Israel, United States Question UNRWA’s Neutrality, Value, as Many Delegates Stress Its Critical Role in Providing Vital Services
With the recent flare-up of violence in Gaza as the central topic of discussion in the Security Council today, members also considered the funding shortage affecting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The Council heard briefings from the Special Coordinator of the Middle East Peace Process and the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, with the former describing the violence as the most intense fighting since 2014 between Israeli forces and militants belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Recalling that thousands of Palestinians participated recently in the weekly demonstrations at the Gaza perimeter fence, the Special Coordinator said that over the following 48 hours, 650 rockets fired from Gaza killed four Israeli civilians. The Israeli Defense Forces hit more than 300 militant targets in Gaza, reportedly killing 25 Palestinians. Following intense efforts by the United Nations and Egypt, a cessation of hostilities was established on 6 May, ending the escalation, he said, urging all sides to reduce tensions and solidify the fragile calm.
He said that although Gaza continues to command significant attention, the situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is of growing concern. Israel’s construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is illegal under international law and remains a substantial obstacle to peace, he emphasized. For instance, the Israeli authorities demolished or seized 40 Palestinian structures during the reporting period, displacing 31 people, he noted.
UNRWA’s Commissioner-General said that support for the Agency to overcome a “truly existential crisis” has never been as remarkable as it was in 2018, recalling that some 42 countries and institutions increased their contributions to erase an unprecedented deficit of $446 million. “These actions were vital to keeping open the 715 schools that UNRWA runs for over half a million female and male students in the West Bank — including East Jerusalem — Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria,” he added. Support from donors also preserved primary health-care services for millions of patients through UNRWA’s network of 140 clinics.
He went on to report that thousands of young people have been wounded and hundreds killed since March 2018, including 14 boys and girls aged 11 to 16 years who were students in UNRWA schools. “I reiterate here my call for respect for international humanitarian law and my condemnation of the targeting of civilians,” he said. “This includes rocket firing from Gaza that has led to civilian loss of life and injuries in Israel.” Turning to the West Bank, he said Palestine refugees there are confronted with multiple consequences of the ongoing occupation, such as the demolition of homes and evictions.
Council members expressed grave concern about the current situation, with France’s representative denouncing rocket launches from Gaza into Israel as well as the latter’s illegal settlement activity. He warned that the situation is almost at the point of no return, emphasizing the importance of preserving the two-State formula.
Indonesia’ Foreign Minister and Council President for May, spoke in her national capacity, saying the world has seen enough evidence of how protracted conflicts in the Middle East have serious repercussions on peace and stability in many other parts of the world. The Security Council must make real progress, particularly on the Palestinian question, she stressed.
Concerning UNRWA, the representative of the United States said that his country’s Government stopped funding the Agency because its “flawed” business model has failed the Palestinian people. “We did not come to this conclusion lightly,” he said, pointing out that the United States has donated $6 billion to the Agency’s operations since its founding. However, Palestinians were misled year after year and used as political pawns, he added, describing UNRWA’s work as a “Band-Aid”.
Israel’s representative said UNRWA has been political since its inception, noting that no other refugee population enjoys the services of such an agency. Every other refugee in the world falls under the jurisdiction of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), he said, adding that the vast majority of UNRWA beneficiaries do not meet the criteria required of other refugees around the world. Meanwhile, 2.1 million Palestinians in Gaza who have never crossed an international border — which is required to be considered a refugee — are deemed refugees, he noted. “Why is a Palestinian born in Ramallah and who has lived there his entire life considered a refugee?”
The Deputy Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine rejected attempts to characterize UNRWA as part of the problem, saying the Agency has done extraordinary work to alleviate the plight of millions of Palestine refugees while contributing to regional stability. On the Palestinian question, she said the international consensus on a two-State solution based on the pre-1967 borders remains strong, adding that Israel’s actions stand in sharp contrast to the global consensus. Regrettably, that country’s contempt and intransigence have only been emboldened further by recent decisions by the United States disregarding, contradicting and completely undermining the pillars of that consensus, she said.
Poland’s representative was among many delegates who echoed that view, emphasizing that UNRWA has worked for nearly 70 years to ensure access to quality education — a human right fundamental to helping each child achieve his or her full potential.
Also speaking today were representatives of Kuwait, Germany, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Dominican Republic, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, Belgium, Equatorial Guinea and China.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:45 p.m.
