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US calls for dismantling UN Palestinian refugee agency

By AFP - May 22,2019 - Last updated at May 22,2019

Palestinian children stand behind a wire fence in an impoverished area in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday (AFP photo)

UNITED NATIONS, United States — The United States called Wednesday for dismantling the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, weeks before unveiling the economic aspects of its long-awaited Middle East peace plan.

Addressing the UN Security Council, US adviser Jason Greenblatt said UNRWA was a "bandaid" and that it was time to hand over services assured by the UN agency to countries hosting the Palestinian refugees and NGOs.

"The UNRWA model has failed the Palestinian people," Greenblatt told the council.

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

Greenblatt, who along with Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner is drafting the peace proposals, said it was time to "start a conversation about planning the transition of UNRWA services to host governments, or to other international or local non-governmental organisations, as appropriate".

Founded in 1949, UNRWA provides education and health services to some five million Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

The agency has long been a thorn in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's side and he has called for UNRWA to be shut down, claiming that it is anti-Israeli and “perpetuates the refugee problem”.

The United States will hold a conference in Bahrain on June 25-26 focused on the economic aspects of the peace plan that Greenblatt said has the “potential to unlock a prosperous future for the Palestinians”.

The Palestinians have rejected the US peace plan and cut off contacts with the Trump administration after it recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, ignoring Palestinian aspirations for a future state with East Jerusalem as its capital. 

Greenblatt pressed the US argument that the peace plan could bring prosperity to the Palestinians.

“It would be a mistake for the Palestinians not to join us. They have nothing to lose and much to gain if they do join us. But it is, of course, their choice,” he said.

UNRWA chief Pierre Kraehenbuehl told the council by video-conference from Gaza that the agency had managed to plug a $446 million deficit last year through budget cuts and new donor contributions.

“At a time when Palestine refugees face a near complete absence of a political horizon, I am strongly convinced that preserving UNRWA’s services is a crucial contribution in terms of human dignity and regional stability,” said Kraehenbuehl. 

France echoed that stance and warned that a failure to support Palestinian refugees would turn camps into prime recruitment ground for terrorist groups in the region.

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