Governments at the 19th Session of the UN-Habitat Governing Council in 2003 adopted by consensus resolution 19/18 calling on UN-Habitat to establish a Special Human Settlements Programme for the Palestinian People (SHSPPP). The long-term development objective of the programme is to improve the human settlements conditions of the Palestinian people and in so doing contribute in a modest way to reaching peace, security and stability in the region. During the 23rd Governing Council in 2011, a new resolution 23/2 was adopted, requesting UN-Habitat “to further focus its operations on planning, land and housing issues in view of improving the housing and human settlement conditions of Palestinians, addressing the urbanization challenges, supporting the building of a Palestinian state, humanitarian action and peace-building, in the areas where there are acute humanitarian and development needs”.

Broadly speaking effective urbanisation is a choice, a human choice that is not achieved by chance but by design and political will. The positive outcomes of urbanisation depend largely on the quality of that design. And so there is the potential for urbanization to be a driver for sustainable development in the State of Palestine. But at the same time, there are well known challenges to doing so. It is hard to see how urbanization can foster development in Palestine where over 60% of the West Bank, known as Area C, is under a restrictive planning process that is discriminatory and not in conformity with international humanitarian and human rights law. Or in Gaza, where recurrent conflict has killed thousands of people, devastated the urban space, destroyed and damaged thousands of homes, and where reconstruction is proceeding too slowly. Or Jerusalem, where one city is divided by multiple growing inequalities.

Urbanization, as a positive force for development in Palestine, is a phenomenon significantly interrupted by the occupation. Yet, there is no development without urbanization, a fact we have to acknowledge against the long process of final political settlement leading to two States living side by side in peace and security. To be clear, the UN seeks a just resolution to issues including the demarcation of borders, Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem, water and natural resources, the Gaza blockade, and Palestinian refugees, together with affirmative actions to cease the destruction of Palestinian property.

UN-Habitat – as articulated through its recent analysis on East Jerusalem, Area C, and Gaza, and as echoed in the One UN Position Paper on Spatial Planning in Area C – believes there are practical measures that can be taken to foster sustainable urbanization for the State of Palestine, which in turn can improve the conditions for peace.

Central to UN Habitat’s perspective on urbanization is that spatial and urban planning must be used as a means for delivering human rights, not denying them. Hence, UN-Habitat considers the approval of the Master Plans that have been submitted by Palestinian communities for Area C to be an imperative step for implementation of an inclusive planning and zoning regime that will enable Palestinians’ residential and community development needs to be met across the entirety of the State of Palestine. For Gaza specifically, Israel must end the blockade to allow the cities to build back better through innovative and participatory urban planning approaches.

UN-Habitat is now playing a more substantive role in Palestine – leading debate on urbanization issues, supporting NGOs, government and private sector firms on planning, and informing advocacy efforts by the international community on planning and building rights for Palestinian communities in Area C and East Jerusalem. Its engagement in the occupied Palestinian territories is in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goal 11, “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” and it is mobilizing the territories towards the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) which will take place 2016 in Quito, Ecuador.

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