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, speaking via videoconference from Jerusalem, reported that the most intense fighting since 2014 between Israeli forces and militants belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad took place in Gaza just a few weeks ago. Recalling that thousands of Palestinians participated in the weekly demonstrations at the Gaza perimeter fence, he said that over the next 48 hours, 650 rockets fired from Gaza killed four Israeli civilians. The Israeli Defense Forces hit more than 300 militant targets in Gaza, reportedly killing 25 Palestinians. Following intense efforts by the United Nations and Egypt, a cessation of hostilities was established on 6 May, ending the escalation, he said, urging all sides to reduce tensions and solidify the fragile calm. He went on to emphasize that sustained calm is crucial to supporting Egyptian-led efforts to advance intra-Palestinian reconciliation with a view to restoring a unified, legitimate Palestinian government in Gaza.
While Gaza continues to command significant attention, the situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is of growing concern, he reported, stressing that Israel’s construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is illegal under international law and remains a substantial obstacle to peace. For instance, the Israeli authorities demolished or seized 40 Palestinian structures during the reporting period, displacing 31 people, he noted. Turning briefly to other Middle East issues, he said the situation in the Golan is calm, while the potential for heightened tension between the parties to the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement remains. In Lebanon, the Cabinet started reviewing the draft 2019 State budget on 30 April, as some protests continued over the reported austerity measures.
Reverting to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said the recent escalation in Gaza demonstrated once again the urgent need to solidify and expand the existing understandings between Israel and Hamas. The United Nations and its partners have tried yet again to mitigate the impact of the crisis, he noted, but its efforts will fail without progress on resolving the Palestinian divide, lifting the Gaza closures and charting a course towards a two-State solution based on long-standing international parameters, including relevant United Nations resolutions and previous agreements. Taking note of the invitation from the United States and Bahrain to convene Government, civil society and business leaders to discuss potential economic investment and initiatives that would be made possible by a future Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, he underlined that a fundamentally political process remains the solution to the conflict.
PIERRE KRÄHENBÜHL, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), spoke by videoconference from Gaza, saying that never has support for the Agency to overcome a “truly existential crisis” been as remarkable as it was in 2018. Some 42 countries and institutions increased their contributions to erase an unprecedented deficit of $446 million, he recalled. “These actions were vital to keeping open the 715 schools that UNRWA runs for over half a million female and male students in the West Bank — including East Jerusalem — Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria,” he added. The support from donors also preserved primary health-care services for millions of patients through UNRWA’s network of 140 clinics. Spotlighting the desperate situation of those living in Gaza, he said successive armed confrontations, the blockade and the restrictions on movement have exacerbated their extreme hardship.
He went on to report that thousands of young people have been wounded and hundreds killed since March 2018, including 14 boys and girls aged 11 to 16 years who were students in UNRWA schools. “I reiterate here my call for respect for international humanitarian law and my condemnation of the targeting of civilians,” he said. “This includes rocket firing from Gaza that has led to civilian loss of life and injuries in Israel.” Noting that poverty levels among Palestine refugees continue to rise, with many depending on aid for essential food needs, he cautioned that UNRWA only has enough money to run its operations until mid-June. “It is absolutely crucial to avoid a breakdown of our food pipeline,” he emphasized. Moreover, it is essential to keep schools open for the next school year beginning in August and September. Turning to the West Bank, he said Palestine refugees living there are confronted with multiple consequences of the ongoing occupation, such as the demolition of homes and evictions. Live ammunition is fired during some military incursions, at times resulting in fatalities, he added.
Reverting to the situation of UNRWA, he said: “In addition to strong political backing in 2019, we require $1.2 billion for all our operations,” calling upon all donors to repeat their generous support and preserve the successful dynamic created in 2018. The upcoming pledging conference, to be held in New York on 25 June, will be an important opportunity to that effect, he said. Emphasizing that it is political inaction — not the action of humanitarian organizations — that perpetuates conflict, he said nothing would be more important today than a renewed, genuine and inclusive effort to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. “We do not believe that the future of Palestine refugees should be framed by another 10, 20, 30 or more years of UNRWA,” he said. “They need and deserve a just and lasting solution.”
