The fears of a troubled people - GulfToday

The fears of a troubled people

Children near their homes at Al Shati camp for Palestinian refugees in the central Gaza Strip. AFP

Children near their homes at Al Shati camp for Palestinian refugees in the central Gaza Strip. AFP

The dilemma of UNRWA (United Nations Refugee & Works Agency) for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East continues. The Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon have now lived as displaced people for more than 70 years, and there is no solution in sight to the Palestine-Israel crisis.

The UNRWA has been catering to the basic needs of 5.8 million refugees, but its funding has been thinning, especially over the last decade. So, the suggestion has come up that the UNRWA should be connected to a wider network of international institutional network so that funding becomes easier. But the fear of the Palestinian refugees in these Arab countries is that any such move will affect the UNRWA authority, mandated by a UN General Assembly Resolution 302 of 1949, which included the right to return of the refugees, a key clause in the future Palestine-Israel settlement. The Palestinian refugees as well as the Arab countries are strongly opposed to any dilution of the UN mandate.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the 25-member UNRWA Advisory Commission, addressed the Palestinian refugees on April 23 and laid bare the issues at stake. He told them, “One option that is currently being explored is to maximise partnerships within the broader UN system. Such partnerships have the potential to protect essential services and your rights from chronic underfunding.”

He assured them: “There is no handover or transfer of responsibilities and programmes on the table and no tampering with the UNRWA mandate.” And Lazzarini explained the hard realities: “The painful reality is that in the last 10 years and despite immense outreach and fundraising efforts, the resources available to UNRWA have stagnated, while the needs of the Palestine refugees and cost of operations keep increasing.”

And he also explained the geo-political background of the Palestine refugee problem: “The now chronic underfunding of UNRWA is the result of a combination of shifting geopolitical priorities, new regional dynamics, and the emergence of new humanitarian crises compounded by donor fatigue for one of the world’s longest unresolved conflicts. All these have led to a clear de-prioritisation of the Palestinian issue, including most recently among some donors from the Arab region.”

But the concerns of the Palestine refugees are not imaginary. Ali Faisal, deputy chairman of the Palestinian National Council and member of the political bureau of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said, “The Palestinian people adhere to UNRWA as one of the components on which the right of return is based, and we reject everything that contradicts and affects the national rights of our people and the agency’s specific mandate.”

Both Palestine and Israel are to be blamed for the delay in finding a solution, but in the post-Oslo Accords period from 1994, it is Israel that has been delaying the implementation of the accords as well as the final round of talks, which includes the issue of right of return of the Palestine refugees. Israel is unwilling to accept this right of return, and it is finding every excuse to delay the resolution, blaming it on Hamas for the attacks. And Israel is not also willing to surrender the West Bank, which it has occupied in the 1967 war because of the huge settlements it had allowed there.

The ball is really in Israel’s court, and international pressure has to be exerted on Tel Aviv to yield ground. Another major issue is that of accepting East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestine state. Hardliners and Zionist zealots claim undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In more ways than one, Israel has to accept the two-state solution, and make the necessary compromises to make it viable.

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