Remarks at UN Relief and Works Agency UNGA Event


William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary of State

New York City

September 26, 2013

Good afternoon. I want to thank Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Secretary General Al-Araby for convening today’s meeting. 

We come together today at a moment of possibility for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. As President Obama underscored in Jerusalem earlier this year, progress toward Middle East peace is necessary, just, and possible. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Secretary Kerry and the courage of Palestinian and Israeli leaders, the parties are once again sitting at the negotiation table. And thanks to the Arab Peace Initiative and the leadership of so many of you here today, the door for a broader Arab-Israeli peace is opening as well.

But as we take the difficult steps forward to peace, we cannot afford to leave behind the region’s nearly five million Palestinian refugees. We cannot afford to neglect our enduring obligation to the conflict’s most vulnerable population. And we cannot afford to divest from the next generation of Palestinians – a generation that all of us hope will soon be hard at work building a Palestinian state.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s schools, clinics and social services are indispensible to the survival and well-being of Palestinian refugees. And with Syrian refugees continuing to pour across the region’s borders, the demands on UNRWA – and on those of host governments and communities – are growing exponentially. I want to thank Commissioner-General Grandi for his leadership during what is undoubtedly one of the most difficult periods UNRWA has faced over the past six decades. 

In the midst of these serious challenges, the international community’s support to UNRWA’s General Fund, its core budget, cannot falter. We are proud to be UNRWA’s largest bilateral donor. And we are especially proud that at this time – when the needs are so critical and so urgent – we were able to make our largest ever single year contribution, which included robust support for UNRWA’s General Fund.

We encourage our Arab partners to make good on their commitments to the General Fund. Together, we can ensure that UNRWA has the resources it needs to meet the needs of Palestinian refugees, respond to one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in the region’s history, and help maintain a favorable environment for ongoing peace talks.

Now is not the time to let our efforts flag. There is simply too much at stake – for the future of the Palestinian people and for the future of the region as a whole. So let us all come together to answer today’s challenge and in so doing help pave the path toward tomorrow’s peace.