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Searching for an alternative to UNRWA

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]

Despite withdrawing its financial support for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), the US has not left the Agency alone. This suggests strongly that Washington's opposition to UNRWA is neither financial nor economic, but political. It is bowing to Israel's demands; the occupation state wants to have UNRWA closed completely because it was established to provide essential humanitarian aid to those at the core of the Palestine-Israel issue, the Palestinian refugees.

US pressure on the UN General Assembly, which was preceded by financial pressure by the Trump administration, has prompted UN Secretary-General António Guterres to ask some other UN bodies and NGOs to consider possible alternatives to enable UNRWA's work for Palestinian refugees to be done. America's wishes in this respect serve the interests of the Israeli occupation. If the alternatives being studied are going to do the same work as UNRWA, though, then why bother? Is Guterres serious about looking for alternatives, or does he want to prove that there is no alternative to UNRWA? In any case, the UN head is giving in to American pressure and following US orders, even though they violate international laws and accepted norms, as well as UN rules. The consensus of the General Assembly is being trampled on.

UNRWA was established by an international resolution, so such issues as "alternatives" and the Agency's existence cannot be decided upon by any entity other than the General Assembly. It is there that the decision must be taken about whether UNRWA will survive or be closed down; NGOs can have nothing to do with it.

READ: UN looking for proposals for UNRWA alternatives

The move by the UN Secretary-General, whatever his intentions, must be addressed by the countries that support the Palestinian cause and the rights of the Palestinian people represented in the General Assembly. These are actually most of the countries in the world except for the US, Israel and a few other countries beholden to Washington that can be counted on one hand. The primary responsibility for backing the Palestinians lies with the Arab and Muslim states, non-aligned countries, the European Union, the African Union and friendly Asian countries.

After Jordan and Palestine managed to overcome the major financial crisis and deficit suffered by UNRWA over the past two years, in order to maintain its services to the Palestinian refugee communities in its five areas of operation, the Agency has been engaged in a dangerous political battle that is targeting its very existence. After financial pressure failed to shut down UNRWA's heath, education and other essential services in the Palestinian refugee camps, it now requires a new international front headed by Jordan and Palestine, and expanding to include the Arab and Muslim states. Such a front will support UNRWA in confronting the US-Israeli project at the UN aiming to find an alternative to the Agency through NGOs sympathetic to Israel's occupation of Palestine.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Addustour on 4 November 2019

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

ArticleInternational OrganisationsIsraelMiddle EastOpinionPalestineUN
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