JASON GREENBLATT (United States), while noting that all innocent victims — both Israeli and Palestinian — deserve better, emphasized: “It is simply unacceptable that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad continue to target Israeli hospitals and schools” and use civilians, including children, as human shields. There will be no end to this suffering until Hamas renounces terrorism and their vow to destroy Israel, he said, asking fellow Council members: “When will we clearly reject this terrorism?” The United States will always stand with Israel and support its fight against terror, he vowed, stressing that the terrible suffering that these attacks cause Israelis and Palestinians must end. Noting that Israel continues to face threats from enemies calling for its destruction, he said the first step towards ending this conflict is admitting that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are the primary barrier to the aspirations of the Palestinian people, who wish to live in peace.
Keeping the current fragile peace intact will require immense international pressure in order for the people of Gaza to move past the 12 years of suffering they have endured, he continued. He said the UNRWA business model has failed the Palestinian people because it is tied to a growing community of beneficiaries. For its part, the United States will no longer commit to funding this model since it cannot help the Palestinians plan their lives, he said. “We did not come to this conclusion lightly,” he emphasized, pointing out that the United States has donated $6 billion to the Agency’s operations since its founding. However, Palestinians were misled year after year and used as political pawns, he said, asking: “What happens when UNRWA’s bank account is empty again?” Describing UNRWA as a “Band-Aid”, he reiterated that the Palestinian people deserve better, pointing out that nothing is stopping the international community from choosing to reach out to Palestinians in refugee camps and to address their needs in a sustainable way. He went on to welcome engagement with host Governments to begin the transition of UNRWA services.
“We tried to begin that conservation before we cut our aid, but no one wanted to engage in this,” he recalled, reiterating that UNRWWA is simply unable to fulfil the mandate given to it by the General Assembly. “Palestinians have been held hostage to General Assembly resolutions,” he added. Recalling that a similar number of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands also required assistance, he noted that they were not hostage to politics, but rather, were able to achieve a brighter future for their children. He asked: “Do the Palestinians not deserve the same?” Bahrain will host a conference in June to discuss ways to help the Palestinian people in a sustainable manner, yet UNRWA is holding a pledging conference for a broken system, he said. “I approach this with humility, I acknowledge that I have not brought a solution,” to the many challenges that persist, but “what we do know is that it is time to move past Band-Aid solutions,” he stressed. “This conflict is sad and tragic and complex, but we must stop pretending that UNRWA and United Nations resolutions will somehow resolve the conflict.”
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) pointed out that a year has lapsed since Israel’s crimes against Palestinian protestors. He said the perpetrators must be brought to justice and Israel itself must commit to observing international law, including international humanitarian law. “If we are to achieve fair, lasting and comprehensive peace through a negotiating process, there are fundamental principles that have to be respected,” he emphasized, citing genuine commitment to peace. Arab countries have reiterated their position that peace must be a strategic choice, he said, adding: “We declared our intention to resume serious negotiations towards a two-State solution.”
He went on to declare: “We cannot speak of peace when the Israeli occupation spreads,” with settlements becoming a growing obstacle. Condemning all settlement activities as illegal, he stressed that they constitute flagrant violations of international law. “We cannot speak of peace when one party takes unilateral decisions,” he added, pointing out that Israel continues to withhold tax revenue from the West Bank. This decision is in defiance of the Oslo Accords, he said, emphasizing: “We cannot speak of peace that is imposed on Palestinians by force.” He warned that if UNRWA’s services are not provided, the suffering of the Palestinian people will only be exacerbated, and reiterated his delegation’s support for enabling the Agency to carry out its services in Gaza and the West Bank. The current situation is the political outcome of Israel’s illegal decisions, he said.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) expressed concern over the new violence in Gaza, condemning attacks against Israel and expressing support for that country’s right to defend itself. Noting that the exchanges of fire resulted in civilian casualties on both sides, he welcomed mediation efforts by the United Nations and Egypt and urged all sides to exercise restraint. Noting that Palestine refugees depend entirely on UNRWA for critical services such as education and food assistance, he said the Agency’s funding crisis is an additional factor that should not exacerbate the already fragile situation. UNRWA’s mandate remains necessary until a peace agreement is reached, he stressed, adding that France doubled its contributions to the Agency in 2019. While denouncing illegal settlement activity and emphasizing the importance of a two-State solution, he warned that the situation is almost at the point of no return.