The United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People took place at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome on 27 and 28 February 2013. It was organized by the United Nations Division for Palestinian Rights.
Mahmoud Elkhafif, Coordinator of UNCTAD's Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit, delivered an address on 28 February summarizing some of the main findings of UNCTAD's most recent report to its Trade and Development Board on the organization's assistance to the Palestinian people.
Mr. Elkhafif said that the prolonged occupation had led to a serious erosion of Palestinian productive capacity, with high rates of unemployment in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), falling productivity, and shrinking real wages. He also cited fiscal hardships endured by the Palestinian Authority, declining donor support, rising poverty levels, and severe economic restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation. The recently observed high economic growth rates in the OPT were therefore deceptive, he said.
Mr. Elkhafif told the meeting that the strategically important agriculture sector was practically under siege, and yet only about 1 per cent of donor assistance to the OPT was earmarked for agriculture. Since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, more than 2.5 million productive trees had been uprooted and more than 10 per cent of the OPT's most fertile land had been lost. Also contributing to agricultural decline was the confiscation by Israel of some 82 per cent of the ground water in the OPT, he added.
Mr. Elkhafif reported that the Palestinian fishing industry in Gaza was collapsing, and that the OPT's olive industry was deteriorating as a result of the loss of land, trees and water.
He said that UNCTAD urged the international community to scale up its assistance to the Palestinian agricultural sector and recommended that more attention be given to "linking relief to development" initiatives. Attention should also be given to programmes to replant uprooted trees; to provide training, credit and insurance to farmers; and to subsidize critical factors of production to make up for the scarcity of fertilizers due to an Israeli ban. Mr. Elkhafif said that UNCTAD was also calling for the establishment of a non-profit public agricultural credit bank.
"One olive tree lost is one livelihood lost," he told the meeting.