Linda Hindi
The Jordan Times
February 21, 2008 - 7:24pm

Delegates attending a UN conference yesterday stressed economic reform as the key for stability in the occupied territories and the basis for building a foundation for a viable two-state solution.

But they added that sustainable growth cannot be achieved without a political settlement.

These concerns were at the centre of discussions during a two-day United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People. The meeting, which concluded on Wednesday, sought to highlight deplorable living conditions for Palestinians and encourage countries to support Palestinian economic reform.

More than 50 countries participated in the talks led by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. Participants called on Israel to remove checkpoints, freeze settlements and permit free movement of goods as some of the conditions crucial for peace.

The committee was established in 1975 to focus on basic rights to independence, sovereignty and rights of return.

UN agency experts, who live among Palestinians, provided testimonies that chronicled living conditions for Palestinian residents. Rosemary Willey, the field coordinator for the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, described the impact of more than 500 checkpoints on more than 2.5 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel maintains that barriers and checkpoints are crucial for the safety of its citizens.

Mohammad Allaf, the Jordanian permanent representative to the UN, said the crucial issue is Palestinian borders are controlled by Israel.

"Without the control of border crossings resolved, Palestinians and their commodities cannot move freely and hope for economic recovery and stability will be futile,” Allaf told The Jordan Times.

He reiterated the Kingdom's unwavering support for the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

His Majesty King Abdullah has repeatedly insisted that a free Palestine is the key to peace in the Middle East, the diplomat said.

During an opening address on Tuesday, Nasser Judeh, acting foreign minister and minister of state for media affairs and communications, said: “Instead of barriers between populations being demolished, walls were constructed."

"Instead of movement being eased, barricades and checkpoints were set up. And instead of openness and cooperation, the policies of closure and blockade were applied."

Several officials who spoke with The Jordan Times referred to the “Oslo times” as a period that brimmed with hope. They stressed that, regrettably, the basic issues of food, fuel and electricity have returned to the forefront.

Roby Nathanson, general director for the Macro Centre for Political Economics in Tel Aviv, highlighted the positive effects that would follow a cooperative Israeli-Palestinian economy.

Friendly relations, according to Nathanson, could allow the GDP per capita to grow from around $1,000 to $2,000 within a few years, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and develop a sustainable export-oriented economy, while capitalising on tourism.

Nathanson was one of the four nongovernment participants who attended the UN seminar on their behalf. Although Israel is repeatedly invited to attend the seminars for Palestinians, the government and its UN representative never attend, a UN official said.

Ambassador Riyad Mansour, permanent observer of Palestine to the UN, told The Jordan Times that the UN seminar was important to further highlight the three-year Palestinian Economic and Reform and Development plan devised by the Palestinian Authority. He called on the international community to support the plan.


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