The effects of the coronavirus are deeply felt in the Middle East. The pandemic and its social and economic repercussions are exacerbating already dire humanitarian crises, and threatening to create new ones.
On April 3, Norway issued a statement in our capacity as Chair of the International Donor Group to Palestine, the AHLC. The statement, which was drafted in consultation with the parties and key donors, called for increased budget assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA), as well as funding of its efforts together with those of the UN to combat the pandemic.
The coronavirus crisis puts unprecedented strains on the already fragile Palestinian economy and on the PA’s operating ability. In 2020, the fiscal gap after projected international donor support could exceed one billion USD. Unless properly addressed, the crisis may paralyse Palestinian institutions, thereby undermining the goal of achieving a negotiated two-state solution.
Norway welcomes last month’s emergency transfer of clearance revenues from Israel. We urge the parties to further stabilise the budget of the PA by agreeing on fixed and predictable transfers of revenues. Furthermore, we urge the PA to continue to deliver basic services to the Palestinian population, and to adopt emergency measures to reduce monthly spending. Preserving the fiscal viability of the PA is vital to the well-being of Palestinians and Israelis alike.
A major COVID-19 outbreak in the densely populated Gaza strip would be catastrophic for its people who have been struggling through a humanitarian crisis for years. Life-saving medical equipment and essential supplies must be provided to Gaza. Norway encourages the PA to continue to carry out its responsibility of supporting Gaza’s health care system. We also encourage Israel to continue to facilitate the movement and access of goods and people to and from Gaza.
The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that unilateral steps to address common challenges will fall short of meeting the needs of the moment. In this context, Norway commends the constructive and effective cooperation that Israel and Palestine have already established to respond to the pandemic and to limit its economic repercussions.
It is our hope that through jointly overcoming this extraordinary crisis, some much-needed impetus can be brought to the overarching goal of achieving a negotiated two-state solution. On June 2, Norway will convene the AHLC donor group at ministerial level in VTC format to further discuss these challenges.
The current crisis again underscores the critical role of UNRWA, which supports the basic health care needs of millions of Palestine refugees in the region. UNRWA continues to do so both in these challenging circumstances, and in the face of the most severe financial crisis in its history. Norway commends UNRWA’s efforts to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, including in Gaza, and calls on donors to increase their funding to the agency.
Norway remains deeply concerned about Israel’s continued settlement activities, as well as more far-reaching plans for unilateral annexations. Such actions are in contravention of international law, and undermine the feasibility of the two-state solution. We are also concerned about recent reports of Israeli attacks on Gaza fishermen and that house demolitions, forced evictions and settler violence in the West Bank seem to have continued.
Now more than ever, we need to swap mistrust and animosity for solidarity and collaboration. Norway supports the UN Secretary-General’s appeal for a global ceasefire during the coronavirus pandemic.
Moreover, Norway stresses that economic sanctions imposed on countries should not prevent access to food and essential health supplies, which will be vital in the Middle East and beyond in this time of crisis. We also encourage the application of humanitarian exceptions where appropriate.
Global threats require global responses. We are all affected by the current crisis, and no country or region can resolve it alone.