law against all forms of violence.

    As for violence against women, she said that in 2006, 25 per cent of unmarried women over the age of 18 had been physically abused and 53 per cent psychologically abused. During the first two months of 2010, 16 cases of honour killings had been registered in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Domestic violence was not prohibited by law. There was an urgent need to enact a law on the protection of women against family violence and a modification of the Penal Code.

    She noted that the role of Palestinian women in society had not been adequately reflected in the various decision-making circles. Women constituted only 7.5 per cent of the Palestinian National Council and 4 per cent of its Executive Committee, for instance. Building a future democratic Palestinian State characterized by a culture of social equity entailed empowering women and enabling them to participate effectively in political decision-making. Various considerations such as education, fertility rates, the economic participation of women, and the repercussions of the Israeli occupation also took their toll on the advancement of women.

    The Israeli occupation and its various suppressive measures, including the killing or imprisonment of spouses and sons, increased the vulnerability of women and forced them to work in jobs with little pay. In 2007, 8 per cent of households were headed by women, 65 per cent of which were among the poorest. She recommended that the future Palestinian State aim to improve the economic participation of women and increase their participation in economic decision-making, as well as protect them from all forms of discrimination in the work place. A strategy for mainstreaming gender issues in economic-related ministries would also result in an increase of the female labour participation rate.

    GEOFF PREWITT, the Team Leader for Governance and Poverty Reduction, as well as the Senior Governance Advisor, for the Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that although the conditions of occupation were intolerable, it was important to be self-critical and to look inward when considering how statehood could be brought about. Although building Palestinian Authority institutions did need to be a priority for a stable State-building agenda, support should also be considered for full and equal collaboration with other Palestinian actors.

    He said that good governance extended beyond the monopoly of formal Government institutions. The dynamic in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was complex and required more nuanced and de-centralized mechanisms of response. From UNDP's view, governance was understood as a vibrant and responsive process to address a broad spectrum of issues, among which were the creation of representative and transparent public institutions, civil society engagement, and broad consensus-building within society. Governance in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was marred by a lack of autonomy brought about the occupation. In the face of that and of crises such as in Gaza, the restoration of good governance was often considered secondary to ensuring that basic needs were met. The combination of external impediments and internal uncertainties such as fragmentation and limited civic engagement had led to a governance dilemma.

    One of the dilemmas was that the tenuous representation and weakened capacity of the Palestinian Authority was destabilizing the legitimacy of Government authority and action; that was worsened by Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip and full Israeli control over security, planning and construction in Area C, he said. A second dilemma was that uncoordinated aid resources had diluted hard political decisions and had not necessarily led to the type of support required for public institution-building. The political economy of donor assistance revealed a "perverse paradox" whereby the prolongation of the occupation generated increasing external assistance with limited progress toward peace and statehood.

    The internal political differences in Government and the geographical split within the Occupied Palestinian Territory had resulted in continued social fragmentation and a growing cultural polarization, which constituted a third dilemma. The fourth dilemma involved limited channels for public participation, and the questionable identity of civil society organizations such as trade unions and cooperatives diminishing the possibilities for a genuine pluralistic society.

    He stressed that to repair the governance dilemmas, key messages could be pursued through forums such as the Seminar. A constructive and honest dialogue based on self-reflections should be pursued, which would sincerely address vulnerabilities. That would require political will, partnerships, courage in foreign aid application and forums for public discourse. Strengthening relations between the State and its citizens was a sound investment in better policy-making and planning as well as a core element of good governance. In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, it would contribute to building public trust and raise the overall quality of democracy and a pluralistic society.

    Despite their commitment to State-building, donors often shied away from difficult political issues - including the occupation - and confined their governance programming to technical issues. There was a tendency to provide small scale support for stand-alone projects rather than addressing comprehensive reform packages. To address that matter would require more consistent, better-targeted, and untied aid in accordance with the Paris Declaration. The unified account might be one such way of providing financial support. One must work closely with senior civil servant teams and rely less on external advisors because advisors left and civil servants remained and represented the sustainability of any new system. An overwhelming focus should be placed, moreover, on sectors that would support all Palestinians.

