Israel will submit a proposal for dismantling UNRWA

According to United Nations sources, Israel has submitted a proposal to the United Nations to disband UNRWA, its aid agency for Palestinian refugees, and transfer its staff to another agency that will replace it and deliver food to Gaza on a large scale. guardian.

The proposal was presented late last week by Israel’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Hertz Halevi, to UN officials in Israel, who forwarded it to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday, according to sources familiar with the talks. .

UNRWA was not involved in the talks because the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) refused to deal with it since last Monday, based on previously unconfirmed claims of alleged links by the agency’s staff to the Palestinian armed groups Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

Israel insists it is willing to allow large amounts of aid into Gaza and that the limiting factor is the UN’s ability to distribute. Its decision not to cooperate with UNRWA seriously affects these opportunities.

Details

Under the terms presented last week, 300 to 400 UNRWA staff would initially be transferred to another UN agency, such as the World Food Program (WFP), or to a new organization created directly to distribute food to Gaza. More UNRWA staff, as well as agency assets, may be transferred in later stages. It is not specified who will lead the new agency under the plan, nor who will be responsible for ensuring its delivery.

UNRWA, which has supported the Palestinian territories since 1950, has been excluded from negotiations on its future existence, despite being the biggest humanitarian actor in the Strip. “UNRWA has been consistently unaware of discussions related to the coordination of humanitarian assistance in Gaza,” said Tamara Alrifai, the organization’s director of external relations.

Some UN officials believe Israel’s plan is an attempt to convince the United Nations that it is not ready to cooperate if a famine occurs in Gaza, which humanitarian organizations have warned of. Last Thursday, the International Court of Justice, which hears genocide charges against Israel, ordered the Israeli government to take “all necessary and effective measures” to provide large-scale aid to Gaza “in full cooperation with the United Nations. “United.”

There are those at the UN who also see Israel’s proposal as the culmination of a long Israeli campaign to destroy UNRWA, a view echoed by other aid agencies and rights groups. “If we allow this, we will be directly controlled by the Israelis and the UN will be directly complicit in weakening UNRWA, which is not only the largest aid provider, but also the largest bastion of the struggle.” against extremism” in Gaza,” says the UN representative. “We would be playing into the hands of many political agendas if we allowed that.”

Guterres’ office and the IDF did not respond to requests for comment. guardian To know your vision.

Alrifai says the small size of the proposed new aid distribution organization will undermine its ability to effectively deliver aid to the Gaza Strip at a time when it is most needed. “This is not a criticism of WFP, but logically if they started distributing food in Gaza tomorrow, they would use UNRWA trucks and bring the food to UNRWA warehouses and then distribute to UNRWA shelters or their surroundings,” he says. “So they will need at least the same infrastructure that we have, including human resources.”

Much beyond food

UNRWA is the largest aid organization in Gaza, with 13,000 staff at the start of the war, 3,000 of whom continue to serve, as well as tens of thousands more in the occupied West Bank and elsewhere. in the Middle East. In addition to food distribution, the agency is one of the largest employers in Gaza, teaching and providing essential medical services as health care in the enclave collapses.

“It’s not just food. We now operate seven health centers in Gaza, providing 23,000 consultations a day and 53,000 vaccinations since the start of the war. So that’s a whole field in itself that no other agency can offer right now,” says Alrifai. “It’s good that because of hunger we’re drawing attention to food and warning about malnutrition, but UNRWA is much more than food distribution.”

Israel claims that 11% of UNRWA staff are linked to Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and that up to 30 were involved in some way in the October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people. Tel Aviv has yet to provide evidence for the allegations, which have led to the suspension of $450 million in funding from 16 major donors at a time when 2.3 million people in Gaza face starvation.


Earlier this month, the US Congress passed a spending bill that included a provision blocking future US funding to UNRWA, but other domestic donors have resumed funding in the weeks since the UN launched two investigations. One is an investigation into specific Israeli allegations: a month ago they had not yet received evidence of them, but hoped for future cooperation. The second investigation, led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna and supported by three Nordic investigative agencies, is a broader review of the agency’s integrity.

An interim report of the Colonna inquiry on March 20 noted that UNRWA has “a significant number of mechanisms and procedures” in place to ensure its neutrality, but critical aspects remain to be addressed.

The IDF ended cooperation with UNRWA when Australia, Canada and Sweden, Finland and Japan announced they would resume funding the agency. Instead, the Israeli army sought to collaborate with other agencies, such as the WFP.

Behind the scenes at the U.N., the U.S. supports Israel’s efforts to integrate UNRWA’s functions into other agencies, but diplomats in New York say the effort has so far faced resistance from other donors and Guterres, who has so far offered full support. of UNRWA. “We must try to preserve the unique services that UNRWA provides because it keeps hope alive,” the secretary-general said during a visit to a refugee camp in Jordan last week, adding that it would be “cruel and incomprehensible” to disrupt UNRWA’s services. Palestinians.

UNRWA is mandated by the UN General Assembly, which is theoretically the only one that can decide the fate of the agency.

Some UN aid officials argue that only UNRWA has the resources and trust of ordinary Palestinians to provide food aid to the Gaza Strip, and that it is trying to reinvent itself as a politically motivated aid organization to respond to Israeli demands at the start of the bombing and famine. , disastrous consequences will follow.

“It is scandalous that UN agencies such as WFP and senior UN officials are involved in discussions about dismantling UNRWA,” says former UNRWA representative Chris Gunes. “The General Assembly gives UNRWA its mandate and only the General Assembly can change it, not the Secretary-General and certainly not any member state.”

Source: El Diario

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