Wed, 20 Nov 2019

UN Palestinian Refugee Agency Pleads for Funds

Voice of America
23 May 2019, 08:07 GMT+10

UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees warned Wednesday that it would run out of money in a few weeks if donors did not step up quickly.

'As we speak, UNRWA has only enough money to run its operations until mid-June,' Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, told the U.N. Security Council.

The council meets monthly to discuss the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

UNRWA provides more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria with essential services, including education and health care.

Same amount as in 2018

Krähenbühl said the agency needs $1.2 billion this year for all of its operations across the region.

'This is the exact amount we mobilized last year,' he said. 'If every donor managed to maintain its level of funding in 2019, we should be able to cover our budget.'

He said he was particularly worried about making sure UNRWA's 715 schools could open on time in August to serve a half-million students, as well as being able to continue food distribution programs.

Midyear financial shortages are not unusual for the agency, which is supported entirely by voluntary contributions. But it has faced an unprecedented funding crisis since last year, when the Trump administration abruptly slashed its contribution by $300 million. This year, it has not funded UNRWA at all. Historically, Washington has been the agency's largest single donor.

U.S. Middle East negotiator Jason Greenblatt made clear the administration's position had not changed.

'UNRWA's business model, which is inherently tied to an endlessly and exponentially expanding community of beneficiaries, is in permanent crisis mode,' Greenblatt told the council. 'That is why the United States decided that it will no longer commit to funding this irredeemably flawed operation.'

He said Palestinians deserve a life in which they will know whether schools and health clinics will remain open.

'We need to engage with host governments to start a conversation about planning the transition of UNRWA services to host governments, or to other international or local nongovernmental organizations, as appropriate,' he said. 'The United States is ready to participate in that conversation.'

The Trump administration is expected to unveil its long-awaited peace plan next month, which Greenblatt has worked on with Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The administration plans to roll out the economic part of the plan at a conference in Bahrain in late June. The administration has invited government, civil society and business leaders to a workshop there promoting support for potential investments and initiatives that could follow a peace deal.

Palestinian leaders, angry at unilateral actions by the U.S., including moving its embassy to Jerusalem, are considering whether to boycott the event.

'It would be a mistake for the Palestinians not to join us,' Greenblatt said. 'They have nothing to lose and much to gain if they do join us.'

Israel's envoy went further on UNRWA, calling for the elimination of the agency and accusing it of inciting violence against Israel.

'It is time to stop pumping money into an organization that has continued the plight of Palestinian people in Gaza,' Israeli envoy Danny Danon said. 'UNRWA's mandate must come to an end.'

'Extraordinary work'

Palestinian deputy U.N. envoy Feda Abdelhady-Nasser rejected the attacks on UNRWA.

'Attempts to characterize the agency as part of the problem when it has done extraordinary work to alleviate the plight of millions and to contribute to regional stability are cynical, unfair and rejected not only by us but the vast majority of states that continue to strongly support UNRWA's mandate,' she said.

Krähenbühl also firmly rejected U.S. and Israeli criticism, saying the agency had carried out its mission 'in one of the most polarized, if not the most polarized, contexts on the planet' with 'integrity, dignity and neutrality.'

As to UNRWA's existence for nearly 70 years, he said it was never intended to be permanent, but its continued existence is 'an illustration of the abysmal failure in political terms to bring about a solution' to the conflict.

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