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Doc. 9054

23 April 2001

Middle East conflict


Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Rapporteur for opinion: Mr Aristotelis Pavlidis, Greece, EPP/CD

Conclusions of the committee

1.       The rapid deterioration of the economic, social, and health conditions of the populations in the Palestinian Territories requires a willingness by the parties to the conflict to avoid initiatives that serve only to further impoverish the living conditions of the civilian population. Israel, in particular, in view of its superior military and defence capabilities must refrain from responding disproportionately to attacks from the other side.

2.       The well documented economic and social consequences of Israeli closures of Palestinian towns and villages highlights the necessity of avoiding such measures, that only increase hostility and resentment among the civilian population. Restricted access to vital needs does not further the cause of peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

3.       The international community, and Europe in particular, must increase efforts to ensure that recent developments do not jeopardise the progress that has been achieved in the last few years. The respect of international conventions on human rights by both parties must be ensured and support, in particular, should be given to the UN Commission on Human Rights’ proposal for the establishment of an independent observer force to defuse the conflict and restore unrestricted access to health and social services.

4.       The committee draws attention to the deteriorating conditions of the refugee population, and in particular to the financial difficulties of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The destruction of local infrastructure and the economic difficulties of the Palestinian Authority have emphasised the importance of the agency as a provider of basic services that can only be delivered if it has a solid financial base. In the light of these difficulties, actions such as the recent Israeli shelling of a refugee camp in Gaza must be strongly condemned.

5.       The beneficial effects that unrestricted economic activity could have on the well-being of the Palestinian population highlights the fact that a viable peace cannot be achieved through force, and that security concerns, while of the utmost importance, cannot be put forward to excuse actions that threaten the livelihood of an entire population. In the light of this, a more flexible and non-rhetorical attitude is necessary.

1.       Introduction

6.       The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee would like to thank the Rapporteur of the Political Affairs Committee for his well documented report, based largely on a visit to Israel and the Palestine Territories that took place in March 2001.1 The visit was well timed, as the recent governmental change in Israel has resulted in a further escalation of the conflict that has worsened trends that had become evident months ago. Recent developments have further compromised the possibility of peace, and emphasised the urgency of addressing the social and economic consequences of the violence in the Palestinian Territories.

7.       The committee would like to stress the serious impact that the escalation of the conflict has had on the living conditions of the civilian population in the affected areas, and to join the Rapporteur of the Political Affairs Committee in his condemnation of the use of force to achieve national political objectives. Both parties to the conflict must reiterate their desire to arrive at a solution to the conflict and work towards achieving a future of peaceful coexistence. However, the absence of a solution must not be allowed to undermine the protection of basic human and social rights and respect for international law. No peace can be achieved if one side is denied the right to a dignified human existence.

8.       In this context it is worth quoting the words of an Israeli lawyer, a peace activist who represents Palestinians in the occupied territories: "Since 1994 [the year following the Oslo peace agreement], Palestinians have witnessed the influx of 50,000 new Jewish settlers into the occupied territories, the paving of more than 400 kilometers of roads on confiscated land, demolition of more than 800 Palestinian homes, a threefold increase in unemployment and a 17 percent decline in gross national product of the territories, the arrest of 13,000 Palestinians and complete curtailment of freedom of movement."2 Moreover, as the Rapporteur of the Political Affairs Committee rightly points out, Israel has withheld tax revenues due to the Palestinian Authority, and, as is well known, the vast majority of those killed and injured in the recent violence have been Palestinians.

2.       The Situation in the Middle East

2.1       Economic and Social Indicators

9.       The start of a new intifada in October 2000 and the subsequent response of the Israeli authorities have had a serious impact on the living conditions of the civilian population. The Israeli policy of territorial closures (13 large towns and 214 small towns have been partially or totally closed) has been the major cause of the deterioration of the economic and social environment in the Palestinian Territories. The destruction of local infrastructure (private property, agricultural land, water reservoirs) has exacerbated the problems created by movement restrictions, and the resulting decrease in income levels. According to the World Bank3, territorial closures result in a reduction of economic activity of approximately 50%, and UNRWA, in a statement in March 20014, notes that the Palestinian Authority loses approximately 8 to 12 million US dollars a day.

10.       The loss in economic activity has had a detrimental effect on the level of unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza. The Office of the UN Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories (UNSCO)5 estimated that the number of unemployed had reached 38% after four months of intifada (the level in September 2000 was 11%).

11.       Reduced economic activity and higher unemployment has affected the general well-being of the Palestinian population. The percentage of the population living below the poverty line in the West Bank and Gaza (set at 767 US dollars annually per person or 2.1 US dollars per day6) is set to rise to 43.8% by the end of 2001 (the level was 23.2% in 1998)7. The World Bank8 highlights the direct relation between access to the Israeli labour market by Palestinian workers and the level of poverty in the West Bank and Gaza.

