The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine at the UN, Riyad Mansour, pointed out the unsustainability of donor funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) at the Pledging Conference in New York last Saturday. Nevertheless, the silence on the politicisation of humanitarian aid for Palestinian refugees persisted from the Palestinian Authority’s senior diplomat at the international organisation.
The conference spelled another disaster in terms of donor funding for UNRWA, with only $107 million pledged out of the $300m the agency needs to provide basic services in education and healthcare from September to December this year.
“When UNRWA’s future hangs in the balance, so do the lives of millions of Palestine refugees relying on essential services,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in a message to participants at the conference read by his chief of staff.
Mansour called upon the UN to allocate a larger contribution from its central budget to UNRWA, and also reminded the international community of UN Resolution 194 which stipulates the conditions upon which Palestinians would be allowed to return to their land. However, Mansour’s speech omitted the most important aspect: that the UN prioritises dwindling humanitarian aid over a proper plan for the legitimate right of return for all Palestinian refugees to be fulfilled.
UN Resolution 194 protects Israeli colonialism; this fact needs to be emphasised. In the hypothetical scenario envisaged by the resolution, Palestinians would return and remain colonised. However, the UN had no intention of ever allowing the slightest possibility of Palestinian refugees actually returning to Palestine, and created a perpetual refugee issue maintained by a heavily politicised humanitarian paradigm which grants Israel total impunity over its colonial violence and war crimes.
For Palestinians to remain on the periphery of their political rights, humanitarian aid was given under the guise of neutrality. Hence, UNRWA operates from within a web of colonial complicity that commences with the UN and proceeds with its donors. There will always be a deficit, and the deficit is created by the politics that allow the Israeli colonial enterprise to thrive, while refugees are kept out of their homeland and new refugees are created daily as a result of home demolitions, displacement and the expansion of illegal settlements by the Zionist state.
If the UN increases its budget for UNRWA, it will still not match the budget that Israel allocates for its colonial violence against Palestinians. Financial upgrades are just a temporary alleviation that will not sustain a humanitarian project with the aim of Palestinian independence. The UN’s humanitarian paradigm is intended for Palestinians to suffer and keep suffering the indignity that is part and parcel of corrupt humanitarianism. It is not about human rights and humanitarian aid, but about allowing Israel the space to colonise Palestine while ensuring the victims of the Nakba and their descendants are kept out of their country permanently.
With or without additional financial assistance for UNRWA, the UN intends that Palestinian refugees should remain displaced. UNRWA’s failure is but a small part of the international web which forces Palestinian refugees to live under permanent refugee status. This is what Mansour should have addressed, and probably would have done if he had no affiliation to the PA and its slavish adherence to the two-state compromise.
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