In this giving season, UN launches largest-ever appeal for Palestinian aid

As holiday shoppers crowd the stores, and Geneva familes order their foie gras and oysters and lobsters for the fetes (holidays), the United Nations is asking us not to forget the needy in Palestine.

“Two-thirds of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are now living in poverty”, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Kevin Kennedy said, noting that children make up about half of the population of some 4 million, according to the UN Department for Public Information (DPI).

UN’s DPI is reporting that “The United Nations and its partners today launched their largest ever appeal for emergency aid to the occupied Palestinian territory — more than $453 million to help address a rapidly deteriorating situation after donors cut off funds to the Government when Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist, won elections earlier this year. The rapid deterioration is linked with the fiscal crisis facing the Palestinian Authority that has been unable to pay its 160,000 staff, who support another 1 million family members. In addition, Palestinians are subject to increasing restrictions on their freedom of movement through Israeli security measures, limiting their access to jobs, markets, health services and schools. After Hamas, which is dedicated Israel’s destruction, won elections in January, Israel stopped handing over tax and customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, and international donors suspended direct aid, calling on Hamas to commit to non-violence, recognize Israel and accept previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The UN News Centre story is here. =

The UN emergency Appeal was made by twelve UN agencies together with 14 NGOs operating in the occupied Palestinian territory. For more information please contact: Chris Gunness, UNSCO, 054-5-627-825, Allegra Pacheco OCHA â 0545-627-848, Juliette Touma, 054-81-555-46, Judith Harel, 054-6600-582; Johan Eriksson, UNRWA, 054-240-2632.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also appealed from Geneva today for some one billion Swiss francs (nearly one billion US dollars) to “meet humanitarian challenges in 2007”.

While Palestine will be the third most absorptive location for UN assistance, after Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it will come in second in the ICRC list of operational priorities — also after Sudan, but before Iraq.

The ICRC is earmarking some 71 million swiss francs (nearly $70 million dollars), for what it calls “Israel, the Occupied and Autonomous Palestinian Territories”.

However, the ICRC was careful, in launching its appeal on Thursday, to distinguish its approach from that of, say, the United Nations:

“Combining political, military, social and humanitarian objectives and activities within an overall crisis response is an ongoing trend and has become an inherent feature of many contexts today. Most often it takes the form of integrated or multidisciplinary UN missions or State-run stabilization campaigns. The ICRC has made it clear that it cannot be part of such an integrated approach, although it has reaffirmed that it will continue to coordinate its activities proactively with all humanitarian actors concerned. The reason for this stance is that the ICRC has a responsibility to act in all situations of armed conflict and violence. Such situations are by definition highly sensitive, and to fulfil its role, the ICRC needs to build acceptance by and seek dialogue with all actors influencing or directly involved in a given conflict. While other actors have complex mandates and diverse agendas, which may include political and constitutional reform, social change and economic transformation, the ICRC works with the actors and realities as they are on the ground. The ICRC in particular insists on dialogue with all parties to armed conflicts in order to reach and improve the lives of those most in need. To be able to do this, the ICRC must be — and must be seen to be — neutral and independent. Neutrality must be understood here as a deliberate decision not to take sides in a conflict and to keep its action distinct from the political or military agenda of any one actor. By the same token, the ICRC will continue to attach importance to bilateral and confidential dialogue in the conduct of its operations.” The ICRC appeal — with its explanation of how the ICRC is guarding its neutrality — is here.

The problem with both these appeals, however, is that they essentially aim to rebuild or replace what earlier humanitarian donations have put into place, only to see smashed and destroyed in subsequent Israeli Defense Force operations in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). While donors last year indicated that they were growing tired of underwriting Israel’s destructive rampages, the scale of the humanitarian and political crisis in the oPt is of such dimensions that the money-raisers are rushing back in to help lower the pressure.

The pity is that the Palestinian national movement has been reduced to an insistent demand to have salaries paid in the oPt. Of course, Palestinians need to live — something which is often given secondary importance and little consequence. But, still forgotten are the other half of the Palestinian people, who live in exile outside — including many still living precariously in refugee camps in surrounding “host countries”.

Of course, it is probably far less threating and much more palatable to have Palestinian leaders demanding the payment of salaries, instead of their rights, including an independent State.

Is UN about to backtrack on Lebanese border?

The UN should never have gotten into the business of demarcating borders.

The first time was after Iraq had confirmed its surrender by accepting UN Security Council Resolution 687, following its August 1990 invasion of Kuwait and its expulsion by the U.S.-led Desert Storm coalition in April 1991. Under the terms of that resolution, the UN demarcated the Iraq-Kuwait border, possibly laying the groundwork for a future conflict.

The second time the UN got into this boundary demarcation business was after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 — but at the time the UNSG very pointedly stated that the Organization was “not engaged in a border demarcation exercise”.

The UN said they were just trying to determine the line behind which Israel must withdraw On 16 June 2000.

UNSG Kofi Annan reported to the Security Council that he was “in a position to confirm that Israeli forces have withdrawn from Lebanon in compliance with resolution 425 (1978)”.

