As we near the end of 2011 and look to 2012, we need to remind ourselves of the overall strategic purpose of our engagement in the Middle East. Our main goal remains a just and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, building a viable and democratic Palestinian state living side by side with Israel, in peace and security.
Regrettably, the changes we have witnessed across the Middle East this year has been in stark contrast with the lack of progress in the search for durable peace between Israel and Palestine. It is in this stagnant political context in which the Palestinian people, in particular Palestine refugees, find themselves. However, the refugee question can only end, when a just and durable political solution is agreed upon by the parties. We therefore urge the parties to resume negotiations on the final status issues, and finding a solution to the refugee question.
These are the guiding principles and the backdrop against which all our efforts should be calibrated. In this context, UNRWA’s commitment to protect and support the Palestine refugees is necessary and also essential in the search for a negotiated political solution. Furthermore, UNRWA’s contribution towards our common goal for the Palestine refugees has been a significant contributor in making Palestine ready for statehood. We therefore need a strong UNRWA in the years to come.
Although considerable progress has been made by the Agency the last years, the structural challenges facing UNRWA remain the same: The refugee population grows annually by 2.4 percent, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Increased funding by the traditional donors matching this increase is less likely.
Last week the Advisory Commission met in Jordan for its semi-annual meeting. Donors, host countries and UNRWA shared important views and ideas as to how to meet the challenges facing UNRWA, including implementation of the Sustaining Change reform process, further resource mobilization as well as management reform. In order to enable UNRWA to deliver high quality services according to the rights of refugees in years to come, three issues need to be addressed.
First: The long-term solution to the financial challenges lies not within the Advisory Commission. Today, close to 90 percent of the General Fund is covered by contributions from the top 10 members of the Commission. The donor base must be further enhanced. Norway has over the last years engaged in UNRWA’s efforts to attract new donors. We commend UNRWA for its new Resource Mobilization Strategy, and welcome new contributions from Arab countries and other new donors. In particular, we encourage new donors to support UNRWA’s core budgets. In addition, we reiterate that it is our joint responsibility as members of the UN General Assembly to ensure that UNRWA becomes more properly funded over the UN regular budgets. It is due 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. In this regard we look forward to a positive outcome of the ongoing negotiations in the 5th Committee.
Second: The structural challenges facing UNRWA underscores the need to push through and implement the reforms already initiated by the Agency. We should stay focused on the continuing reforms through the “Sustaining Change”, and we commend UNRWA for their Relief and Social Service Reform plans. We advise UNRWA to move forward with this reform program, in close cooperation with host countries, in particular the move from food to cash as a social transfer to alleviate poverty for Palestine refugees. In this regard it is essential that UNRWA continues to make improvements in its economic management – which have been necessary. The basis on which resources are allocated should be clear and transparent.
Third: We commend increased cooperation between UNRWA and the host countries with regard to service delivery. Parallel systems for service provision should be avoided as they increase the overall costs. Integration of host country services in the refugee camps, such as electricity and water, are valuable contributions. An important further step would be to look for synergies in closer cooperation between UNRWA and other UN agencies, as well as with the Palestinian Authority. As donors, we have a particular responsibility to ensure that our collective contributions are spent in the most cost-effective way as possible, towards our common goals.
Through our regular contribution to the Agency’s General Fund and other contributions to specific programs, Norway reached a level of approximately 30 million dollars in support of UNRWA this year. This high level of contribution reflects Norway’s trust in UNRWA. Next year’s budget is still pending a final approval by the Parliament, but Norway expects to be able to maintain a similar high level of financial support of UNRWA in 2012.