12.       The recent discovery of extensive natural gas reserves off the Gaza Strip, in waters controlled by the Palestinian Authority, could provide a major boost to the Palestinian economy. Gas fields have also been discovered on Israel's side of the border, as well as in areas that seem to straddle Israeli and Palestinian waters.9

2.2       Health and well-being of the civilian population

13.       The territorial closures imposed by the Israeli authorities, in restricting the freedom of movement of civilians in the West Bank and Gaza, have inevitably affected the access to and distribution of medical services. According to the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute (HDIPI)10, the majority of primary health care centres (577 in total) have seen their activities "partially or totally" affected by the mobility restrictions. The Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC) notes11, in particular, that the rural population (68% of Palestinians) is without access to vital medical services, and highlights the paralysis of the vaccination system. The rapid deterioration in healthcare provision contrasts with the relatively good distribution of medical services during the pre-intifada period12.

14.       The destruction of local infrastructure, as a result of retaliatory Israeli attacks, has exacerbated the difficulties resulting from reduced economic activity and subsequent loss of income. According to HDIPI13, infectious outbreaks such as cholera are a possibility, and so it is important that measures be taken to alleviate the distress caused by the current situation.

15.       The psychological impact of the conflict on the civilian population in the West Bank and Gaza should not be underestimated. A survey by Bir Zeit University14 showed that 75% of those interviewed were suffering from "psychological and emotional difficulties".

2.3        Refugees

16.       The activities of UNRWA have been severely affected by the territorial closures, and the progress achieved in literacy, vocational training and health standards in the refugee camps risks being reversed15. Mobility restrictions have limited UNRWA’s operations and vital medical and logistical supplies have been prevented from reaching key areas16. One of the consequences has been the documented increase of non-communicable diseases.

17.       An area of serious concern is the deteriorating financial situation of UNRWA, which has resulted in increased appeals to the international community (in particular Europe and the Arab states) for economic aid. Whereas the agency was annually spending 200 dollars per refugee in the 1970’s, it is currently spending 70, and finds itself with a debt of 65 million US dollars17. At a time when a greater proportion of the registered refugee population than ever before18 is receiving assistance from the agency, it is of the utmost importance that UNRWA should be able to continue its work.

3.       Proposed Amendments

18.       The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee proposes the following amendments to the Draft Resolution of the Political Affairs Committee on the Middle East Conflict (Doc. 9032).

Amendment No. 1

      In the draft resolution, section A, add after sub-paragraph iii, a new sub-paragraph worded as follows:

Amendment No. 2

      In the draft resolution, section A sub-paragraph iv, add the words:

Amendment No. 3

      In the draft resolution, section B, add after sub-paragraph iii a new sub-paragraph worded as follows:

Amendment No. 4

      In the draft resolution, section C, add a new sub-paragraph worded as follows:

      "to set up a Fund for the compensation of the Palestinian refugees, in co-operation with the United Nations and the parties to the conflict;"

Amendment No. 5

      In the draft resolution, after section C, add a new section worded as follows:

      "Calls upon the Government of the United States of America:

      to pursue its peace efforts in the Middle East and, in particular, use its considerable influence with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority in support of the recommendations addressed to them in sections A and B above;"

Amendment No. 6

      In the draft resolution, section E, add after sub-paragraph ii, a new sub-paragraph worded as follows:

Amendment No. 7

      In the draft resolution, after section E, add a new section worded as follows:

      "Calls upon the Parliaments of the Council of Europe member States:

      to support the "Conference of Young Parliamentarians from the eastern Mediterranean region", which is organised by the International Institute for Democracy (Council of Europe and European Parliament) every two years in Rhodes, since 1997, with the participation of representatives of the parties to the Middle East conflict."

Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee (Doc. 9032)

Committee for opinion: Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee

Reference to committee: Doc. 7755, and Ref. 2165, 19.3.97

Opinion approved by the committee on 23 April 2001

Secretaries to the committee: Mr Newman, Mrs Meunier and Mrs Karanjac

1 Your Rapporteur strongly regrets that his request to accompany the delegation of the Sub-Committee on the Middle East on its visit was denied.

2 A. Pacheco, International Herald Tribune, 6 October 2000.

3 World Bank, Poverty in the West Bank and Gaza, January 2001

4 Transcript of Press Briefing by M. P. Hansen, Commissioner General, UNRWA, Geneva 06/03/2001

5 UNSCO, The Impact on the Palestinian Economy of Confrontations, Mobility Restrictions and Border Closures, 1 October 2000 – 31 January 2001

6 The Palestinian National Commission for Poverty Alleviation, Report 1998

7 World Bank, op. cit.

8 World Bank, op. cit.

9 Energy Information Administration, Report on Israel, October 2000, eia website.

10 Health Care under Siege II, February 2001

11 Urgent Appeal, 12/03/2001

12 World Bank, op. cit.

13 op. cit.

14 The Impact of the Israeli-imposed Siege on Palestinian Living Conditions, Bir Zeit University Development Studies Programme, 19/02/2001.

15 Press Briefing by the Commissioner General UNRWA, Geneva, 06/03/2001.

16 ibid.

17 ibid.

18 UNSCO, op. cit.