To do this, of course, Kofi Annan had to know more or less what the frontier was, between Lebanon and Israel.

And there, he ran into difficulty.

To overcome the problem, the SG proposed that the line separating the UNIFIL (UN Peacekeeping force in Lebanon) area of operations from that of the UN Disengagement Observer force (UNDOF) operating in the Golan Heights “be adopted for the purpose of confirming Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon”.

After an exercise involving cartographers, engineers, and painting stones and other markers with “UN blue” paint, this withdrawal line is now known as the “blue line”.

A little patch of territory along the Syrian-Lebanese borders, known as the Shebaa Farms, had meanwhile become a big problem.

The United Nations determined that the Shebaa Farms region was territory that belonged to Syria, and put it within UNDOF’s Golan Heights zone.

The United Nations did so despite the claims by both Lebanon and Syria — although to varying degrees, it has to be admitted –that this bit of territory is in fact Lebanese.

The UN’s high-handed actions, based on a certain amount of exasperation with Syria, had something to do with the conflict that broke out last summer between Hizbullah and Israel, and the Israeli attack on Lebanon in July and August.

There was more than a little diplomatic sniggering, both in 2000, and again this past summer, that Syria was just slyly throwing a wrench into the works in order to advance its own interests, and using Lebanon in the process — and that Lebanon was not strong enough to stand up for itself.

But, in a revised balance-of-power calculation, there is some indication that the UN might now be preparing to consider some diplomatic adjustment. But Kofi Annan is being very cautious — and it now appears that this might not happen on his watch, before his term of office comes to an end at midnight on 31 December.

Kofi Annan explained in 2000 that no international boundary agreement has been concluded between Lebanon and Syria, and that his decision was based on a post-World War I deal between colonial powers Britain and France, that adjusted the border between the mandates they operated in the Middle East. (In this deal, Britain gave a small piece of its Palestine Mandate to France’s Syrian Mandate, in exchange for France’s acquiescence in Britain’s “administrative” separation of Transjordan from Palestine.)

Kofi Annan noted that the 1923 British-French deal was reaffirmed in the Israeli-Lebanese General Armistice Agreement signed on 23 March 1949, which was designed to settle the fighting that broke out upon Britain’s withdrawal from Palestine and Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948.

In the June 1967 war, however, Israeli Forces overran the Syrian Golan Heights, and then, in a fit of pique in 1980, Israel announced it had annexed the Golan Heights — but the UN has declared this annexation, which would mean the illegitimate acquisition of territory by force, null and void.

So, the particular issue here is that if Shebaa farms were Lebanese, Israel would have had to withdraw, and the UN would have to confirm Israel’s withdrawal.

If it is Syrian, well, then Israel can just stay put in the Shebaa farms until there is some movement in the non-existent Israel-Syrian peace process.

For Israel, the Shebaa farms (which Israelis call the Mount Dov region, named after an IDF officer killed while Israel was constructing roads to what it called a permanent post there), on the slopes of Mount Hermon, is strategically important for Israel’s security because it dominates the water sources for the Jordan River (including the Hasbani River).

PLO forces operated against Israel from this region, until their expulsion from southern Lebanon in Israel’s 1982 invasion. More recently, Hizbollah has claimed that their resistance activities in southern Lebanon were legitimized by the continued Israeli occupation of this bit of Lebanese territory.

The cease-fire that was brokered in August to end Israel’s attack upon Lebanon, agreed in UN Security Council resolution, refers to a Lebanese Government “seven-point plan” on the Shebaa Farms, in which the Lebanese Government proposed putting the Shebaa farms area under UN jurisdiction.

Resolution 1701 asked the UNSG to develop proposals for demarcation of the boundary in areas that are disputed or uncertain, including the Shebaa farms. The SG’s proposals, which were to have been delivered within 30 days of the 14 August cease-fire, were delivered in a “status report” to the UN Security Council on Friday 1 December.

Reuters’ Senior UN Correspondent Evelyn Leopold reports that Annan told the Security Council that “he had sent a senior cartographer to review the material on the Shebaa Farms area, a strip of land occupied by Israel which Lebanon claims as its own but the United Nations says is part of Syria. He said he took ‘careful note’ but gave no recommendations on Lebanon’s proposal to put the Shebaa Farms under UN jurisdiction until a permanent border was delineated.”

Leopold also reports that “The secretary-general said that he continued to receive reports of illegal arms smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border but has been unable to verify them. Still, his envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, said earlier this month he had evidence of the smuggling but was unable to reveal his sources.”

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, however, reported last week in an article authored by Ze’ev Schiff that Israel was the source of intelligence information that UNIFIL acted on: “UNIFIL intelligence has led to the discovery of a number of Katyusha and ammunition dumps in south Lebanon, and their subsequent destruction… Israel is said to have been the source of the intelligence regarding the munitions dumps. The units involved in the searches are Belgian, Spanish and French.”

(Schiff added that “Despite this success, thousands of Katyusha rockets are still being hidden, especially in the larger villages in the Tyre region.” And he wrote that “Senior Israel Air Force officers met recently with the heads of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on the issue, and it was decided to establish an Israel-UNIFIL coordinating body.”)