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.
UN-Habitat’s main counterparts are the Ministry of Local Government, the National Spatial Plan Office at the Ministry of Planning and Administrative Development, (recently merged with the Ministry of Finance), the Ministry of Public Works and Housing as well as municipalities and local communities. UN-Habitat works closely with other UN Agencies in Palestine as well as local and international NGOs. Key donors are the Saudi Committee for the Palestinian People Relief, the Campaign of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for the Relief of the Palestinian People in Gaza, the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the European Commission, the World Bank, the Government of France, the Government of Belgium, the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).
Since 2003 UN-Habitat has supported the government and people of the State of Palestine through the Special Human Settlements Programme for the Palestinian People that was established to improve the human settlements conditions, with focus on spatial planning, land management and housing issues, 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.
The State of Palestine is an urbanized society with about 75 percent of its population living in urban areas. The urban development in the State of Palestine is faced with many challenges, especially the territorial and administrative fragmentation and financial constraints due to the rather weak rate of revenue collection, the ongoing political impasse between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a rather centralized governance system in place that is a result of years of occupation, and a stunted
economy that is dependent on the Israeli economy, since economic development could not grow beyond a specific structural level as it could not access critical inputs of natural resources and free transport of people and goods.
The high urban growth rate is accompanied by random spatial development, as cities and communities have expanded haphazardly, encroached on surrounding agricultural land, and suffer from poor infrastructure. Furthermore, there is an increasing demand for job opportunities, services and housing.
“We are pleased to engage with GLTN/UN-Habitat and learn about the possibility to support our efforts in land registration in Area C of the West Bank"
Mr. Musa Shkarna, Head of Land and Water Settlement Commission in the State of Palestine
Donors and partners
The success of our work in the State of Palestine is based on solid partnerships that we enjoy with the national government institutions, academia, private companies, and local authorities. Through the programme, UN-Habitat identifies and mobilises diverse local partners who can contribute to fostering resilience and tenure security and achieve sustainable development. Furthermore, the Special Human Settlements Programme for the Palestinian People cooperates closely with different forums, including the Global Land Tool Network, Global Public space Programme, amongst others.