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US Threats to Dismantle Palestinian Refugee Agency Trigger Protests

UNITED NATIONS, May 28 2019 (IPS) - As it relentlessly pursues its strongly pro-Israeli policy – along with its disdain for multilateralism – the Trump administration continued to display its hostility towards the United Nations and its humanitarian agencies at a meeting of the UN Security Council focusing on the recent escalation of violence in Gaza.

The administration’s three hardline objectives were best reflected as they converged on a single political crossroad when the US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt told the Security Council May 22 it was time to dismantle the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which has supported Palestinian refugees since it began operations back in 1950.

The US has already slashed its contribution to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), from 69 million in 2016 to zero in 2017, cut 300 million dollars in funds to UNRWA and reduced 500 million dollars from the UN’s biennium peacekeeping budget

At a press conference announcing her decision to step down as US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley told reporters last October that that during her two-year tenure “we cut $1.3 billion in the UN’s budget. We’ve made it stronger. We’ve made it more efficient.”

But the reduction in funds to UNRWA has been described as the unkindest cut of all — because the UN agency has been sustaining the economic survival of Palestinian refugees for the last 69 years.

Nadia Hijab, President of the Board of Directors at Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian policy network, told IPS: “If anyone is still in doubt about the Trump Administration’s deal of the century – also known as Israel’s plan to end the conflict on its terms – Greenblatt made that very clear when he said: “We do not have to wait until a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict….” to transition UNRWA out of existence.

And indeed, the Administration has not waited for any kind of solution or made any reference to international law, she added.

It has simply, on behalf of Israel, imposed facts on the ground with its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its embassy move, and defunding UNRWA, said Hijab.

“Now it doesn’t want anyone else to fund UNRWA but rather to focus on the supposedly bright economic future to be discussed at the economic conference in Bahrain next month,” she noted.

But what is really underway is erasure of Palestinian national and political rights leaving the majority of the Palestinian people in exile with the rest forced to survive under the draconian conditions of occupation, siege, and discrimination in the land of Palestine/Israel, declared Hijab.

She pointed out it should be clear that a commitment to UNRWA goes beyond services to refugees: It is a powerful symbol of the Palestinians’ existence as a people with a right to self-determination as well as other internationally recognized rights including the right to return to their lands and homes.

Sam Husseini, Senior analyst at the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA), told IPS the occupying power is obligated to take care of people under occupation under the Geneva Conventions.

“Israel has done anything but… It has subjected the Palestinian people to attack after attack and siege after siege, making anything like normal economic development impossible,” he added.

Husseini also pointed out that UNRWA has fulfilled a desperately needed role for generations of Palestinians.

“The fact that it’s gone on for so long is the fault of the “international community” — the US government first and foremost, having prevented a resolution to the conflict along lines prescribed by international law,” he declared.

Now, with the Trump administration wanting to stop deferring a final settlement to the conflict in favor of wanting to impose one that deprives the Palestinians of virtually all their rights, they are targeting any support that Palestinians may have to bully them into complete submission to Israel’s military dictates. UNRWA is top on that list, he said.

At the Security Council meeting, Greenblatt thanked UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl for his briefing, and for his work over the years.

“But I’m afraid it is time for him– and all of you– to face the reality that the UNRWA model has failed the Palestinian people. UNRWA’s business model, which is inherently tied to an endlessly and exponentially expanding community of beneficiaries, is in permanent crisis mode,” Greenblatt said.

That is why the United States decided that it will no longer commit to funding this irredeemably flawed operation, he added.

“We did not come to this conclusion lightly. Since UNRWA’s founding, the U.S. has donated $6 billion. Let me repeat that: $6 billion – vastly more than any other country. And yet year after year, UNRWA funding fell short.”

“UNRWA is a band-aid, and the Palestinians who use its services deserve better – much better. We do not have to wait until a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in place to address that fact,” he declared.

Responding to Greenblatt’s comments, Krahenbuhl told a press conference in Gaza UNRWA’s mandate was a matter for the entire U.N. General Assembly to consider, not by “one or two individual member states”.

“Therefore, Palestinian refugees should remember that the mandate is protected by the General Assembly, and of course we will engage with member states to ensure what we hope is a safe renewal of that mandate,” Krahenbuhl said.

Currently, over half of the 2.0 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli blockade, receive food aid from UNRWA.

Meanwhile, as part of its ongoing policy against multilateralism, the US has already scuttled the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, refused to participate in the global migration compact, pulled out of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, abandoned the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, dismissed the relevance of the World Trade Organization (WTO), revoked the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, and withdrew from both the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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