UNRWA's mandate renewed for three years, US and Canada abstain

The vote to seek ICJ advisory opinion on de facto Israeli annexation was delayed.

Palestinian employees of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) take part in a protest against job cuts by UNRWA, in Gaza City September 19, 2018.  (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Palestinian employees of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) take part in a protest against job cuts by UNRWA, in Gaza City September 19, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)

The United States and Canada abstained from the United Nations General Assembly vote to allow its Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) to continue to operate until June 2026.

Israel was the only country to oppose the resolution, which had the approval of 157 nations. 

Ten nations abstained from the vote that took place in New York, including Cameroon, Guatemala, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papa New Guinea and Uruguay.

Call to end UNRWA's mandate

Israel has long called on the United Nations to end UNRWA's mandate arguing that its provision of services to descendants of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 War of Independence creates a continually growing of refugees, whose numbers have swelled to the point where they create a stumbling block to the resolution of the conflict.

 THE ENTRANCE to an UNRWA school in Bethlehem. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90) THE ENTRANCE to an UNRWA school in Bethlehem. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

The international community and the Palestinian Authority have argued that UNRWA provides a necessary service to some 5.8 million Palestinian refugees living in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

US support for UNRWA 

The United States has traditionally been a staunch supporter of UNRWA and its largest donor. The Trump administration broke ranks with that policy and halted all funding to the organization, which it said was not an efficient vehicle to provide humanitarian services to the refugees who would have been better served by local agencies.

The Biden administration restored that funding, once more placing the US as the organization's top donor, but that support was not reflected in its UN vote.

The vote came as US Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations Robert Wood was visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories. He met with local heads of UN agencies including UNRWA.

Separately the UNGA on Monday voted to delay a controversial decision to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on whether Israeli actions in the West Bank were tantamount to de facto annexation.

The UNGA has given initial approval to the request, but the matter must receive additional support from the Fifth Committee which must review the financial implications of the move.

A final UNGA vote will be taken only once the financial review is complete.