Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat today promised to kick out the UN agency responsible for refugee services saying the move will support Israeli “sovereignty and unity of Jerusalem.” He also appealed to “increase the Israelization” of East Jerusalem.
Barkat’s promise to shut down the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, operations in Jerusalem was made at conference hosted by Israel’s Hadashot TV network, reported the Times of Israel. In his speech Barkat accused UNRWA of running schools that promote “incitement” against Israel through its education system.
“We will close their schools and give pupils hope and Israeli matriculation in the city’s schools, we will put an end to incitement, and we will replace their failed welfare services with our plan,” he said.
“It is time to set aside the attitude toward them as refugees and see them as residents and rehabilitate them,” he added.
The announcement adds to a looming crisis for Palestinian refugees and came just three days after the Trump administration said it would permanently end its contributions to UNRWA. The U.S. had been UNRWA’s largest single donor, contributing about one third to the 2017 budget of $1.1 billion.
Axios reported that ending all U.S. funds to UNRWA has been in the works for about two weeks, following a private request from the Netanyahu government to the Trump administration that was not disclosed to Israel’s security establishment.
#UNRWA is not the solution – it's the problem.
I support President @realDonaldTrump in his decision to challenge an organization whose sole purpose is to perpetuate Palestinian victim-hood.
I call on other countries: Join the US in challenging UNRWA. pic.twitter.com/hWwNeWefTa
— Mayor Nir Barkat (@NirBarkat) August 26, 2018
Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for UNRWA, said “UNRWA has received no notification about this alleged plan and UNRWA’s schools and other core services in the city remain operational.” In Jerusalem UNRWA operates 10 facilities, including a health center in the Old City, a field office overseeing its West Bank programs and schools and health centers in a UN refugee camp.
A senior Palestinian senior official for the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi, said threatening to shutter UNRWA operations in Jerusalem is “arrogant and outrageous.”
“Israel is responsible for creating the Palestinian refugee problem, and it has no right to alter the mandate, duties and responsibilities of UNRWA as defined by the United Nations,” Ashrawi said, accusing Israel and the U.S. of targeting the UN as a means to remove Palestinians refugees as core issue in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
“These moves are part of the U.S. administration’s plan to dismantle all permanent status issues at the core of which are occupied Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and the right of return, the two-state solution, 1967 borders, and the legality of the settlements, thereby destroying the chances of peace,” she said.
U.S. pressure to ‘reduce’ the number of Palestinian refugees
Last Tuesday in Washington DC, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, hinted that the Trump administration would soon pull all of its funding from UNRWA. At a summit for the Foundation of the Defense of Democracies, Haley said she was against closing UNRWA, but wanted to see major changes to the organization in order to safeguard continued U.S. support, namely reducing the number of Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA.
“If it goes and makes sure that they’re not doing those teachings in textbooks, if they actually change the number of refugees to an accurate account,” Haley said, “We will look back at partnering them. But otherwise, you’re just molding an organization that has flaws into another organization, and that’s not fixing the problem.”
Please retweet to as many influencers, democratic representatives and world leaders as possible! @UNRWA needs 217 million US$ by the end of the year, to continue our life-saving humanitarian work for millions of Palestine refugees. @ChrisGunness https://t.co/ueAQoafvhY
— Chris Gunness (@ChrisGunness) September 3, 2018
UNRWA was formed in 1950 by the UN’s General Assembly. It currently provides servicesfor some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees, including 1.5 million dispersed in 58 refugee camps throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Palestinians registered with UNRWA are able to receive its services and humanitarian aid, but receive no special designation or a political status as refugees in the traditional sense.
Speaking to Mondoweiss last week, Chris Gunness noted that its bylaws prevent UNRWA, and the U.S. or Israel, from changing the definition of who is a Palestinian refugee.
“Our mandate cannot be changed unilaterally by any single state,” he said, later adding, “They would have to seek the approval of the General Assembly.”