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) expressed support for Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself, condemning all attacks against that country and emphasizing that his country will speak up whenever those rights are compromised. With only the two-State formula currently viable, any future plan must consider internationally agreed parameters, including those related to security guarantees for Israel and the right of self-determination for Palestinians. Moreover, any solution must be negotiated directly by the two parties, he said, stressing that unilateral actions, including the recognition by the United States of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, only added to the growing tensions. Underlining that Israel’s settlement activity is illegal under international law, he expressed concern over the possible annexation of parts of the West Bank, a clear violation of international law. He went on to ask the representative of the United States who would teach Palestinian children if UNRWA cannot fund schools. He also asked the Commissioner-General why the donor conference is scheduled on the same day as the Bahrain conference.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), expressing grave concern over the escalation of violence, utterly condemned all rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. He also said that although it is the ultimate decision of Hamas to embrace rocket fire in violation of the Quartet agreement, Israel’s actions must also be proportionate. Turning to UNRWA, he said that against the backdrop of years of conflict, the Agency remains vital in maintaining continuity for essential services to Palestine refugees. He added that he recognizes the need for UNRWA to reform its model, noting that it has already taken on significant budget cuts. The United Kingdom remains worried about the impact of Israel’s decision to withhold tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority, he said, cautioning against exacerbating the economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza and beyond. A stable Palestinian Authority is in the interest of both Israelis and Palestinians, he emphasized, declaring: “This is PA’s money.” He urged the Palestinian Authority to accept the remaining tax revenue. Stressing that substantive peace talks between the parties on a solution based on the pre-1967 lines is the way to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and provide justice for both Israelis and Palestinians, he said the United Kingdom looks forward to studying the United States proposal on a solution.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) pointed out that the political process is almost entirely blocked, even taking all the commendable Egyptian mediation efforts into consideration. She went on to highlight UNRWA’s critical financial shortfalls, noting that the Agency has worked for nearly 70 years to ensure access to quality education — a human right fundamental to helping each child achieve his or her full potential. The unprecedented financial crisis forced UNRWA to take some very difficult measures, sometimes with tragic personal consequences for its staff members, she said. Emphasizing the importance of education and humanitarian services, including medical care, provided by the Agency to young Palestinians, she called for continued mobilization of additional funding for UNRWA.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) noted that a new source of tension in the Middle East has surfaced, this time around Iran. Emphasizing that confrontation must give way to dialogue, he said that encouraging strong relations among States of the region will help to improve the security situation in the wider Middle East. A just solution to the Palestinian problem will be fundamentally important to improving the situation in the region, he added. “There is no need to reinvent the wheel,” he said, pointing out various existing mechanisms provide a foundation for resolving the conflict. However, the problem is not with the basis, he stressed, but with the many factors hampering resumption of the negotiating process.
He went on to underline that Israeli settlement activities and demolition of Palestinian properties must end. Similarly, all terrorist attacks must end and unity among the Palestinian ranks must be restored. This could lead to an end of the occupation that began in 1967, he said. “We see no alternative to the two-State formula,” he emphasized, adding: “Other ideas are only misleading.” Palestinians will not renounce their call for statehood no matter what they are promised, he said, emphasizing the critical need for practical measures to get the peace process out of this dangerous impasse. “Our initiative to hold a meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow still stands,” he said. While underlining the need to maintain support for UNRWA, he said that rapidly resolving the conflict in the Middle East is in the best interest of all — Christians, Muslims and Jews. Citing his country’s unique experience of coexistence among different religious groups, he emphasized the need to bring Heads of State and different religious leaders together.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said accusations and counter-accusations are a tactic free of solutions. Commending Egypt’s mediation efforts and UNRWA’s continuing efforts to alleviate the suffering of Gaza’s people, he expressed concern over the scarcity of water in the enclave. “What is needed is recognition of the transboundary nature of water in a crisis situation,” he said. Noting that Israel’s withholding of tax revenue continues to exacerbate Palestinian suffering, he strongly condemned any act of violence against civilians, particularly women and children. He also called for a stronger international consensus around the Middle East conflict, underscoring the role of the United Nations in facilitating a two-State solution and the vision of the Israeli and Palestinian people living side-by-side.
