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Israel proposes plan to dismantle UNRWA

April 2, 2024 at 10:24 am

A view of the destruction as a result of Israeli attacks at the UNRWA headquarters, which provides assistance to millions of Palestinians and is affiliated with the United Nations in Gaza City, Gaza on 21 February, 2024 [Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu via Getty Images]

Israel has proposed a plan to dismantle the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and suggested its responsibilities and staff be moved to a new entity in exchange for allowing more aid deliveries into Gaza, the Guardian reported yesterday.

The paper quoted UN sources as saying that the proposal was presented late last week by Israeli Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi to UN officials in Israel, who referred it to the organisation’s Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, on Saturday.

UNRWA was not involved in the talks because the Israeli army has refused to deal with it on the basis of unverified claims that 12 of the agency’s 13,000 staff in Gaza participated in the 7 October attack on Israel.

Israel insists that it is prepared to allow large amounts of aid into the besieged Gaza Strip and its decision not to cooperate with UNRWA severely affects the delivery.

According to the proposal; 300 to 400 UNRWA staff will be transferred to either an existing UN agency, like the World Food Programme (WFP), or a newly established organisation focused on food distribution in Gaza.

More UNRWA staff and assets will be transferred at later stages, however, the Israeli proposal does not suggest who would manage the new entity or who would secure the delivery of aid.

UNRWA, which has supported the Palestinians since 1950, was excluded from the talks.

The organisation’s Director of External Relations, Tamara Al-Rifai, said: “UNRWA was not systematically informed of the talks related to the coordination of humanitarian aid in Gaza.”

Al-Rifai said the size of the proposed new entity would hinder its ability to effectively deliver aid in Gaza at a time of greatest need.

“This is no criticism of WFP, but logically if they were to start food distribution in Gaza tomorrow, they’re going to use UNRWA trucks and bring food into UNRWA warehouses, and then distribute food in or around UNRWA shelters,” she told the Guardian.

“So they’re going to need at a minimum the same infrastructure that we have, including the human resources.”

The paper quoted some UN relief officials as saying that only UNRWA has the resources and trust of ordinary Palestinians to deliver food aid to Gaza, and that attempting to re-establish a relief organisation for political reasons in response to Israeli demands, in the midst of bombing and the beginning of famine, will have dire consequences.

“It is outrageous that UN agencies like WFP and senior UN officials are engaging in discussions about dismantling UNRWA,” former UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness told the Guardian.

Israel has repeatedly equated UNRWA staff with Hamas members in efforts to discredit them, providing no proof of the claims, while lobbying hard to have UNRWA closed as it is the only UN agency to have a specific mandate to look after the basic needs of Palestinian refugees. If the agency no longer exists, argues Israel, then the refugee issue must no longer exist, and the legitimate right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land will be unnecessary. Israel has denied that right of return since the late 1940s, even though its own membership of the UN was made conditional upon Palestinian refugees being allowed to return to their homes and land.

WATCH: ‘Attacks on UNRWA are about squeezing the Palestinians’: MEMO in Conversation with Chris Gunness