Middle East Monitor / November 11, 2019
Last week, UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced that Pierre Krähenbühl, the General Commissioner of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), had resigned over “management issues”.
In a statement, Guterres said that the findings of an internal UN inquiry “revealed management issues which relate specifically to the Commissioner-General.” Krähenbühl, he added, had stepped aside until the completion of the process. This is clearly a direct accusation against the head of UNRWA.
This development came just a couple of days after Israel Hayom revealed that Guterres had tasked pro-Israel organisations to explore alternatives for UNRWA operations. One of those organisations is the Centre for Near East Policy Research, which is headed by David Bedein, who has, the newspaper affirmed, “long-been a vocal critic of UNRWA.”
Guterres also asked one of his advisors to continue consultations with Bedein and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles. The Israeli newspaper revealed that Bedein and Cooper were the two men who pushed the UN chief to “increase oversight and transparency” over UNRWA. Hence, he requested “more detailed proposals” for alternatives to the Agency.
Israeli officials have been calling for UNRWA to be closed down the because it recognises as refugees the descendants of the Palestinians who were forced from their homes and land by the Zionist Jewish terror gangs in 1948 ahead of the creation of the state of Israel. Given that all refugees, everywhere, have the legitimate right to return to their land, if this was allowed to happen, the number of Palestinian refugees would undermine the character of the state, which Israel insists is a state for Jews only.
When the US stopped making donations to UNRWA last year, the then Mayor of the Jewish-led Municipality of Jerusalem, Nir Barakat, said: “The US decision has created a rare opportunity to replace UNRWA’s services with the services of the Jerusalem Municipality. We are putting an end to the lie of the ‘Palestinian refugee problem’ and the attempts at creating a false sovereignty within a sovereignty.”
Three months ago, when the issue of the mismanagement within the Agency was revealed, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, “appealed” to the international community to cut their donations to UNRWA.
Danon, of course, cares nothing at all about mismanagement, corruption or anything of the kind. If he did, then he would surely have called for the Israeli police to arrest his Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on numerous corruption charges, the like of which supersede all allegations levelled at UNRWA and its officials. The Israeli official only cares about destroying anything or anybody which represents or works on behalf of the Palestinians, even if it is an international body founded by the UN itself.
Commenting on Krähenbühl’s removal, Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Israel Katz, described this is an opportunity to eliminate UNRWA altogether and get rid of the “futile” idea of the return of the Palestinian refugees. He tried to justify Israel’s thinking behind getting rid of an Agency which provides essential education, health and social services to the refugees.
“UNRWA’s conduct illustrates that the agency is part of the problem, and not part of the solution,” he claimed, “The agency perpetuates the refugee issue in a political manner, and in doing so distances any possibility for a future resolution. The international community needs to find a new model that will provide humanitarian assistance to those who truly need it, and must remove from the agenda the futile idea of the return of the refugees.”
The Palestinians believe that the latest developments related to UNRWA are a result of ongoing Israeli and US pressure on the UN in order to end the Agency’s mandate. According to Basim Naim, a member of the International Relations Office of Hamas, seeking Krähenbühl’s resignation before the inquiry has finished its work means that it has nothing to do with the probe. “It is purely political,” he insisted, “as a result of US and Israeli pressure.”
Naim pointed out that if UNRWA is closed down it would be a new Nakba for the Palestinians. He called for Guterres to share the findings of any probe related to the Agency with the Palestinians as they are the “most affected” party. “We, the Palestinians, call for the UN Secretary General to share the findings of any probe with us to ensure that it is not fake and did not aim to deceive us,” he told MEMO. “We will not accept another Nakba after the forced displacement of the Palestinian people in 1948 by Zionist gangs.”
Krähenbühl, meanwhile, has denied any wrongdoings and stressed his belief that UNRWA is the victim of a political campaign designed to undermine it. “There is no corruption, fraud or misappropriation of aid,” he told Swiss broadcaster RTS. “My role was above the politics that have governed this entire process.”
Without naming any party, but clearly meaning the Israeli officials who have been attacking UNRWA, he added, “A further delay would only benefit those who have so actively engaged in political, financial and personal attacks over the past two years with the declared objective to undermine UNRWA and the integrity of Palestine refugees.”
UNRWA is unlikely to be closed overnight, as it would lead to chaos and create a humanitarian vacuum. Alternatives might include handing over its work to the governments of countries hosting Palestinian refugees, and granting them full citizenship. Their care would then shift from UNRWA to the host governments.
The destruction of the Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and the increasing restrictions imposed on refugees by the government in Lebanon are also part of this complex plan. The intention is to push Palestinians to leave the refugee camps which, despite everything else, have become a potent symbol of their refugee status and legitimate right of return. Ultimately, it is the latter which Israel and its allies want to negate by cancelling refugee status for millions of Palestinians. The closure of UNRWA would be a major step in that direction.
Motasem A Dalloul is Memo’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip