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UN extends Palestinian refugee mission until 2023 despite fierce Israeli-US opposition

The UNRWA provides services to Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria[Getty]

Date of publication: 14 December, 2019

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The resolution approved 'all donors to continue to strengthen their efforts to meet the anticipated needs of the agency', despite opposition from the US and Israel.
The United Nations extended the work of its Palestinian refugee agency for another three years on Friday, despite fierce opposition from the US and Israel.

The current mandate was due to run out in June 2020 but 169 countries approved a renewal up to 2023 at the UN General Assembly, with the US and Israel voting against, while nine countries abstained. 

The resolution approved on Friday "all donors to continue to strengthen their efforts to meet the anticipated needs of the agency" amid deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the Palestinian Territories. 

US President Donald Trump's administration, along with Israel, accuses UNRWA of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the agency disputes that and says it provides services that would otherwise not be available to Palestinians.

The head of the troubled organisation resigned in November amid an internal probe into alleged mismanagement and ethical abuses.

A confidential internal ethics report in July 2019 accused Pierre Krahenbuhl and his "inner circle" of "abuses of authority for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives".

Read more: As UNRWA sexual misconduct allegations unfold, the international community decides to punish ordinary Palestinians

It paints a picture of a small number of mostly foreign senior leaders centralising power and influence while disregarding UN checks and balances.

The findings surfaced after the agency lost its biggest individual donor, the US, in September 2018.

The report argued that this cut "served as an excuse for an extreme concentration of decision making power in members... increased disregard for agency rules and established procedures, with exceptionalism becoming the norm".

Allegations include "sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives".

UNRWA was set up after more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their lands during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.

It provides schooling and medical services to millions of impoverished refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as well as the Palestinian territories, and employs around 30,000 people, mostly Palestinians.

Last year, the Trump administration cut all funding to UNRWA, arguing that it was flawed as Washington pressed ahead with work on proposals for an Israeli-Palestinian solution.

US Middle East advisor Jason Greenblatt in May told the Security Council that the agency should be dismantled and its services handed over to countries hosting the Palestinian refugees and NGOs.

Israel and the US do not like the fact that Palestinian refugees can pass on refugee status to their children and want to reduce the number of people receiving aid from UNRWA. The Palestinians say this violates their rights.

The UNRWA said that it "is probably among the most scrutinised UN agencies in view of the nature of the conflict and complex and politicised environment it is working in".

Other international organisations have been accused of similar violations, however the international community was quick to cut funding to the Palestinian program which helps countless refugees.

Without waiting for the outcome of any investigation, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium immediately suspended funding to the organisation. 


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