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Key Palestinian Relief Agency Lives On as UNRWA Extension Passes, Despite US’ Accusations of Misconduct

Photos taken from UNRWA refugee shelters, school and mosque in Rafah, Gaza in 2009. The U.N. recently passed the UNRWA extension.
Photos taken from UNRWA refugee shelters, school and mosque in Rafah, Gaza in 2009. (Photo: ISM Palestine, Flickr)

“Today’s vote indicates that the U.N.R.W.A. plays a major role in serving millions of Palestinian refugees and that the latest U.S.’ stance against such a vital U.N. organ is being rejected by majority of world nations.”

In a sign of support for the Palestinian cause, an overwhelming majority of member states of the United Nations voted on Friday in favor of extending the mandate of a key U.N. Palestine relief agency, known as the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (U.N.R.W.A.), until 2023. The U.N.R.W.A. extension came after accusations of misconduct at the agency by both the United States and Israel and the U.S.’ withdrawal of financial support for the agency.

Despite the U.S.’ accusations, Friday’s vote passed with the support of 170 member states, and with seven absentee votes and two rejections from the U.S. and Israel. The U.N.R.W.A.’s extension will be for another three years, instead of one as had been earlier suggested by the United States.

UNRWA Extension Celebrated as Sign of Support for Palestine

The resolution uses strong language in support of the Palestinian cause, stating that the U.N. is “expressing grave concern at the especially difficult situation of the Palestine refugees under occupation, including with regard to their safety, well-being and socioeconomic living conditions.”

The Palestinian News Agency (WAFA) reported that the U.N.R.W.A. extension was welcomed widely by the Palestinian leadership, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian dignitaries and officials.

“We would like to say that the UN’s vote on the extension of UNRWA’s mandate constitutes a support for the Palestinian people’s inalienable rights that would pave the way for the realization of those rights, in line with UN’s relevant resolutions,” President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad Almalki was quoted by WAFA as commenting that the U.N.R.W.A. extension reiterates the international community’s commitment to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, which was established some 70 years ago.

Commenting for Citizen Truth over the mandate’s extension, Mr. Omar Sha’ban, Director of the Gaza-based Pal-Think Institution for Strategic Studies, called the vote a rejection of the U.S. opposition to the U.N.R.W.A.

“Today’s vote indicates that the U.N.R.W.A. plays a major role in serving millions of Palestinian refugees and that the latest U.S.’ stance against such a vital U.N. organ is being rejected by majority of world nations,” Sha’ban told Citizen Truth.

Sha’ban added that recent corruption allegations against the U.N.R.W.A. should be tackled in a professional way “like in any other organization that may happen to be accused of misconduct.”

Meanwhile, the Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) celebrated the U.N.R.W.A. extension with the head of the P.L.O.’s Department of Public Policy calling it a “resounding victory of international law and justice.”

Accusations of Misconduct at UNRWA

Over the past several months, the U.N.R.W.A. has come under harsh criticism from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump calling it “irredeemably flawed” and accusing it of financial mismanagement. Additionally, in late 2018, President Trump, who signed a decree in May of 2018 declaring the occupied Arab-Palestinian east Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel, ordered the U.S. to cut off its yearly financial support of the U.N.R.W.A.

The U.S. has been the U.N.R.W.A.’s single largest financial donor providing approximately 30% of its annual budget. In 2017, the U.S. donated $364 million to the agency.

The allegations against the U.N.R.W.A. led to the resignation of the organization’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, who resigned while an internal U.N.R.W.A.-run probe was in progress.

The internal probe began in March of this year but in July parts of the confidential internal report were leaked to Al Jazeera. The 10-page document cited “credible and corroborated reports” that members of an “inner circle” at the top of the U.N.R.W.A. engaged in “abuses of authority for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives”.

Much of the report’s findings centered on Krahenbuhl’s personal conduct and a relationship with a senior female staff member which the report described as going “beyond the professional.”

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Following the leak of the internal report, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland also suspended donations to the U.N.R.W.A.

Israel Responds to UNRWA Extension

The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, harshly condemned Friday’s vote in support of the U.N.R.W.A. extension and accused the agency of teaching Palestinian children to hate Jews.

“The votes today show that the U.N. is not interested in resolving the refugee issue or creating conditions for peace,” Danon told the Jerusalem Post.

“U.N.R.W.A. remains a corrupt and ineffective organization that teaches generations of Palestinian children to hate Jews and denies Israel’s right to exist.

“There is no reason why the U.N. has a refugee agency dedicated solely to the Palestinians. U.N.R.W.A. is not interested in resettling Palestinian refugees but in extending its existence to undermine and threaten Israel’s sovereignty. Instead of extending its mandate, U.N.R.W.A. should be voted out of existence,” Danon added.

Palestine Rejects New US and Israel Peace Plans

Both the United States and Israel have proposed a new arrangement for peace under terms outlined in what the Trump administration billed the “Deal of the Century.” The deal, however, offers only economic solutions for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without offering a political solution. Palestinians have rejected the notion of an economic solution without a corresponding political solution.

In June of last year, the Trump administration spearheaded an international economic conference in Bahrain and offered $50 billion for economic development across the West Bank and Gaza Strip but not occupied East Jerusalem. Palestinians vehemently rejected the offer and boycotted the conference.

Human Rights Watch called the plan a “sideshow” and accused it of failing to address the issues that keep Palestinians “disempowered” and “unable to unlock their potential.”

“The plan fails to address the most significant barrier to economic development: Israeli abuses of Palestinians’ human rights.” wrote Human Rights Watch.

Trump’s Deal of the Century is a departure from the support for a two-state solution held by previous U.S.’ administrations.

What is the UNRWA?

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency was established in 1949 following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict and one year after 700,000 Palestinian inhabitants were displaced as a result of the war.

The U.N.R.W.A. is considered to be the main service provider for approximately 5 million Palestinian refugees in the Near East, including the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Among the services provided by the U.N.R.W.A. are food rations, education, health and sanitation. Over the past decade, the U.N.R.W.A. has encountered frequent financial deficits, the latest and severest occurred after President Trump cut off the U.S.’ annual financial contributions to the agency.

More than 1.2 million Palestinian refugees live among the 2 million residents of the 25 mile-long Gaza Strip. Palestinian refugees’ dependency on the U.N.R.W.A. drastically increased under the crippling 12-year-long Israeli blockade that has rendered more than 50 percent of Palestinians jobless and forced over 80 percent of the territory’s population to rely on food aid provided by the UNRWA.

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Rami Almeghari

Rami Almeghari is a freelance independent writer, journalist and lecturer, based in the Gaza Strip. Rami has contributed in English to several media outlets worldwide, including print, radio and TV. He can be reached on facebook as Rami Munir Almeghari and on email as [email protected]

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