Sunday,17 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1408, (6 - 12 September 2018)
Sunday,17 February, 2019
Issue 1408, (6 - 12 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Punishing Palestinian refugees

The US administration’s decision Friday to end all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is a cruel and irresponsible move targeting the most vulnerable segment of Palestinian society. It also leaves no room whatsoever for the Trump administration to claim any role in reviving peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis.

Coming only a few days after a decision to freeze $200 million in US aid to Gaza and the West Bank, Trump’s move to end any US funding of UNRWA is a clear attempt to punish Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas for refusing to meet with US administration officials after Trump’s unilateral decision in December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Palestinian refugees are already victims who have lost their homes, livelihoods and security as a result of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and once again they are being victimised by the US administration in support of Israel’s decades-long military occupation.

UNRWA has provided the 5.3 million Palestinian refugees residing in 58 refugee camps in Occupied Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria with a sense of hope and security through its vital services, support and opportunities for work, growth and development. It also works to ensure that the rights of Palestinian refugees under international law are protected and promoted.
Claims made by Washington that UNRWA exaggerates the number of Palestinian refugees are simply baseless.

Furthermore, attempts by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to limit refugee status to Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes as a result of massacres by Zionist gangs, such as the Deir Yassin massacre, constitute a flagrant violation of international law, if not racism against the Palestinian people. Descendants of refugees from Bosnia, Somalia and Kashmir are all granted the same refugee status as their parents. Compensation for victims of the Holocaust are also not limited to those who directly suffered this crime against humanity, but also extends to their children and grandchildren.

The real outcome of the US administration’s latest unilateral and irresponsible policy is the destabilisation of the entire region and the creation of unimaginable suffering and hardship for Palestinian refugees. Countries hosting Palestinian refugees are also going to suffer at a time when countries like Jordan and Lebanon are hardly coping with the flood of a new wave of refugees coming from neighbouring Syria. Therefore, the US decision will certainly harm some of Washington’s closest allies, and countries whose support is vital to assure the durability of any peace deal reached between Israel and the Palestinians.

With such a decision, the US is doing Israel’s bidding and destroying the very foundations of peace and stability, taking all permanent status issues “off the table”, including the right of return for refugees and the fate of Occupied Jerusalem.

Trump’s decision also weakens Palestinian and Arab trust in any US-brokered peace deals. The 1993 Oslo Accords, signed at the White House, clearly stated that final borders, illegal settlements, the fate of Jerusalem, the right of return for refugees and water resources are all final status issues that have to be settled in agreement between the two sides, and not on the basis of unilateral decisions taken by Washington.

Trump’s pride in taking final status issues “off the table” is a mockery of international law and all agreements that were signed by Israel and the Palestinians. However, such sensitive issues that date back 70 years will never be settled in such a manner. Palestinians managed in keeping their plight alive, gaining more international support, not because of UNRWA, but because they are fighting for their basic human rights. Attempts by Trump to terminate the Palestinian cause during his four years in office, or even eight, will certainly not succeed as long as Palestinians remain steadfast in their struggle.

Until the plight of Palestinian refugees is resolved in accordance with international law and relevant UN resolutions, including UN General Assembly Resolution 194, all members of the international community must shoulder their responsibilities towards Palestinian refugees and provide the necessary support and financial assistance UNRWA needs to fulfil its mandate. In this respect, Germany deserves to be saluted for its immediate decision to increase its financial support for UNRWA. Hopefully, Arab states, and more European countries, will also take similar steps to shoulder their responsibility towards the Palestinian people.

Countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar, all close US allies, must lead the effort in conveying to Washington their dissatisfaction with Trump’s faulty strategy in dealing with the thorny Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the more urgent task for those countries is to lead intensive efforts to compensate UNRWA for the sharp shortage it will suffer following Trump’s irresponsible decision.

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