US Attacks on UN Palestinian Refugee Agency Taking a Toll

Unless UNWRA can secure at least $60 million by the end of this month, food aid for over a million Palestine refugees seems uncertain, reports Charlotte Munns.  

By Charlotte Munns
at the United Nations
Inter Press Service

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been forced to justify its existence at the United Nations ahead of a pledging conference later this month.

UNRWA came under fire by Jason Greenblatt, U.S. special envoy for international negotiations, at a Security Council meeting late last month. 

Greenblatt while visiting Gaza periphery area in 2017. (U.S. Embassy Jerusalem via Flickr)

Last week, UNRWA held a press conference at the UN in an attempt to raise awareness — and funds for their work. The organization supports around 74 percent of Gaza’s population, and also has major operations in the West Bank and Jordan, where millions of Palestine refugees reside. The agency provides food aid, social services, education and infrastructure.

UNRWA requires $1.2 billion to fund all its operations in the coming year. However, fears have been raised regarding their ability to do so. Unless the agency is able to secure at least $60 million by the end of this month, its ability to provide food aid to over a million Palestine refugees seems uncertain.

The agency is funded predominantly by UN member states, the European Union and regional governments. These sources contribute 93 percent of funds. Private individuals and non-governmental sources contributed over $17 million in 2018.

School Openings Uncertain

Schmale defending UNRWA at UN last week. (UN Web TV)

Matthias Schmale, director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, noted at the press conference last week, “right now, strictly financially speaking, we don’t have the money to guarantee the opening of schools in the fall.”

These financial concerns have largely arisen following the United States’ refusal to continue funding the organization. Greenblatt justified Trump’s decision to the Security Council last month.

“The UNRWA model has failed the Palestinian people,” he said, describing the agency as an “irredeemably flawed operation” and a “band-aid” solution. Instead, he proposed an integration of the Agency’s services into government and non-governmental organisations’ structures.

In his explanation of the United States’ decision, he reaffirmed the country’s support of Israel, stating “the United States will always stand with Israel.”

This prompted criticism that the decision to cease funding UNRWA was a political move, rather than for issues with the agency’s functioning.

Peter Mulrean, director of UNRWA’s Representative Office in New York, said in a statement to IPS that “UNRWA regrets the U.S. decision to stop funding UNRWA after decades of being the Agency’s single largest donor and strong partner.” However, he refused to speculate on the motives behind that decision.

Greenblatt claimed the politicization of UNRWA, despite its intended neutrality, meant “year after year, Palestinians in refugee camps were not given the opportunity to build any future; they were misled and used as political pawns and commodities instead of being treated as human beings.”

In his response, Mulrean said: “UNRWA is a UN humanitarian Agency that has no political role in Palestine or anywhere else.”

UN Security Council chamber. (Dano via Flickr)

Questioned About Hamas

Despite this, UNRWA was asked at the press conference to respond to claims its members have involvement with Hamas after weapons were found stored in a school, and tunnels were located beneath multiple UNRWA educational buildings. 

The Agency noted its officials reported all such incidents, and measures were taken to remove the weapons and close the tunnels.

Criticism of UNRWA seems at odds with the Security Council’s stance on the agency. 

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the secretary-general, said in a press briefing last week, “the Secretary General has been speaking on support of UNRWA for a long time,” adding, “his position remains unchanged, that he very much feels that UNRWA is a stabilizing force in the region through the education services it provides, through the health services, and through the support services.”

At the Security Council meeting last month it was only the United States and Israel that spoke against UNRWA. All other 14 member states reaffirmed their support for the agency.

UNRWA building shelled by Israeli army, Jan. 15, 2009.
(ISM Palestine, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

“That is a reflection of the broad support UNRWA enjoys in the international community,” Mulrean told IPS.

Despite this, UNRWA has for years struggled to meet its budget. Last year, around 42 countries and institutions increased their contributions to erase an unprecedented deficit of $446 million.

Greenblatt noted the United States was frequently called upon to fill budget gaps. Having pledged around $6 billion to the organization over the course of its existence, he reaffirmed his government’s refusal to continue to do so.

Instead, the United States has called for a conference in Bahrain — June 25-26 — to discuss possible solutions to the Palestine refugee crisis. Many see this as compensation for withdrawing funding for UNRWA.

While Mulrean refused to take a formal position on the upcoming conference in Bahrain, he did say that UNRWA doesn’t see this as in competition with the agency’s work.

UNRWA has fought Greenblatt’s criticism before the press in order to garner support for its mandate. Within a context of escalating violence in Gaza – some saying the worst since 2014 – and ever- increasing numbers of Palestine refugees, the agency continues to seek funding from member states so as to continue its operations in the coming year.

“This is our reality,” Mulrean said, “we have schools to run, we have clinics to run, we have people to feed.”

This article is from Inter Press Service and republished with permission.

14 comments for “US Attacks on UN Palestinian Refugee Agency Taking a Toll

  1. Zenobia van Dongen
    June 15, 2019 at 19:19

    UNRWA is officially a UN agency but in practice it has been coopted by the Palestinian factions and does their bidding. This includes indoctrinating Palestinian children in terrorist ideology and teaching them that Israel does not exist. Palestinian schoolbooks take no notice of the existence of Israel. Israel, its cities and its borders are not marked on Palestinian maps.
    Consequently there is no prospect of any peace.

