UNRWA spokesperson told TRT World that although Abu Dhabi will be rallying behind Tel Aviv's long-standing demand of scrapping the UNRWA, "the UN agency will continue to work as long as other states support them."
The United Arab Emirates and Israel are working together to eliminate the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) without solving the issues of Palestinian refugees, the French newspaper Le Monde reported last week.
Emirati officials are weighing an action plan aimed at removing the UNRWA gradually without making it conditional on a resolution of the refugee problem, according to the paper. The process has been underway since the two countries announced a full normalisation in August.
"In doing so, Abu Dhabi would be rallying to a long-standing demand from Israel, which insists that the agency is obstructing peace by nurturing refugees in the dream of returning to the lands from which their parents were driven in 1948," a Le Monde journalist tweeted.
Ce faisant, Abou Dhabi se rallierait à une revendication de longue date d’Israël, qui martèle que l’agence fait obstacle à la paix en entretenant les réfugiés dans le rêve d’un retour sur les terres d’où leurs parents ont été chassés en 1948.— benjamin barthe (@benjbarthe) December 26, 2020
"The mandate stipulates that it must protect and assist Palestine refugees, we therefore continue all our services; health, education, social services etc... to contribute to their dignity and wellbeing," Tamara Al Rifai, a UNRWA spokesperson told TRT World.
"Nobody chooses to be a refugee and that’s something we always remind the international community of. As long as governments vote for the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate, they should commit financially to support us."
What does the UNRWA do?
While the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, is dealing with refugees worldwide, the UNRWA focuses on the Palestinian refugees, who were displaced during and after the foundation of the Jewish state in 1948.
Approximately a million Palestinians were expelled from their homes. Their number has reached 7 million today. The UNRWA says it provides assistance and protection for 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees, of which 1.5 million are staying in some 68 refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza.
The agency contributes to the welfare and human development of four generations of Palestine refugees, who are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948,” its website says.
The agency was founded in 1949. Its mandate is renewed every three years as no solution is presented to the Palestine refugee problem. Last year, its mandate was extended until 30 June 2023.
"The UNRWA has a mandate bestowed upon it from the UN General Assembly, so there is no “elimination” as long as UN member states continue to vote massively for its renewal- like they did a year ago," Al Rifai said.
Israel had called for its closure
The United States was the largest single donor to the UNRWA with $364 million in 2017, however the Trump administration decided to end all funding in 2018, describing the organisation as "irredeemably flawed".
US President Donald Trump had previously complained that Washington received "no appreciation or respect" for the aid. He also disturbed from what he called Palestinians “unwillingness to negotiate with Israel”.
A UN ethics report published last year in November alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority among senior officials of the UNRWA led to resignation of then head of the agency, Pierre Krahenbuhl. The report claimed that members of UNRWA’s inner circle since 2015 had been consolidating their power.
Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, claimed last month that textbooks used by schools run by the UNRWA contained “inciteful content”.
Erdan said that UNRWA did not attempt to integrate Palestinian refugees within the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction, nor in Arab states hosting them, hence prolonging the conflict and therefore “had no legitimacy to exist”.
“The worst financial crisis of recent history”
The UAE’s collaboration with Israel to eliminate the UNRWA came despite it having been a major funder of UNRWA in 2018 and 2019, along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia to alleviate Trump’s cut off funding.
The fuss over the topic has already brought the agency to the verge of bankruptcy.
Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, said last month in a series of tweets that the donations to the agency had been the lowest this year since 2012.
3/6 Contributions in 2020 to @UNRWA core education, health + relief services are lowest since 2012 while needs of #PalestineRefugees have significantly increased. This situation today: the worst financial crisis of the Agency’s recent history.— Philippe Lazzarini (@UNLazzarini) November 15, 2020
“Contributions in 2020 to UNRWA core education, health and relief services are lowest since 2012 while needs of #PalestineRefugees have significantly increased. This situation today: the worst financial crisis of the Agency’s recent history.
"UNRWA relies on voluntary financial contributions; we therefore work very hard to continue raising funds to help us keep all our services and all our staff," spokesperson Al Rifai told TRT World.
The agency's pinned tweet on their account says “in the midst of a devastating global pandemic, a funding crisis puts our critical services & #PalestineRefugeesAtRisk as funds run out this December”.
5.7 million Palestine refugees need the health care, education, protection & emergency assistance that UNRWA provides.— UNRWA (@UNRWA) December 1, 2020
Now, in the midst of a devastating global pandemic, a funding crisis puts our critical services & #PalestineRefugeesAtRisk as funds run out this December. pic.twitter.com/DU33X3A62t
The UNRWA has around thirty thousand employees in the areas it operates, most of them are Palestinians and they are also under threat of losing their jobs.
6/ Dr Abdelkader, who runs the local health services at Burj al Barajneh, a large refugee camp on the outskirts of #Beirut that's practically a town, told me he's terrified of losing his job & being unable to support his family, b/c he knows he won't be able to find another. pic.twitter.com/VVTmC0MtA0— Leila Molana-Allen (@Leila_MA) December 22, 2020
"This year is financially extremely challenging to the point where we have not been able to pay our nearly 30 thousand staff their salaries. In the middle of a global pandemic, our committed staff, most of whom are Palestinian refugees themselves, have continued working to serve their community. We will continue to lobby governments for support to Palestine refugees until there is a solution to their plight," spokesperson Al Rifai added.