KGAUGELO THERMINA MOGASHOA (South Africa) noted that the grave situation in Gaza is a direct result of Israel’s illegal blockade, which shatters any prospect of normal economic and social development for the 2 million Palestinian people trapped in what has been called an open-air prison. Unilateral actions, such as Israel’s illegal settlement activity, have had a cumulative destructive impact on the lives of all who live in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she said. Emphasizing that any settlements built on occupied land have no legal validity and are a flagrant violation of international law, she said any proposed peace plan should not allow Palestinian statehood to devolve into an entity devoid of sovereignty, territorial contiguity and economic viability. A two-State solution is the only credible one, she reiterated.
GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), reiterating appeals for restraint and avoidance of actions that compromise progress towards peace, expressed his delegation’s firm support for a two-State solution — Israel and Palestine existing side-by-side, based on the pre-1967 borders. Noting the structural weaknesses affecting the Palestinians, including mass unemployment and lack of basic services, he encouraged the Council to mobilize assistance to meet their many needs. The peace process continues to be the appropriate framework within to make progress, he said, urging both sides to respect Security Council resolutions. There can be no military solution to the various crises plaguing the Middle East, he stressed.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said that ending the current situation in the Middle East requires comprehensive efforts and called upon both sides to set aside their rhetoric of hate and anti-Semitism. Concerning Israel’s settlement activities, he said: “It is urgent to put an end to the growing practice of settlements and demolitions of homes,” which undermine possibilities of reaching a solution based on two States. He condemned the firing of rockets that jeopardize the lives of innocent civilians, while also highlighting the principle of proportionality of force. Poverty and marginalization play into the hands of those who promote violence and terrorism, he warned, underlining that intra-Palestinian reconciliation is not only essential to addressing Palestinian humanitarian needs, but also to resuming the peace process.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) noted that the recent violence brought Israel and the Palestinians to the brink of a new conflict, incurred human costs and compromised prospects for peace. Condemning the launch of rockets from Gaza, he also noted efforts by the United Nations and Egypt to bring both sides to a ceasefire. Economic and humanitarian conditions are of grave concern, he said, stressing the essential need for unconditional access to medical care. Belgium, therefore, fully supports the mandate of UNRWA, he said, adding that the Agency is doing remarkable work in providing educational, health-care and protection services, while enabling Palestine refugees to fulfil their aspirations. Referring to UNRWA’s funding shortage, he emphasized that closing schools is not the best way to combat radicalization.
JUAN MBOMIO NDONG MANGUE (Equatorial Guinea) said Gaza has been a flashpoint of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adding that consistent exchanges of fire and surging violence adversely affect socioeconomic conditions. According to reliable sources, more than half of the enclave’s working-age people population are unemployed and shortages of drinking water and electricity add to their suffering, he said, calling for renewed commitments to voluntary funding for UNRWA. He went on to express concern over Israel’s closure of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron. Stressing that violence is the cause of suffering, he called upon Hamas to refrain from attacking Israel, and urged Israeli forces to avoid disproportionate responses, insisting that a two-State solution is the only viable way forward.
MA ZHAOXU (China) welcomed the recent ceasefire agreement and commended the good offices effort by the United Nations and Egypt. He went on to emphasize that safeguarding the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people is an international obligation, and the international community must base its work on the Arab Peace Initiative and relevant Security Council resolutions, with a view to establishing a State of Palestine. Effective implementation of Council resolution 2334 (2016) is critical, he stressed, calling upon Israel to cease its destruction of Palestinian homes and end its settlement expansion. Unity must be maintained to relaunch peace talks, he said, adding that those with strong influence in the Middle East must play a constructive role. He also emphasized the need to facilitate intra-Palestinian reconciliation. Turning to UNRWA, he noted that the Agency continues to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestine refugees in the face of extreme budgetary constraints. It is also preventing the spread of extremist ideology in refugee camps, he said, stressing that China will continue to make financial contributions to UNRWA.
RETNO LESTARI PRIANSARI MARSUDI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia and Council President for May, spoke in her national capacity, describing the persistent construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank as de facto annexation. Recalling that Indonesia, Kuwait and South Africa organized an Arria formula meeting on this issue two weeks ago, she emphasized the urgent need to revive political will on all sides to work towards a credible peace plan and improve humanitarian conditions on the ground. She went on to call for the protection of the Palestinian civilians, measures to address the humanitarian situation and resumption of the peace process. Touching on the situations in Syria and Yemen, she said the world has seen enough evidence of how protracted conflicts in the Middle East have serious repercussions on peace and stability in many other parts of the world. The Security Council must, therefore, make real progress, particularly on the Palestinian question, she stressed.
FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, Deputy Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, rejected attempts to characterize UNRWA as part of the problem, saying the Agency has done extraordinary work to alleviate the plight of millions of Palestinians, thereby contributing to regional stability. International consensus on a two-State solution based on the pre-1967 borders remains strong, she said, adding that Israel’s actions stand in sharp contrast to the global consensus. Regrettably, she said, its contempt and intransigence have only been emboldened further by recent decisions by the United States disregarding, contradicting and completely undermining the pillars of that consensus. She went on to recall that the Palestinian people and leadership made the most painful compromise more than 30 years ago in accepting the two-State formula and declaring the independence of their state on only 22 per cent of their historic homeland.
She went on to describing that as the most generous offer of peace ever made, pointing out, however, that Israel has rejected it over and over again. Today’s one-State apartheid reality is that country’s own doing, she said. The Palestinian leadership cannot accept a plan merely in order to improve the lives of Palestinians while the illegal occupation continues, she emphasized. Nor have Palestinians endured decades of suffering and waited nearly a century for freedom only to resign themselves to “limited autonomy”. The vision that will offer Palestinian new opportunities to realize their full potential is one in which independence is the centrepiece, she said, stressing that Palestinians will not accept half solutions or a fait accompli as their fate. They will not surrender to despair, she added. They will persist on their journey to fulfil their legitimate national aspirations and inalienable rights, including the right to be a free people living in security, dignity and peace in their own homeland.
DANNY BEN YOSEF DANON (Israel) said UNRWA has been political since its inception, adding that no other refugee population — not that of Syria or Yemen — has such an agency serving it. Every other refugee in the world is under the jurisdiction of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), he pointed out. UNRWA grants special refugee status that is passed down through generations, he said, adding that the vast majority of beneficiaries do not meet the criteria required of other refugees around the world.
Recalling that five Arab States attacked Israel in 1948, when UNRWA was established, he said what began as 750,000 Palestinian refugees has now turned into 5 million. UNRWA continues to play a biased role in the conflict, he added. Meanwhile, 2.1 million Palestinians in Gaza who have never crossed an international border — which is required to be considered a refugee — are deemed refugees, he noted. “Why is a Palestinian born in Ramallah and who has lived there his entire life considered a refugee?” he asked.
He went on to point out that the right to return, if realized, would erase the State of Israel “just by sheer numbers”, but this sentiment runs rampant today. He recalled that during his visit to the General Assembly, the President of the Palestinian Authority said that he believes in a two-State solution but also pledged to fight for the return of 5 million refugees. It is not possible to have both, he stressed.
Citing reports of a close relationship between UNRWA employees and the Hamas leadership, he said the Agency’s schools have served as terrorist training camps, noting that each one has a Hamas representative. Noting that Hamas fire recently killed Israeli as well as Palestinian civilians when one rocket malfunctioned and failed to launch, he emphasized that it is time to stop pumping money into an organization that has perpetuated Palestinian suffering. The Council must recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization and UNRWA’s mandate must come to an end, he stressed, asking the Commissioner-General to present the Agency’s goals and the timeline for achieving them.
Mr. KRÄHENBÜHL, Commissioner-General, took the floor a second time, expressing gratitude for the support expressed today and addressing several remarks by delegations. Referring to the statement of the United States, he said that, while recognizing that funding for humanitarian operations is voluntary, he rejects the accompanying narrative that UNRWA’s model is irredeemably flawed. Addressing the issues raised by Israel, he turned the question back to that country’s representative, asking in turn: “How long?” He emphasized that it was never the intention of anyone at UNRWA to see the Agency’s existence last this long. The General Assembly tasked the Agency to implement a mandate and it will continue to do so until otherwise decided. He went on to explain that under international law, the children of refugees are also considered refugees, and Palestine refugees are no different. He went on to stress that he simply cannot accept questions about UNRWA’s neutrality. Indeed, the Agency did find weapon components in its schools during the conflict in 2014, but it communicated that information, he said. Upon realizing that tunnels had been dug under its schools, UNRWA not only condemned Hamas publicly, it also filled the tunnels with cement.