UNRWA in financial crisis – here the facts explained by the spokesperson Christoph Gunnes

The complex and harsh challenges the Palestine refugee community has endured over the past decades are monumental. This year the challenges have grown, following the largest ever reduction in funding UNRWA has faced.  The ability of Palestine refugees to persevere is hugely admired by many around the world who continue earnestly to express solidarity and support for them.  As we continue to pursue every avenue of support to overcome a severe financial crisis, UNRWA, its dedicated staff, and the refugees have only one option – to face up to this situation together and preserve the most important work we do.

The decision of the US to cut $300 million in funding to UNRWA this year has been described by our Commissioner-General as an existential threat to UNRWA. Determined not to forsake Palestine refugees, UNRWA and its partners have mobilized political and financial support around the globe, to maintain its operations and render essential services to its beneficiaries with dignity and hope.

Our global fundraising efforts and Dignity Is Priceless campaign have led to significant additional support for UNRWA, from historical donors to new partners, including institutions for the mobilization of Zakat. Throughout this period, the Hosts provided important backing. From March to June alone   UNRWA raised US$ 238 million in new funding for Palestine refugees, and with the conclusion of the New York pledging conference on 25 June, the US$ 446 deficit was reduced to US$ 217 million – a monumental achievement.

The response, so far, reaffirms that UNRWA enjoys clear support from key donors, hosts and the Secretary-General of the United Nations.  Continuing and expanding this support is crucial for our efforts over the coming months to bridge the financial gap and ensure needed funding for our 2019 operations.

We are still in crisis. Let no one claim otherwise. But we are also determined to maintain core services to the millions of Palestine refugees who rely on us in Jordan, Lebanon, the occupied Palestinian territory, and Syria, and preserve what we can of our emergency assistance.

Our emergency assistance is critically under-funded in the occupied Palestinian territory, where the US contribution for emergency programming  — almost $100 million per year — is no longer available and has forced us to take mitigating measures.

In implementing these changes to its emergency interventions in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, UNRWA’s humanitarian responsibility dictates that we give priority to refugees with the most critical needs. It dictates that we protect core services, including education, health and relief, via our staff members to the millions of Palestine refugees in need of such services. With the rolling out of these measures, a limited number of personnel (both area and international) will be affected.

In the West Bank owing to the absence of emergency funding, UNRWA will discontinue its Cash for Work activities effective 31 July 2018.  However, households assessed in the last two years as abject poor, will be transitioned to the Social Safety Net Programme (SSNP) – a core programme of the Agency, which we are determined to continue. This will ensure that the most impoverished refugees inside camps continue to receive assistance, and become eligible for other forms of support which are not available under Cash for Work. Food voucher activities will continue until the end of 2018, at which time households who have been assessed in the last two years as abject poor will also be transitioned to SSNP.

The Bedouin community’s food assistance programme will continue operating until the end of 2018, with UNRWA and its partner the World Food Programme  actively working to secure funds for its continuation in 2019. The Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP)  will be discontinued effective 31 August 2018. UNRWA is currently coordinating options to continue working with select communities alongside UN agencies. Finally, mobile health clinics will be discontinued effective 31 October 2018. UNRWA is identifying possible partners for continued service to select communities.

As a result of all these measures, 154 staff members hired against now depleted emergency funds will not  have their contracts renewed upon reaching their expiry date. UNRWA recognizes the implications of such measures on affected staff.  In recognition to the important service of these colleagues and their dedication, if they chose to apply in the future to vacant posts, they will be treated as ‘internal candidates’ allowing an exceptional greater opportunity for re-employment with the Agency.

In doing all it can to minimize the impact on refugees in Gaza UNRWA is prioritizing food security support to the most vulnerable refugees by continuing its emergency food programme to nearly I1 million refugees and retaining certain interventions such as Cash for Work. In order to do so,  the community mental health programme, job creation programme and protection functions will have to be altered. The community mental health programme will continue, albeit at reduced capacity and cost. As of September 2018, mental health activities will be largely embedded within our health and education departments instead of a standalone programme.

In order to protect as many jobs as possible and retain components of certain emergency-based interventions by integrating them into core programmes, around 280 staff will be redeployed on full time basis in existing or revised functions and approximately 584 staff will be offered part time posts in existing or revised functions.   The EA funding challenge in the Strip would result in having 113  posts on emergency funding not renewed upon expiry of contract in August this year. As is the case with the West Bank field, if they choose to apply in the future to vacant posts, they will be treated as ‘internal candidates’ allowing an exceptional greater opportunity for re-deployment with the Agency.

It is important to emphasize that relentless efforts are underway to ensure that the new school year would start on time, catering to half a million students,  and that our other essential services – such as health care for example – continue uninterrupted. It is equally important to be clear that UNRWA remains committed to provide assistance and protection to Palestine refugees, in accordance with its mandate. The General Assembly has consistently extended the Agency’s mandate, most recently until 30 June 2020.

In his recent letter to UNRWA staff, the Commissioner-General said that despite all the challenges it faces, the Agency “will prevail” and it will not weaken its “defense of the rights and dignity of Palestine refugees.”

 

Israeli extension of illegal settlements undermines international peace efforts

Signals are coming from Washington that the Obama team will during the remaining months make new efforts to restart peace talks on the Israel-Palestine conflict. At the same time the French government is pursuing its project to establish a meaningful framework for genuine negotiations. The so called Quartet – US, EU, Russia and the UN Secretariat – has come out with agreed positions, one of which is a strong call for termination of the Israeli settlement activities.

But Prime Minister Netanyahu is certainly not cooperating with this these efforts, in particular not with the French initiative. Instead, his government is stepping up the expansion of settlements. New permissions are given for hundreds of units in both East Jerusalem and the West Bank. More than half a million now reside in these illegal settlements.