    • Josep
      June 19, 2019 at 00:27

      Is this any worse than indoctrinating Israeli children into anti-Palestinian ideology?

  2. DH Fabian
    June 14, 2019 at 16:35

    Israel is a tiny fraction of the Arab Mideast. Palestine was the name of the historic Jewish nation, restored in 1948, and renamed Israel. The mystery is why, after over 70 years, it appears that none of the Arab countries have allowed entrance of fellow Arabs, called “Palestinians.” We are given the impression that they are stateless Arab refugees, unwanted in the Arab nations. If so, why? Or could it be that they are tools used toward the goal of eradicating the sole Jewish nation?

  3. Brian James
    June 14, 2019 at 11:10

    Jun 5, 2019 Quds Day Rally in LA

    Rabbi Amrom Lieberman from Neturei Karta International seeking at the International Quds Day rally in Los Angeles, California, on May 31, 2019. This is an annual event taking place in hundreds of cities worldwide in support of Palestine.

  4. OlyaPola
    June 14, 2019 at 11:06

    “US Attacks on UN Palestinian Refugee Agency Taking a Toll”

    These opponents.

    So wedded to undermining their ideological supports.

    If they are not careful some more will start to think – how to do things differently? – and do it differently.

  5. June 14, 2019 at 07:32

    Sam’s comment is well noted, the world is a cesspool in complete obverse of what should be. A Middle East monitor stated that Palestinians living in Saudi Arabia who supported charitable organizations for Palestinians have been arrested, detained and tortured by Mohammed bin Salman’s police. But the Trump administration will still do business with these immoral and vicious head-choppers, who now are allied with the scheming Netanyahu and Israel in their ongoing efforts to gain control through constant manipulations of truth. Jared Kushner should also be jettisoned as “senior adviser” to Donald Trump in ME matters. What will the US do in a meeting in Bahrain end of June? Nothing constructive, just more of the same sellout to Israel.

  6. Zhu
    June 14, 2019 at 04:50

    Quite a large number of US Born-Agains equate the Palestinians with the Biblical Canaanites and hint the Palestinians should be exterminated. Lots of other nominal Christians in the US identify the Palestinians with American Indians and are cool with the notion of White settlers “replacing” natives.

    • anon4d2
      June 14, 2019 at 09:40

      There are fools and opportunists everywhere. I have not seen any credible protestant fundamentalist support for Israel. Probably you are accepting zionist propaganda that they have broad support from irrational militants everywhere, to intimidate their betters.

      • Andrew Thomas
        June 14, 2019 at 18:42

        What exactly is a “credible Protestant fundamentalist”? Inquiring minds, etc.

  7. June 13, 2019 at 22:10

    Here is a fine offering for your team.

    • anon4d2
      June 14, 2019 at 05:17

      CAUTION: do not use the above link.
      MODERATOR: Please delete or verify the above apparent troll posting.

  8. Abe
    June 13, 2019 at 21:19

    “Although it is not a negotiator, UNRWA does exist in a politicized space. Serving and speaking about Palestine refugees as a single community, UNRWA reminds the world that Palestinians are one people, awaiting resolution. As long as UNRWA gives institutional voice to the needs arising from that national claim, some people will imagine that the claim itself can be extinguished by making UNRWA disappear.

    “UNRWA is funded primarily through voluntary contributions, not through states’ UN dues. While it is hardly passive, UNRWA is the instrument of its donors. To understand UNRWA’s long life, one should ask why states retain and fund it. […]

    “UNRWA is one by-product of states’ refusal to legitimate the current arrangements of Israeli power and Palestinian exclusion. They withhold normalization, and instead fund UNRWA as a stubborn institutional placeholder.

    “There lies the heart of [the UNRWA critics’] argument: they seek to normalize the status quo. [Critics of UNRWA} have protested that Israel receives unduly critical scrutiny, when all it wants is a normal national life. However, they are asking that Israel should not be treated normally. They want an exceptional license to wield ethnic power, to control and devalue Palestinian lives.

    “The donor states have not normalized the status quo, because it is not normal. UNRWA is anomalous because the occupation is an unresolved anomaly. It is most abnormal, most violent and damaging in Gaza.”

    UNRWA does not perpetuate the conflict, the conflict perpetuates UNRWA
    By Marilyn Garson

  9. Sam F
    June 13, 2019 at 18:21

    That the extreme tribalist racism of zionism runs wild and unconcealed in the US shows the folly of the national myths of democracy, free press, and independent judiciary, which we certainly have not had since WWII. We are the slaves of an oligarchy of abject corruption, and now have none of the tools of democracy (elections, mass media, and judiciary) to restore democracy. Our society is now utterly barren of public morality, individual idealism or purpose, and public honesty. It has come to hold ignorance, selfishness, hypocrisy, and malice as its sacred four freedoms. A septic tank of ubermensch! Glory be to gold!

  10. hogorina
    June 13, 2019 at 17:15

    These are troubling times and with no ends in sight. The brilliance of national political whoredom has doomed our civilization ( national ) and a ship without any one full of hope at the helm. Our national citizenship is afflicted with NIHLISIM. What next ?

Comments are closed.