Countries pledge $110 million for UN Palestinian agency
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Countries pledge $110 million for UN Palestinian agency

Head of UNRWA, which has been struggling since it was defunded by the US, says money will allow it to cover costs for the coming months

A Palestinian worker checks a truck carrying United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) aid supplies that arrived through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel to the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on May 12, 2019. (SAID KHATIB/AFP)
A Palestinian worker checks a truck carrying United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) aid supplies that arrived through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel to the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on May 12, 2019. (SAID KHATIB/AFP)

UNITED NATIONS — More than $110 million was raised Tuesday at a pledging conference to support the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, which has been struggling since the United States slashed funding.

UNRWA chief Pierre Kraehenbuehl said the funding would allow the agency, which provides education and health services to Palestinians, to cover costs for the coming months and avoid a budget crisis.

Around 35 countries took part in the conference, mostly European and Arab nations, with the biggest contributions coming from the EU, Germany and Britain.

The conference was held on the same day as US President Donald Trump’s administration unveiled the economic component of a long-awaited Middle East peace plan, at a workshop in Bahrain boycotted by the Palestinian Authority.

The US plan dangles the prospect of $50 billion of investment in the Palestinian territories and neighboring Arab countries over 10 years.

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

In this August 23, 2018 photo, the head of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Pierre Kraehenbuehl speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

US Middle East advisor Jason Greenblatt in May told the Security Council that the agency should be dismantled and its services handed over to countries hosting the Palestinian refugees and NGOs.

Kraehenbuehl welcomed the pledge of $110 million, saying it was an “important amount” but said UNRWA would be seeking more funding to cover its annual budget of $1.2 billion in September.

“We hope this allows us to bridge a lot of the needs that we have in the next three to four months,” he told reporters.

There were no announcements of new contributions from Gulf countries, but the UNRWA chief stressed there were strong expressions of support for the agency’s work.

Last year, UNRWA relied on extra money from member states and internal savings to cover a $446 million budgetary hole. This year it unveiled a budget of $1.2 billion, unchanged from 2018.

UNRWA was set up in 1950 to help Palestinian refugees who lost their homes because in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Its assistance includes schools, healthcare centers and food distribution.

More than 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation and during the Six Day War in 1967.

They and all their descendants are deemed by the UN agency to be refugees who fall under its remit.

Israel accuses UNRWA of helping to perpetuate the Palestinian narrative of Israel’s illegitimacy by, uniquely, granting refugee status to the descendants of refugees, even when they are born in other countries and have citizenship there, conditions that do not apply to the refugees cared for by the UN’s main refugee agency, UNHCR, which cares for all other refugees worldwide. The population of Palestinian refugees thus grows each year.

The “right of return” is one of the key issues of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians claim that the five million people the UN recognizes as refugees have the right to return to their homes in Israel proper. Israel, for its part, rejects this demand, saying that it represents a bid by the Palestinians to destroy Israel by weight of numbers.

Israel’s population is almost nine million, some three-quarters of whom are Jewish. An influx of millions of Palestinians would mean Israel would no longer be a Jewish-majority state.

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