Protests from the US government, the EU and UN representatives have so far been ignored. The reaction from the US State Department has been particularly strong:

The United States is deeply concerned about Israel’s reported plans to build an additional 323 units in settlements in East Jerusalem on top of 770 units previously announced in the settlement of Gilo”.

“These steps by Israeli authorities are the latest examples of what appears to be a steady acceleration of settlement activity that is systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution”. 

The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, stated that the Israeli policies are destroying prospects for a Palestinian state.

“I remain increasingly concerned by the near-daily advancement of the illegal settlement enterprise in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem”.

In the midst of Israel’s acceleration of the settlement activities, the Republican Party decided at its convent to ditch any support to a two-state solution, a position largely influenced by Netanyahu’s agitation during his previous visits to the US. Now obviously embarrassed by this situation he made a statement that he was in favor of two states side by side (which he has said before – with conditions making the position totally meaningless).

Also, we have learned that when it comes Netanyahu deeds are definitely more important than words. For the moment he is busy building relations with the new dictator in Cairo and with the Saudi regime. One purpose is obviously to create an alibi for not supporting the serious initiatives from the outgoing Obama administration or the French government.

As before Netanyahu’s policy is to maintain the status quo. No compromises for peace.

 

 

 

Israel-Palestine: the two-state solution is now seriously undermined

Reports from the Middle East are not encouraging. While the world has given its full attention to the disaster in Syria, the relations between Israelis and Palestinians have reached a new low. The Israeli government has taken further steps to expand settlements on the West Bank and Palestinians have given up on the possibilities to reach a peace agreement through talks. Extremists are gaining ground on both sides. Violence has been spread during the last six months. 30 Israelis have been killed, several of them through knife attacks, while 198 Palestinians have lost their lives through the Israeli counter measures.

However, the international community has not been totally passive. The French government is trying to convene an international conference in order to start a peace process and the so called Middle East Quartet (with the US, the Russian Federation, the EU and the UN secretariat) is working towards a Security Council resolution with the same intention.

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process, Bulgarian diplomat Micholay Mladenov, has asked for new efforts by the international community to stop the negative spiral. His speech to the Security Council on 24 March gave a clear message based on an analysis which ought to be widely understood.

I quote below key passages of his presentation. 

“We in the international community must also be clear both in our understanding of the conflict and our role in how to help resolve it. Our immediate priority must be ending the violence which is tearing Israelis and Palestinians apart when both face the rise of radicals among their own constituents. We only need to look at the rest of the region to see the dangers of religious extremism, sectarianism and terrorism.  

But let us be also abundantly clear that the current security challenges cannot be addressed if we lose sight of the fundamental problems that have led us here — the persistent inability to achieve a just and lasting solution that meets the national aspirations of the Palestinians and Israelis and allows them to live in two states, side by side, in peace, security and mutual recognition. This is why today we must once again play an important role by saying no, the prospect of a two-state solution is not dead, it remains the best pathway for peace

The time has come to ring the alarm bells that the two-state solution is slipping from our fingers, that it is disappearing as the realities on the ground – driven by the ongoing settlement activities and confiscation of Palestinian land, as well as the continued lack of genuine Palestinian unity – make the prospect of a viable and independent Palestinian state less possible and less likely. The time has come for us to speak clearly as to the risks that undermine the two-state solution but also point to the way forward to a return to meaningful negotiations 

This is why the United Nations Secretary-General, the EU, the Russian Federation and the United States ofAmerica — all members of the MiddleEast Quartet, have stepped up their efforts to break the political impasse. The Quartet Envoys have started our work on a report which will review the situation on the ground, identify the dangers to a two-state solution, and provide recommendations on the way forward. We remain seriously concerned that current trends – including continued acts of violence against civilians, incitement, ongoing settlement activity, and the high rate of demolitions of Palestinian structuresare dangerously imperiling the viability of a two-state solution.  

While the international community explores avenues for constructive engagement, there are trends that raise questions about the commitment of the parties to seriously address the main challenges blocking the progress towards peace.   

Israel’s settlement enterprise continues, despite broad international condemnation. In a particularly troubling development, on March 10th Israel classified 580 acress out of the city ofJericho, in the West Bank as so-calledstate land’. The area includes the 378 acres, reportedly approved, and widely condemned, in January of this year. This is evidence of a continued policy of systematic consolidation of Israeli control of the occupied West Bank, in direct contravention of international law.    

Since the early 1980s, Israeli authorities in the West Bank have adopted, based on a controversial interpretation of the Ottoman Land Law, a policy of declaring as “state land” land that is not otherwise registered as private. This has resulted in the State seizing control over certain areas where Palestinians claim ownership and has proved to be a precursor for settlement construction. Any such declaration, particularly of a large scale, raises justified concerns over further settlement expansion. Settlements are illegal under international law and I urge Israel to halt and reverse such decisions.   

The demolition and confiscation of Palestinian structures across the West Bank has also surged in 2016 withsome 468 houses and other structures demolished since the beginning of the year. On March 23, Israeli authorities demolished 53 structures in Khirbet Tana, including 22 homes, the third demolition this year in this particular community because Israel has declared by Israel as a firingzone. The total number of structures demolished or confiscated in these first 12 weeksof 2016 has now reached 85 per cent of the total number demolished or confiscated in all of 2015. As Palestinians are consistently denied permits to build legally, residents in the affected areas are left with few options but to build without permits, leaving them in constant fear of their homes and livelihoods being destroyed. I urge Israel to respect international humanitarian law and cease such unfair and unjust planning processes in the West Bank.”