UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described the Gaza Strip as a “constant humanitarian emergency” and said he was “extremely concerned” about the financial cuts made to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.” The humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza remains dire,” Guterres said in remarks at the opening of the 2018 session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
“The United Nations Country Team in Palestine has predicted that Gaza will become unlivable by 2020, unless concrete action is taken to improve basic services and infrastructure,” he said on Monday.
“Yet Gaza remains squeezed by crippling closures and a state of constant humanitarian emergency. Two million Palestinians are struggling everyday with crumbling infrastructure, an electricity crisis, a lack of basic services, chronic unemployment and a paralysed economy. All of this is taking place amid an unfolding environmental disaster,” he added.
Guterres also in his speech lamented the recent cuts made to the UNRWA following US President Donald Trump’s decision last month to withhold funds from the programme.
“I am extremely concerned that the latest shortfall in UNRWA’s funding will gravely impair the agency’s ability to deliver on its mandate and preserve critical services such as education and health care for Palestine refugees,” the secretary-general said.
“At stake is the human security, rights and dignity of the five million Palestine refugees across the Middle East. But also at stake is the stability of the entire region which may be affected if UNRWA is unable to continue to provide vital services to the Palestine refugee population, both across the occupied Palestinian territory and in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.”
“[I] appeal to the generosity of the international community not to let that happen,” he added.
The United States said this month it would withhold $65million (Dh238.6 million) of $125m it had planned to send to UNRWA, amid worsening bilateral relations between Washington and the Palestinians that followed Trump’s decision in December to recognise occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Gueterres also told the committee that the international community “must face reality” and acknowledge that “the potential to create an irreversible one-state reality that is incompatible with realizing the legitimate national, historic and democratic aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians” is fast approaching.
“Ongoing ...[colony] construction and expansion in the occupied West Bank, including [occupied] East Jerusalem, is illegal under UN resolutions and international law. It is a major obstacle to peace and it must be halted and reversed,” Gutteres said, adding “Violence and incitement continue to fuel a climate of fear and mistrust.”
Guterres also said the global consensus for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel “could be eroding,” even as the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza worsens and might make the Palestinian enclave “unlivable by 2020.” Guterres criticised Israel for its construction of colonies and expansion in the occupied West Bank, including Occupied east Jerusalem, saying they are illegal under UN resolutions and international law. “It is a major obstacle to peace and it must be halted and reversed,” he said, adding that “violence and incitement continue to fuel a climate of fear and mistrust.” The secretary-general reiterated his stance that both Israel and an eventual Palestinian state could claim occupied Jerusalem as their capital, but did not comment on US President Donald Trump’s announced intention to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem by the end of 2019.