Palestinians in bid to secure renewal of UNRWA mandate

PA urges donors to honor financial obligations to Palestinians.

September 22, 2019 05:05
3 minute read.
A child walks in front of a mural painting depicting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on he

A child walks in front of a mural painting depicting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on her way to a school run by United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in Balata refugee camp, east of Nablus on August 29, 2018. (photo credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Palestinian Authority officials said on Saturday that they are hoping to persuade donor countries to continue their financial contributions to the United Nations Work and Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas and senior Palestinians officials are expected to meet in the coming days with representatives of the donor countries on the sidelines of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly to discuss the issue of UNRWA.

On Saturday, Abbas traveled to New York, where he is also scheduled to deliver a speech before the General Assembly and hold talks on the future of UNRWA.

The officials said the discussions on UNRWA were designed to ensure the agency’s mandate is renewed by the General Assembly. The agency’s mandate is renewed every three years.

Last year, the US administration cut its funding to UNRWA. The move came as US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt called for dismantling UNRWA and handing its duties to countries hosting Palestinian refugees or to international organizations.

The Palestinians see the US move as part of a US-Israeli “conspiracy” to eliminate UNRWA and deny Palestinian refugees and their descendants the right to return to their former homes inside Israel.

Recently, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand announced they were temporarily suspending their financial contributions to UNRWA in the aftermath of charges of mismanagement by the agency’s leadership.

A report leaked to the media last July accused senior UNRWA officials of engaging in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain.”

On the eve of Abbas’s visit to New York, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip demonstrated in front of the UNRWA headquarters and called for renewing the agency’s mandate. The demonstrators also urged donor countries to continue funding the agency and warned against Israeli and US “schemes” to eliminate the refugees’ “right of return.”

“UNRWA is the real witness to the crime of the Nakba,” said Ibrahim Sultan, a senior official with the PLO’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, referring to the Arabic term meaning “catastrophe” that Palestinians use to describe the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Arabs.

Sultan also warned UNRWA against reducing its aid to Palestinian refugees and said the Gaza Strip was “on the brink of explosion due to dire humanitarian conditions.”

Last week, PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh held a meeting in Ramallah with ambassadors, consuls and representative of international donor countries and institutions as part of preparations for next week’s meeting in New York of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, a 15-member body that serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinians.

Saleh Ra’fat, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said Abbas and the PA officials will urge donor countries to continue funding UNRWA “notwithstanding Israeli and American pressure.”

He expressed hope that the donor countries will continue to honor their financial commitments to the Palestinians in general and UNRWA in particular.

Ra’fat also expressed hope that the General Assembly would renew UNRWA’s mandate for another three years.

The PLO official told the PA’s Voice of Palestine radio station that Abbas will repeat, during his speech before the General Assembly, the Palestinians’ rejection of the US administration’s long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the “Deal of the Century,” and call for imposing sanctions on Israel.

Abbas, he said, will also repeat his demand for holding an international conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue and implement UN resolutions pertaining to the conflict.

“President Abbas will tell the UN General Assembly that the Israeli government’s policy aims to annex Palestinian territories and destroy the two-state solution,” Ra’fat said.

In his speech before the assembly last year, Abbas called for the convening of an international peace conference based on relevant UN resolutions and the internationally endorsed terms of reference and parameters. He also called on Trump to “rescind his decisions and decrees regarding Jerusalem, refugees and settlements, which contravene international law and UN resolutions, in order to salvage the prospects for peace and to achieve stability and security for the future generations in our region.”

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