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Closing UNRWA will not alter Israel’s role in creating Palestine refugees

Palestinian refugees hold banners during a protest against the UNWRA's decision on aid cuts and downsizing plans in Bethlehem, West Bank om 26 September 2018 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency]
Palestinian refugees hold banners during a protest against the UNWRA's decision on aid cuts and downsizing plans in Bethlehem, West Bank on 26 September 2018 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency]

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has recently had its mandate extended until 30 June 2020 “in the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem”. Meanwhile Israel and the US are consorting to eliminate the existence of Palestinian refugees by redefining them to reduce the numbers and thus render UNRWA redundant.

Withholding funds from the agency prompted outgoing Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to communicate a detailed plan which would expel UNRWA from occupied East Jerusalem and its services to Palestinian refugees ostensibly catered for by the Jerusalem Municipality.

According to Barkat, “The residents of Jerusalem cannot be turned into Palestinian refugees in order to serve a dangerous strategy for the destruction of Israel.” The mayor’s strategy stipulates that all UNRWA schools will be closed down by the end of this academic year and premises used by UNRWA to provide services to Palestinian refugees will be expropriated. Throughout the years, UNRWA schools have been targeted by Israel for spreading alleged “hate and incitement”.

READ: Israel to close UNRWA schools in Jerusalem to end refugee ‘lie’

Barkat has stated that Palestinians will receive “all the services from the Jerusalem Municipality, like any other Jewish or Arab resident”.  Israel, however, has defined itself as a Jewish state, enshrining apartheid in its legislation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently recognised Israel’s definition and agreed with Netanyahu that Palestinians should be accepting of the term and its implementation, eroding Palestinian rights further from an international perspective. Palestinian refugees have been deprived of their rights for decades; Barkat’s proposals render them even more vulnerable. His statements do not prioritise the granting of rights but the removal of terminology that is a direct result of Israel forcibly displacing Palestinians to install its settler population.

UN Enquiry… – Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

Meanwhile, in a statement partially quoted by Ma’an news agency, UNRWA said that the mayor’s plan “does not reflect the robust and structured dialogue and interaction that UNRWA and the State of Israel have traditionally maintained.”

UNRWA’s statement in itself does not bode well for Palestinians. It exhibits a weak presence that is being further eroded. The agency is facing an extended mandate and a possible expulsion – a contradiction that is partly the result of UN institutions maintaining “structured dialogue” with the colonial entity that created Palestinian refugees.

READ: “We will not sit idly by following US measures”

With or without UNRWA, Palestinian refugees will not disappear and it is Israel itself that will see to that, given its perpetuation of forcibly displaced Palestinians. Palestinian refugees are part of the equation that Israel created when it established itself.

Is the UN incapable of protecting UNRWA’s specific mandate and instead pave the way for the entire colonisation of Palestine? The extent of violations committed against millions of Palestinian refugees already eclipses the financial ability of UNRWA to empower Palestinians with autonomy, while the Palestinian right of return as enshrined in UN Resolution 194 is designed to preserve Israel’s colonisation. The joint efforts by Israel and the US to marginalise UNRWA further is an accelerated endeavour, but by no means dissociated from the marginalisation enforced upon Palestinians by the UN through the 1947 Partition Plan and its acceptance of a colonial state in historic Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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