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UNRWA and Palestinian refugees are the next targets of normalisation deals with Israel

December 31, 2020 at 12:31 pm

Palestinians gathering in front of the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) stage a demonstration against reducing UNRWA’s services, in Khan Yunis, Gaza on 23 December 2020. [Ashraf Amra – Anadolu Agency]

When US President Donald Trump leaves office in three weeks’ time, he will have laid the foundations for a further downgrading of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. It is, perhaps, little wonder that the Palestinian Authority was so eager to resume the illusion of “normal” in preparation for improved relations with the incoming Biden administration.

As a result of the normalisation agreements reached between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the latter is following in America’s footsteps in halting its donations to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). UAE officials reportedly stated that the intention is for UNRWA to “gradually disappear”. If that happens, of course, the status of Palestinian refugees will also be history. UNRWA and Palestinian refugees, it seems, are the next targets of normalisation deals with Israel.

In 2019, Trump’s Senior Adviser Jared Kushner expressed his certain belief that Palestinian refugees will never return to their land. While the White House promoted this political shift that compromises the legitimate Palestinian right of return, the groundwork was laid by UN Resolution 194, which fails to make the case for decolonisation. Trump’s politics, in particular the defunding of UNRWA and the campaign to alter the definition of a Palestinian refugee in order to reduce their number and therefore dilute the extent of the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine, exposed the international intent to discard the Palestinian people’s political rights. UNRWA, despite the undoubted necessity of its humanitarian work, has contributed to this exploitation.

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The normalisation deals will facilitate even more corruption, and sooner. While the international community praised the agreements with Israel upon the premise of annexation being suspended, the UN has refused to conceptualise how Israel and the UAE have chartered an additional course of colonialist impunity in Palestine.

US decision to cut UNRWA funding - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

US decision to cut UNRWA funding – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

In 2019, UNRWA’s mandate was extended until June 2023. This was hailed as a victory in the context of the funding deficit which has plagued the agency since the US withdrew its support. However, the existence of UNRWA also points to the international community’s refusal to take the Palestinian right of return seriously. UN Resolution 194 is a convenient loophole for Israel’s existence and it has also played a role in turning the Palestinian people into a permanent, politicised humanitarian project. Taking away the rights of Palestinian refugees through humanitarian aid is a political manoeuvre that requires UNRWA to compensate for the loss of their land. Palestinians, and the agency itself – the latter promoting neutrality to the benefit of Israel – are backdrops to the normalisation agreements which the international community praised, while Israel moved on to its next step in throwing the refugees to the dogs.

Israel will have an easy time in moving forward and eliminating Palestinian representation at an international level. UNRWA’s existence depends upon voluntary donations which may dwindle further as a result of the normalisation agreements.

Yet the PA quickly forgot its opposition to normalisation when Joe Biden won the US Presidential election. How will the authority attempt to frame this latest chapter in Palestinian refugee history? The refugees are the key to Palestine’s liberation. Israel recognises this fact and works against it. In this regard, the same can be said of the PA, even before Trump became the convenient scapegoat. Before pointing fingers, the PA should embark upon a moment of introspection for all the times that it has failed the Palestinian refugees by diluting their right of return in “peace” negotiations for the two-state compromise.

READ: UNRWA, the EU and humanitarian aid all have a political agenda 

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