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‘Two-state solution only guarantee for breaking repeated cycle of destruction, reconstruction’

By Laila Azzeh - Nov 17,2014 - Last updated at Nov 17,2014

DEAD SEA — Bringing momentum and sustainability to efforts aimed at supporting displaced Palestinian communities was the highlight of the UNRWA advisory commission meetings that opened on Monday at the Dead Sea.  

Directors of the agency’s five fields of operations — Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank — underlined that the situation in the region and the recent Israeli offensive on Gaza show how helpless funding can be in the absence of political solutions. 

“The only guarantee for breaking the repeated cycle of reconstruction after the destruction of what has been reconstructed, as is the case in the recent aggression on Gaza, is the two-state solution through the resumption of negotiations that seek to apply a solution on the ground according to a specific time frame,” said Foreign Ministry Secretary General Mohammad Tayseer Bani Yassin, who represented Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh at the meeting. 

Speaking at the opening session, Bani Yassin stressed the need for the negotiations to be accompanied by a halt in Israel’s unilateral measures. 

Jordan, which hosts around 42 per cent of the total Palestinian refugees, has been offering direct and indirect services to secure them decent living conditions for more than 66 years now, he noted. 

“Jordan’s expenditure for this purpose exceeds the agency’s total budget,” Bani Yassin said, stressing that the Kingdom observes with concern the growing gap between the refugees’ demands and UNRWA’s financial resources. 

“This coincides with the Palestinian refugees’ dire need for the agency’s services amidst the unstable regional situation, whose ramifications affected all societies, especially the displaced Palestinians,” he indicated. 

Bani Yassin also cited Jordan’s efforts in safeguarding Jerusalem’s holy sites as the custodian of these sites in the old city, stressing that Jerusalem will always be a “red line” for the Kingdom. 

UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl noted that the “pressure on Palestinians and Palestinian refugees are immense and the threats to their lives, livelihoods and future are of such magnitude that hope is needed somewhere on the horizon”. 

He highlighted that hope in this “most unstable” region can only be brought about by political action.    

Elaborating on the current situation in UNRWA’s fields of operations, Krahenbuhl noted that the effects of the Syrian conflict continue to be “catastrophic” for Palestinian refugees. 

“Over 60 per cent of the Palestine refugees [in Syria] are now displaced or have become refugees a second time over, in Lebanon or Jordan, in Turkey or in Egypt.”

“Fleeing the conflict, though, is becoming more difficult by the day as borders are closing, forcing refugees to take increasingly dangerous routes across Daesh [Islamic State] territory or the Mediterranean, in their attempt alongside many others to reach Europe,” the commissioner general noted.

Moreover, some 76 UNRWA schools — more than two-thirds of the agency’s schools in Syria — have become “unusable”, mostly because they were damaged by the violence or are now in areas “too dangerous” to reach, according to the official, who added that a further 15 are in use as collective shelters, housing 6,043 people.  

“In Jordan, which hosts the largest number of registered Palestine refugees in any single country, two million, many in this refugee community have been able to secure a living; others face economic and social hardship. UNRWA’s role remains important to the human development of the refugees in general, and to the most vulnerable refugees in particular,” Krahenbuhl said.  

He added that Jordan is also hosting over 14,000 Palestine refugees from Syria who are being assisted by the agency. 

“They should be allowed to remain until the conflict subsides and conditions for their return to Syria improve.”

In Gaza, refugees and non-refugees alike, are just emerging from the unprecedented violence and destruction experienced during the 50-day conflict in July and August, he noted.  

The aggression left 110,000 people homeless, with UNRWA sheltering and assisting almost 300,000 displaced persons in 90 schools.  

“Today some 27,000 are still sheltered in 18 UNRWA schools,” Krahenbuhl said, citing the seven incidents of munitions fired at the agency’s schools, which resulted in killing 42 people and injuring 200. 

“We unreservedly condemned those attacks on UN premises which constituted violations of international law by Israel and we have called for investigations and accountability,” he said. 

The UN official called for more efforts by the Palestinian government to ensure the reconstruction of the strip as well as a “genuine” commitment by Israel to allow the needed material to be brought to Gaza.

Describing the current reconstruction efforts as “much too slow and largely ineffective”, he noted that should this continue, “we will reach the winter with no progress in rebuilding the homes of the many still displaced, including those still in UNRWA schools. The people of Gaza deserve much better and much more than that.”

“This should not be a time for wait-and-see attitudes on anybody’s side. The actors who agreed to the temporary mechanism should be held accountable for its implementation. Time is running out, tempers are rising in Gaza and people are desperate,” Krahenbuhl underscored.

Turning to the current financial situation of UNRWA, he said the deficit was around $70 million in June, but currently stands at $45 million, thanking donors for their help.  

Highlighting that UNRWA’s internal cuts in expenditure has reduced the deficit by $18 million, Krahenbuhl anticipated the financial shortfall to reach around $65 to $70 million in 2015.    

Directors of UNRWA’s fields of operations are also discussing the agency’s medium-term strategy for 2016-2021, during the two-day meeting. 

The strategy is based on a “thorough” analysis of the growing and evolving needs of the Palestine refugee population, in addition to outlining UNRWA’s strengths and areas of required improvements in meeting these needs, and providing access to vital services for all refugees who may seek them, with particular attention paid to the vulnerable who need these services the most, according to the agency’s commissioner general. 

The strategy is designed to be applicable in any security context, including the most intense and violent conflicts.

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