Renewing the mandate of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) halted the aggressive campaign by Israel and the US to close the agency and alter the established definition of who is a Palestinian refugee. Since US President Donald Trump withheld funding from UNRWA, Israel and the US have changed their narrative depending on unfolding events, the most recent being the misconduct and fraud allegations which are by no means symptomatic only of the agency.
With only two votes against the mandate extension — Israel and the US — it was celebrated as a victory. Had the US and Israel achieved their aims, over 5 million Palestinians would have experienced unprecedented levels of deprivation. UNRWA will now continue to provide basic humanitarian services even as Israel and the international community dissociate what is being touted as a “victory” from their politics, which help the Zionist state to create even more Palestinian refugees.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas deemed the vote to be “evidence of the world’s unswerving support for the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights.” The mandate renewal is definitely an overt stance against Israel and the US when it comes to dismantling UNRWA. However, Palestinians’ inalienable rights need more than UNRWA if they are to be implemented.
Let us not forget that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres did not hesitate to conspire with Israeli NGOs to seek alternatives for UNRWA’s operations, which would have given Israel the green light to achieve its aim. Had this succeeded, Palestinian refugee politics would have been altered and Israel would have been able to use the UN to generate absolute impunity for its dispossession of Palestinians continuously since the 1948 Nakba.
Will the international community consolidate its victory and extend the same unity against Israel and the US when it comes to the ongoing creation of refugees? The recent bi-weekly report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories states that structure demolitions in Area C and East Jerusalem have increased by 33 per cent this year, in comparison with 2018. Or will it choose complacency, and which sliver of Palestinian rights to support, thus supporting the perpetuation of further displacement? If this happens, the UNRWA mandate renewal will be read as compensation for Palestinians in return for global collaboration with Israel when it comes to the violation of their rights.
Last week’s Israeli air strikes on Gaza targeted 500 housing units, 30 of which are no longer inhabitable. Bearing in mind that Gaza has not yet recovered from earlier devastating Israeli military offensives, as well as the fact that the UN is now openly supporting Israel’s attacks against Palestinian civilians, there needs to be a complete change of politics in the international arena if Palestinian rights are to be recognised, upheld and implemented.
UNRWA plays a role that is not substantiated by the international community, other than through financial aid which is always insignificant in comparison to the billions given to Israel by the US, not to mention Israel’s preferential trade agreements around the world. According to Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, the mandate renewal approval is proof that “the UN is not interested in resolving the refugee issue or creating conditions for peace.”
It is way past the time for the international community to sever its ties to Israel in response to Danon’s belligerence in order to create the required conditions for peace. The first of those is the need to prioritise Palestinian liberation above Israeli demands. The international community must end its own complacency over these matters.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.