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UNRWA's extension bad news for US, Israel

Nov 20,2019 - Last updated at Nov 20,2019

The three year renewal of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) mandate by the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly is good news for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and refugee-host countries Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. UNRWA's extension is is, on he other hand, bad news for the US and Israel, the only two countries that voted against the resolution. A resounding 170 countries voted in favour while Canada, no friend of the Palestinians, US-pressured Cameroon and Guatemala and Washington's subservient nay-sayers on measures which Israel does not like, Vanuatu, Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Nauru, abstained. The General Assembly plenary is expected to vote on renewal until 2023 later this month.

The decision to maintain the existence of UNRWA was successful despite a probe conducted by UN investigators accusing the agency's Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl and senior staff members of mismanagement, nepotism and discrimination. He was singled out for, allegedly, conducting a romantic relationship with his adviser. He resigned earlier this month with the aim of halting the persecution of UNRWA by its enemies and encouraging the General Assembly to extend the agency's mandate. Krahenbuhl became a target because he foiled the Trump administration's plot to bring down UNRWA by defunding it in order to prepare the way for the imposition of the Donald Trump's often trumpeted "Deal of the Century".

Krahenbul blamed the US and Israel for the accusations that led him to resign. He said he was targetted by these powers because he had defended their rights and recognition of the need for their dignity to be protected.

The committee vote amounted to a rebuff to Israel and the Trump administration which have mounted a sustained campaign to close down UNRWA, as the agency maintains the refugee status of Palestinians driven from their country when Israel emerged from war in 1948. Israel fears Palestinian refugees could eventually claim their right of return to their homeland.  This was laid down in Resolution 194 adopted on December 11, 1948. Paragraph 194 states that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible”. Palestinians argue this resolution gives them to right of repatriation.

Adopted toward the end of Israel's war of establishment which drove 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, villages and lands, this resolution was, belatedly, a response to the assassination of UN mediator, Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte, by Israeli extremists belonging to the Stern Gang on September 17, 1948. The plot was hatched by Natan Yellin-Mor, Yisrael Eldad and Yitzak Shamir, who became prime minister of Israel.

Bernadotte, who saved 30,000 Jews from Nazi gas chambers during World War II, was murdered because he advocated a settlement recognising the existence of Israel but excluding Transjordan from Zionist claims, calling for the return of Palestinian refugees, the hand over of some territory captured by Israel to an Arab state, and treatment of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum rather than a part of either an Arab or Jewish state.

UNRWA was established by General Assembly resolution 302 of December 8, 1949, and began its operations on May 1, 1950. The agency was directed to provide shelter, food and other humanitarian services for distressed Palestinian refugees.

The Trump administration’s hostility toward UNRWA is driven by Israel's determination to put an end to the existence of Palestinian refugees and to the emergence of a Palestinian state in accordance with the internationally accepted "two-state solution". The administration began its campaign against UNRWA in early 2018 when it cancelled all US funding to UNRWA, depriving the agency of one-quarter of its $1.2 billion budget. The administration's objective was to force UNRWA to "deregister" offspring of the original 1948 refugees who have been diminished by dispersal and death. This would leave a fraction of the 5.5 million Palestinians dependent on UNRWA and eventually end the need for UNRWA.

The administration's secret but leaked, "Deal of the Century" proposes paying billions of dollars to host countries to settle Palestinian exiles and grant them citizenship. International investment in the West Bank and Gaza would provide an "economic solution" to refugee reliance on UNRWA and resolve the "Palestine problem" by removing Palestinians from the global agenda. The Gulf countries, rather than the US, would finance the "deal" which has been concocted by Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, an ardent Zionist. The plan has been, pre-emptively, rejected by the Palestinians and the Arabs.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a fresh shift in US policy from considering Israeli settlements illegitimate to dubbing them legitimate. This was the fourth policy change by the Trump administration since taking office. In December 2018, Donald Trump announced US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. This was followed by the defunding of UNRWA and an end to US aid to the Palestinians. Trump subsequently recognised Israel's annexation of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. This could prepare the way for Israel's formal annexation of all or parts of the West Bank. The renunciation of traditional US policy is certain to torpedo Trump's "Deal of the Century", which was supposed to end the Palestinian and Arab conflict with Israel.

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