    The occupation did not excuse the fact that there were numerous internal dynamics within the Occupied Palestinian Territory that continued to weaken the judicial sector, including fragmented jurisdictions and blurred mandates, absence of a fully functioning legislature, different legal frameworks in the West Bank and Gaza, and restricted access to justice at the local and grassroots levels. The Palestinian Authority, in partnership with the international community, should therefore continue to invest comprehensively in the entire justice system. Fulfilling justice did not only mean dealing with laws and legal professionals but also making the population understand what their legal rights and obligations were.

    MOHAMMED SAMHOURI, an economist and former Senior Economic Adviser to the Palestinian Authority, said the publication of the Programme, "Ending the occupation, establishing the Palestinian State," represented a turning point in the Palestinians' long search for independence and self determination. For the first time in its history, the Palestinian Authority had laid out the foundations for a competent, efficient and effective public sector in preparation for statehood. A list of national goals had been presented as well as a detailed list of actions for their implementation. The objective was to build a strong and competent public Palestine within two years in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

    In assessing the plan, he said that on the technical front, the Palestinian Authority seemed to be standing on sound ground. The Authority was not starting its work from scratch as it had managed in the past to build public institutions that were in many ways comparable to those of its neighbouring countries. Reforms had continued from 2002 onward with various degrees of success.

    Public sector building did not necessarily mean success, especially if the governing body was operating in a hostile environment. The question was whether such a public sector could function in the context of the continued occupation. The international community should act beyond financial support and engage in a political role that could speedily end the occupation. The continued division in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was another factor. The continued fragmentation could lead to leaving Gaza behind in the implementation of the Programme, even though unity was one of the plan's national goals.

    YOUSEF DAOUD, member of the Faculty of Economics at Birzeit University in the West Bank, said that although he would focus on the three basic elements of a competent, efficient and effective public sector regarding the plan for building institutions of the Palestinian Authority, they were difficult to measure as the provision of public goods did not have a market value. The overriding goal of the State-building plan was to get rid of the occupation. Restoration of national unity was one of its main targets. The plan was based on the principles that settlements were a major impediment to peace talks. State-building emphasized the equitable and effective provision of pubic goods; independence of the judiciary; separation of powers; and shelter, education, security and health as basic rights.

    In the area of governance, the State-building plan stipulated that efficiency and effectiveness of institutions must be improved in line with transparency, accountability and separation of power. The restructuring of the security apparatus must be finalized. Expenditure control and expanding the tax base was necessary to achieve fiscal stability.

    There were basic criteria by which inefficiency of the public sector could be measured, including overstaffing and lack of "rigors of competition". Criteria for effectiveness included: defining goals in advance; cost consideration; and provision of services in a timely manner. Criteria for competency of the public sector included: transparency; education of public sector workers; and repercussions for misconduct.

    Turning to the financial stability of the Palestinian Authority, he said there seemed to be a negative relationship between grants and income from customs. When custom income was down, donor contributions increased. That was a source of instability as there was heavy dependency on foreign sources for financing the budget. Moreover, the budget deficit stood now at 40 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) - whereas that rate in Greece at the moment was 11 per cent. Domestic revenues were not sufficient to pay for civil servant salaries. If donors would refuse to pay for the deficit, the governing body would shut down. The private sector was regressing as well.

    Also, the more educated work force was hired by the public sector but paid lower than in the private sector, he said. That sent a message that there was no value in getting an education. Moreover, where spending per capita on security increased 75 per cent from 2004, spending for education only increased 60 per cent.

    In an assessment of the plan, he said that ending the occupation was a necessary condition as the Palestinian Authority was unable to function without sufficient policy tools. There was a need for technical training, organization enhancement, and international support, as well as a need to increase the resilience of the people. International support was needed to increase job creation, and the Palestinian Authority must put more emphasis on education.

