Institute of Law organizes lecture on UNRWA and the recent aid cutbacks

The Institute of Law at Birzeit University, in cooperation with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung,  organized a lecture entitled “The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – The Legal Situation in Light of Aid Cutbacks,” on February 13, 2018.

The lecture, presented by Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy Research & Strategic Studies’ Gaza Offices Salah Abdel Ati, began with a review of the UN General Assembly resolutions related to the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, such as Resolution 194, adopted in 1948, which states that willing refugees have the right of return to their homes and the right to live safely next to their neighbors and families. Abdel Ati also discussed well as Resolution 302, adopted in 1949, which established UNRWA based on Resolution 194.

Abdel Ati then discussed the attempts to erase the concept of the Palestinian refugee and dismantle UNRWA by limiting its funds. “On August 13, 2017, the United Nations General Assembly removed an item related to a funding proposal submitted by UNRWA to contain and mitigate a $115 million-dollar financial deficit, which adversely impacted the level of services provided by UNRWA to 6 million registered Palestinian refugees in its five areas of operation: the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon,” said Abdel Ati.

“It’s important to preserve the presence of UNRWA as a legitimate international organization,” added Abdel Ati. “We should challenge any plans that aim to delegitimize UNRWA’s role through the gradual decrease of its funding or services, or attempts to transfer the responsibilities of UNRWA to the host nations. UNRWA is a testament to the crimes of forced fragmentation and migration that the Palestinian people suffered through.”

Abdel Ati noted that there are three possible scenarios for the future of UNRWA. The first, he said, is the American-Israeli direction, which calls for putting an end to UNRWA, in connection to the solutions and compromises implemented in the area; the second scenario is that UNRWA continues to serve its role and uphold its responsibilities until a Palestinian state is established; and the third scenario, which Abdel Ati calls the “most appropriate,” involves keeping UNRWA alive and funded until Palestinian refugees are granted their full rights, including their right of return. The Palestinian refugee issue is an international cause, said Abdel Ati, one which the international community bears complete responsibility for.

The lecture concluded with some recommendations by Abdel Ati, the most important of which encouraged UNRWA to submit a funding proposal to counteract and contain its financial crisis, countering attempts to distort UNRWA’s public image with campaigns that display its importance, expediting the reconciliation process and regaining national Palestinian unity, and challenging the American decision to cut back aid to the organization.