There is a commitment to renew the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency when it comes up for renewal in December, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters in New York following a donor meeting for the organization.
Safadi dismissed speculation that the UN investigation into ethical misconduct at UNRWA could sway the 193-member UN General Assembly not to renew the organization’s mandate, which is voted on every three years.
“The [donor] meeting was solid in terms of the message it sent,” Safadi said on Thursday. “We all stand by UNRWA. We will all do what it takes to preserve UNRWA. Every speaker agreed on the need to preserve UNRWA. There were financial pledges that were made. There was also a commitment to renew the UNRWA mandate.”
The UN investigation into UNRWA deals with “alleged corruption that does not have [anything] to do with mismanagement of funds, it has to do with other alleged practices by the administration,” he said. “We are committed to a due legal process. The secretary-general has assured the meeting that a due legal process is ongoing.”
He added that the result of the investigation would be made public, but that in the interim, the Palestinian refugees should not suffer the consequences.
UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl told Al-Arabiya that the organization still has a $120 million shortfall for its 2019 budget. UNRWA services 5.6 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, east Jerusalem, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Its cash-strapped situation was made worse by the US withdrawal in 2018 of its annual $360 million contribution to the organization’s $1.2 annual budget.
“We are very keen to see a reputation of the confidence that was expressed three years ago when 167 out of 193 UN member states voted to renew UNRWA’s mandate,” Krahenbuhl said.
PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Saeb Erekat told Palestine TV he was confident there was enough support for the mandate’s renewal.
The Trump administration and many right-wing Israelis have been harshly critical of UNRWA. They have argued that Palestinians could be better served by local organizations, rather than a UN one. In particular, they have taken issue with UNRWA designation of refugee status to the descendants of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and the 1967 wars, a move that creates a perpetually expanding refugee population.
James Lindsay, UNRWA’s former general-counsel, spoke out against the organization in Geneva on Monday, at an event sponsored by the NGO UN Watch. It was held on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights Council’s 42nd session. In 2009, after leaving the organization, he wrote a report critical of UNRWA for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Lindsay said the ethical accusations against UNRWA were not structural, but the stress of the UN investigation could open the door to reform.
Lindsay also noted that when it began in 1949, it was mostly a humanitarian and welfare organization, focused on the immediate needs of people in great distress.
Now, he said, only 10% of the organization’s expenditures went to basic services such as food, with the bulk of the spending going for education and health care, something that should be provided by the local governments. Initially the idea was that UNRWA would provide relief and then help resettle the Palestinians, he said, noting that it would be good to return to that original mission.
At one point, Lindsay said, there was a proposition to slowly eliminate UNRWA over a five-year period, thereby allowing time for the services to be transferred.