    JAMAL ZAKOUT, Special Adviser to the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister and Head of the Civil Society and Media Units at the Prime Minister's Office, said the issue of building institutions together with ending occupation were not contradictory, but were part and parcel of the plan of the Palestinian Authority -- the so-called Fayyad Plan. However, institution-building in itself would not end occupation. To that end, the international community should do all it was capable of.

    Institution-building could also not be done by the Palestinian Authority alone, he said. To that end, all resources should be mobilized. One of the main objectives was to rebuild the private sector and civil society institutions. Civil society in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had had a distinctive role before 1994 in providing basic services to Palestinians. After 1994, the establishment of the Palestinian Authority had given rise to a somewhat unhealthy relationship between itself and civil society. Also, the collapse of the political process in 2000 had changed the character of the situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory. The military occupation had led to the deterioration of civil society and the Palestinian Authority had to act in that context.

    He stressed that institution-building could not be de-linked from ending the occupation and that it could not be de-linked from the need to rally all forces of civil society. The Palestinian Authority could not be the sole player. Success in ending the occupation required enhancement of basic resources, which entailed setting up modern and efficient institutions that provided basic services in a transparent way. The partnership between the private and public sector that had been built over the last three years had been a qualitative leap. However, because of Israeli obstacles, Palestinians had not been able to tap all available resources.

    The main achievements in security and law and order, especially in the West Bank, had not transformed into a political process that would end Israeli incursions. He noted that Israel dealt with Area C, which covered 60 per cent of the West Bank, as if it were one of the permanent status issues, and it considered Area C as a vital space to expand its settlements. Israeli restrictions should be lifted in order to promote investments in that area. The Palestinian Authority Programme spoke clearly about the right to resist occupation but also considered the building of settlements and the disputed areas a denial of the population's access to resources.

    The plan intended to unleash the capacities of the Palestinians by reinforcing their peaceful resistance, an absolute right under international law. Building institutions was also a form of peaceful resistance. Israel, through its actions, had shown that passive resistance was now prohibited as well. The Palestinian Authority wanted to create a direct partnership with civil society to mobilize peaceful resistance.

    HUSAM ZOMLOT, a Research Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, said that generally, State-building followed the successful conclusion of conflict, where post-conflict reconstruction was a physical exercise and the absence of war would lead to institution-building. The concept of establishing viable institutions had started in the nineties, and there had been a mushrooming of State-building in conflict zones. The Palestinians were not the only ones to receive State-building support. Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo had also gone through the process of working towards statehood. The difference was that, regarding the Occupied Palestinian Territory, there was no peace agreement and the political space for a Palestinian State had not yet carved.

    He said that, during the last two years, there had been a gradual increase in the Palestinian Authority's performance. The population's trust in the Palestinian Authority was being re-established. That would increase its bargaining power with Israel. The State-building agenda had enabled Palestinians to regain the initiative and channel the population into a positive and proactive campaign. It deprived the Israelis of their two excuses, namely a lack of security and lack of leadership By establishing a timeline of two years, the plan had started the clock ticking.

    The Palestinian Authority and its bold initiative, however, faced serious challenges that were not technical nor financial. The Palestinian Authority initiative was operating in the most hostile environment. Its immediate challenge came from Israel. Another challenge involved Palestinians' political and popular approval. The Palestinian Authority must do much to gain support for its State-building agenda among the main factions, in particular in Gaza and the diaspora. The Palestinian Authority's legitimacy would not only be derived from its institutions but by the degree that it performed its function, and its main function was to end the occupation.

    Lifting Israel's siege on Gaza was the most urgent impediment to State-building. Also, elections must be held as soon as possible in order to arrive at a legitimate political system. As for the international community, he said it should no longer help parties to reach agreement as the long-held assumption that the two-State solution was in Israel's interest was not accurate. A more sensible strategy for donors, in addition to institutional support, was to support enabling conditions for the Palestinian economy and polity with a focus on empowerment, coping strategies and the provision for not only institutional and economic efficiency but also for resilience.

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