“With great appreciation, we followed the official Jordanian and regional position, which refused to merely talk about mandating the provision of services provided by the UNRWA to other UN agencies, but noted that there is a deterioration in the provision of basic services to refugees in the camps,” said, ARDD Chief Executive Director Samar Muhareb in her opening remarks, during a round table meeting on the future of UNRWA, which was held on June 7, 2022, at ARDD’s headquarters.
Present at the meeting were leading writers, experts, UNRWA representatives, as well as representatives of research centers and official institutions concerned with the question of Palestine and the UNRWA file.
The meeting marked 55th anniversary of the Palestinian Naksa day “day of the setback”, and was held within the framework of the Question of Palestine program implemented by ARDD, and in view of the need to discuss the latest UNRWA statements which has been facing a chronic financial crisis, with repercussions on Jordan and the Middle East, and of the recent statements issued by UNRWA Commissioner-General Philip Lazzarini on the future of UNRWA services.
One can still hope that the Agency’s financial collapse will not occur, or we can admit that the status quo is unsustainable and will inevitably erode the quality of UNRWA services. Or worse, lead to the interruption of these services, and I am convinced that doing nothing will do more harm than good,” Lazzarini had said.
He added that it may be possible that some UN agencies will provide their services, on behalf of UNRWA and under its direction, a thing that is being viewed by observers as the beginning of UNRWA’s disavowal of its responsibilities toward the refugees.
UNRWA’s status is unique among other UN agencies it is a direct service provider with a mandate from the United Nations General Assembly, which makes it directly responsible for providing basic services in the areas of education, health, relief, social services, infrastructure and refugee camp development, and development programs. UNRWA is facing growing demand for services as a result of the increasing number of registered Palestinian refugees, which has reached 5.15 million. These refugees benefit from UNRWA services, extended to refugees living outside the camps in host countries by 2,900 employees working in 58 camps.
UNRWA’s reliance on voluntary contributions and grants from international donors, and the fluctuation of these contributions year after year, made this model unsustainable, especially in financial terms, as basic education and primary health care systems require bigger budgets to cater to the natural growth of the population and to cope with the inflation, which exacerbated the budget deficit.
Dr. Anis Qassem, international lawyer and member of the Global Network on the Question of Palestine, talked about the funding problem that UNRWA is currently experiencing, and expressed disatisfaction with the lack of a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, which has been aggravated since 1948, without the UN, the international community, donor and host countries finding a solution to it. while there is no contemplation by any party of solutions that would serve the UNRWA project till the right is returned to its owners.
“It is clear that Israel succeeded in defeating our Arab countries and the international community when it convinced them that it is impossible for the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, and this is at the core of the apartheid regime that it practices and through which it deprives the Palestinians of the right of return,” Qassem added. This is what prompts the world to discuss resettling refugees, liquidating UNRWA, and the impossibility of the refugees to return to their homes, he said, stressing that Arab and Palestinian leaders should think of a supportive funding system in order to solve the refugee problem.
Ziad Khazar Al Majali, former ambassador, said that the issue of Palestinian refugees at UNRWA has two dimensions: one, political and legal, and the other is humanitarian and concerning services, adding that the second dimension is linked to funding, and should in no way affect the political and legal dimensions and the refugees’ right to return to their country.
Writer Oraib Al Rantawi said that “We have to work in a tactical and immediate sense to provide the resources that make the survival of UNRWA and its services, and its preservation of the refugees’ right of return an issue that cannot be discussed”.
Writer Daoud Kuttab said that “We must find a way to rebuild trust in UNRWA, especially after recent statements and positions”, stressing that “we must resolve the controversy and conflicting opinions about the contribution of Arab countries to support and solve the UNRWA problem”.
International lawyer Faisal Al Khuzaie said that “It is imperical to support UNRWA and not take away any of the powers and services it provides, nor assign them to another party, because this dilutes the issue of Palestinian refugees who are suffering from lack of services, compared to other refugees in host countries”.In addition to the material support UNRWA provides to refugees, UNRWA is a political umbrella that preserves refugees’ rights, the most important of which is the right of return, which is guaranteed by international law, and this political dimension should not be abandoned under any circumstances, participants said. They also stressed their categorical refusal to transfer UNRWA’s tasks to any other parties.
The participants stressed that there has been an attempt to part ways with the refugee issue and UNRWA, and get rid of the symbolism of the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and stressed the need to pressure the international community to carry out its duties toward UNRWA and Palestinian refugees, and that UNRWA’s financial crisis may be fabricated to complicate its political position in support of the right of refugees to return to their country. They also said that Israel has been trying for years to liquidate the Palestinian cause, highlighting the international community’s biased stance vis-à-vis humanitarian issues, stressing that the financial deficit UNRWA suffers from is less than the price offered to repair a Ukrainian plane.
Despite UNRWA’s critical situation, the participants expressed optimism that its problems will be resolved and it will continue to provide services, especially in light of the current Palestinian lobby that has been able to force the current US administration to deal realistically with the Palestinian issue and UNRWA’s mandate, which cannot be changed without a decision from the United Nations General Assembly. They called for strengthening partnerships between international organizations and UNRWA without entrusting its services to other parties and maintaining UNRWA’s role in providing services because any manipulation in this role would negatively affect the stability in the region.
They also recommended supporting the Arab and Jordanian role, in particular, rejecting any change in the UNRWA mandate, and coming up with solutions that ensure financial support, for example by establishing an Arab fund, in order for UNRWA to keep on providing services and improving its efficiency to meet the needs of various UNRWA employees. They also stressed the importance of continuing the dialogue to keep up with the latest developments and exchange views on this pivotal issue for Jordan and the Question of Palestine.