The Head of the Office for Refugees’ Affairs in Gaza, Dr. Essam Odwan, has called upon the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, to submit a draft resolution demanding a fixed financial allocation from the UN to the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). The call has been made following a move in the US Congress to cut aid to the agency. Such a cut, alleged Dr. Odwen, would signal American intent to nullify refugees’ right of return.
In a press statement, Odwan added that the United States has to bear some responsibility for what happened to the Palestinian people because it approved UN Resolution 181 (the Partition Resolution) in 1947. However, he said, if the US cuts aid for UNRWA, the agency should demand its own specified budget similar to that which the international body allocates to the UN High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR).
“Israel has been the biggest advocate putting pressure on the UN and the USA to end the work of UNRWA,” said Odwan, “because UNRWA puts moral pressure on Israel by pointing out that it exists on the ruins and rights of the Palestinian people.” It is important to keep UNRWA active, he suggested, because the agency bears the name of the Palestinian refugees and is the only international organisation devoted to the Palestinians.
The pro-Israel lobby in the United States puts enormous pressure on the US to close UNRWA, using America’s annual contribution of $400 million as a lever.
However, according to a UN source familiar with the issues, the US Congress has not actually decided to cut aid to UNRWA. There is, explained the anonymous source, a draft provision which some fear is part of an attempt to pressure the US to reduce UNRWA funding, but this provision is an amendment to a Senate bill which still has other legislative steps to go through and which could be weakened or even vetoed. Neither the full Senate nor the House of Representatives have passed the measure and it will still require a conference between the 2 chambers (limited to a few Members). The earliest that a final bill could be going to the President for signature or veto is December and even that could be delayed.