Expert Opinion

A refreshing UN seminar on the State of Palestine, but still no solutions in sight

Last month, I was in Rome attending the United Nation Seminar on Assistance to Palestinian People at the headquarters of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). This seminar was organised by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

The frankness of the representatives of the UN agencies and the engagement of the diplomats was a refreshing change, and was possibly a reflection of the increased openness to the idea of a State of Palestine.

Rather than tell some of the many compelling human interest stories that have come out of Palestine, the United Nation Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA)’s Robert Turner provided hard evidence to bring Palestine’s ability to subsist into question. He described how Gaza is being slowly pulled apart piece by piece; there is no clean drinking water, few building projects are granted permission by the Israel authorities, and plans for a much needed energy scheme and desalinisation plant look increasingly likely to fail.

Few concrete steps are taken to improve the lot of Palestinians

As I look back at this seminar I realise how much work still needs to be done to find durable solutions to the situation of displaced Palestinians. As the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Raquel Rolnik highlighted in her report on housing rights in Israel and the State of Palestine, the government is cutting housing subsidies in Israel while spending millions on illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, a policy that is now proving detrimental even to Israelis.

Israel has faced condemnation by the UN and the EU that claim  its actions violate the human rights of Palestinians and international humanitarian law. However, few concrete steps are taken to end these violations; no one is held accountable.

‘A nation of beggars’

Israel’s refusal to participate in the Universal Periodic Review process highlights the intransigence of the government. If it is not compelled to act now to find adequate, long-term solutions for Palestinians then the international community becomes,  complicit in turning the State of Palestine, as one opinion piece called it, into “a nation of beggars”.  (Read my previous blog, ‘Should the International Community Continue to Fund Rubble?’ for more on this).

The UN Human Rights Council’s regular review of Israel’s human rights record has been postponed but has to be reviewed before the end of 2013. In addition, the Fact Finding Mission on Settlements is due to be reviewed by the Human Rights Council on March 18th.   These key events will help determine whether the international community – in particular the countries that have been advocating for adherence to international law and principles – are either failing to live up to their responsibility, or are becoming a key part of the problem.

Learn more about internal displacement in Palestine here.