As we near the end of 2010 and look to 2011, a year that might constitute a critical juncture in the Middle East peace process, we need to remind ourselves of the overall strategic purpose of our engagement in the Middle East. I think I speak for all when I say that the main goal with the financial and political capital we are investing the Middle East is laying the foundation for peace, ending the conflict, and building a Palestinian state. That is our guiding principle and the backdrop against which all our efforts should be calibrated.
UNRWA is an essential component of that strategy. It is our view that the potential of a nation rests on its population’s ability to pursue their hopes and aspirations and that the foundation for a better future is laid in classrooms and health clinics. That is why I would like to yet again stress the need for a more integrated approach where our resources are directed towards this common goal. An underfunded UNRWA is not only a threat to the organization and the recipients of its services. It is a threat to the credibility of the peace process itself.
Last week the Advisory Commission met in Jordan for its semi-annual meeting. Donors, hosts and UNRWA came to the table with important and useful views and ideas as to how to meet the challenges UNRWA faces. Two contextual issues are striking;
First; even if there was a comprehensive peace agreement signed tomorrow, an interim period would ensue in which the status of refugees would be resolved according to agreed principles. During this interim period, lasting for as long as 15 years some experts claim, UNRWA’s assistance and service provision would need to continue. We therefore need a strong UNRWA in the years to come.
Second; Palestine refugees have rights to services and rights to be protected. These rights constitute the foundation of UNRWA itself. With a growing refugee population the demand for UNRWA’s services also increases. The purpose of making UNRWA more efficient is to enable the organization of providing services of higher quality and to protect Palestine refugee’s rights properly. We do not see the principles of the rights of the refugees and that of providing high quality and effective services to the refugee population as contradictory rather we see them as complementary.
In order to reach that goal of an UNRWA able to deliver high quality services according to the rights of refugees and to do so in years to come, three issues need to be explored further:
First, how can we optimize UNRWA’s relations with stakeholders and partners? Closer coordination with other UN agencies and humanitarian and development actors and improved cooperation and coordination with the PA and host countries is needed.
Second, how do we move effectively to find a way of coordinating service delivery between host countries and the UNRWA without compromising the rights of refugees? Parallel systems for service provision have little added value and increase the overall costs. Integration of host country services in the refugee camps, such as electricity and water, are already valuable contributions.
Third, how do we reform the organization to improve the effectiveness of UNRWA and the quality of services? Reform of the organization is necessary and urgent, and should be, an ongoing process. “Sustaining Change” gives us a comprehensive plan for how to continue the reform efforts from where the OD-process so far has taken us. But for donors the concrete results from reforms, in terms of contribution to closing the budget gaps, is important. Building on the improvements in financial procedures and reporting from last year we need to work together with UNRWA for further increased transparency in the budgeting procedures. This will also enable us to argue that UNRWA is delivering services in a most cost-effective manner.
In order to maintain a stable and predictable environment for Palestinian refugees, progress on all these three fronts is necessary.
Let me end by returning to my introductory remark, our shared goal. As donors we have a particular responsibility to ensure that our contributions are spent in the most efficient way possible towards that common goal. It simply makes no sense if some organizations are over-funded, while others, equally important to achieving that goal, remain chronically underfunded.
Through our regular contribution to the agency’s General Fund and other contributions to specific programs and appeals, Norway has reached a record level of 36.7 million dollars in support of UNRWA this year. The level of contribution reflects Norway’s trust in, and support of UNRWA. Norway will maintain a high level on our financial support for UNRWA in the year to come.
Finally, Norway looks forward to the release of the Secretary General’s report on strengthening the management capacity of UNRWA early next year. In our view it is time for the General Assembly to reconsider the adequacy of the financial arrangements it made for UNRWA in 1974 by expanding the scope of funding provided by the UN’s regular budget to also pay for some Headquarters functions and new management expenditures.
Since this is the last official meeting for UNRWA’s director in New York, Mr. Andrew Whitley, we would like to take this opportunity to thank him warmly for his commitments and for being a trustworthy advocate for Palestine refugees and UNRWA during the last years. We wish him good luck in his new assignment and look forward to work closely with his replacement.