This Saturday, rumours began to spread amongst Palestinians on social media of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) cutting aid to 400,000 refugees living in the Gaza Strip. This coupled with the lack of funds available to the UN Agency have sparked anxiety that the situation in the illegally besieged Gaza Strip will grow even dire.
The United States Trump Administration cut all US funding from the UN Program in August, 2018, forcing the organisation to make cuts to the detriment of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In November, 2020, the organisation was on the verge of collapse as it reluctantly came to admit that its funds, come 2021, may not exist for many of its major projects.
In a December interview with ‘Wafa News Agency’ UNRWA Director of Communications, Sami Mshasha, stirred hysteria stating that “there is not enough money in the banks to pay full salaries for this month.” For millions of Palestinian refugees UNRWA is their lifeline and is their means of maintaining work and food to feed their families. The organisation set up in December of 1949, by the United Nations, was created in order to provide a form of sustenance for refugees amongst the 850,000 expelled from Palestine during the 1947-1949 ethnic cleansing. Since its inception, the organisation has never been at such a low point.
Today, this low point has been achieved, falling into line with the infamous ‘Deal of the Century’, which just like other Trump era regional deals was an agreement on a long running agenda, included in which was the dissipation of the Palestinian Right of Return. The Right of Return was first introduced to the arena of International Law and legitimacy with UNGA Resolution 194, with this right having been recognised by leading Human Rights Organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
This political strategy to destroy the Palestinian Refugee issue (by the US and Israel) has not been limited to Western powers and is now encompassing the Arab reactionary regimes in its scope of supporters. The United Arab Emirates, according to a report published for the French News organisation ‘Le Monde’, is working with Israel to deconstruct UNRWA without any final settlement to solve the Palestinian refugee issue.
The hopes are that in destroying UNRWA, which should be around for at least three more years as of its renewed mandate in November of last year, the UNHCR which also deals with refugee issues will look to be the main body of the UN in charge of the issue. Essentially with the UNHCR working primarily on repatriation or resettlement of refugees, the hopes of Israel would be that Palestinians will slowly lose their status as refugees – currently upheld through UNRWA registry – and become naturalised into countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
With Arab-Israeli Normalisation deals having been struck with four more reactionary Arab regimes – formerly held to the ‘Arab Peace Initiative’ which was first agreed upon by the Arab League in 2002 – they sought to force Israel into accepting a final “peace settlement” with the Palestinians. In order to achieve this “final peace settlement”, Israel would have to concede on what are known as the final status issues, namely the Question of Jerusalem, Borders, Settlements and the Palestinian refugee question.
Jerusalem is supposed to be essentially cut in half, with an Israeli Capital in the West and a Palestinian Capital in the East. Israeli Settlements according to International Law are illegal, but negotiations could have brought a compromise through mutual land swaps. When it comes to the issue of Borders, the Palestinian Authority were content with accepting only 22% of their historical homeland. On all of these issues however, Israel has made it virtually impossible for any deal to be struck, due to the illegally imposed facts on the ground. Also, US recognition of Jerusalem as being Israel’s Capital, as well as its recognition of the illegal settlements as legitimate, have made the situation even less repairable.
The Palestinian refugee issue is perhaps the last ‘final status issue’ that Israel is yet to completely destroy. This issue is also the most threatening to Israel’s racist apartheid State model, because the refugees returning to their homes would mean a complete Palestinian majority in the country and hence immediately crush Apartheid.
The Arab regime’s normalising, however, has taken away the biggest bargaining chip from the Palestinian Authorities negotiating team. This now means that the “Two-State” solution is virtually impossible and the only thing now getting in Israel’s way is the International legitimacy of the Palestinian ‘Right of Return’. In Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ he lays out a strategy to pay off the refugees and governments of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, in order to have them integrate Palestinians as Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese. This initiative is key to understand, as this essentially robs Palestinians of their right to exist, stealing from them their very identity and asking them to give up their heritage and bury the keys to their homes which they were forced to leave by Zionist militias.
The Israeli aim of destroying the Palestinian refugee issue, is not however, one which will pass by easily. Already this attempt to destroy the Palestinian refugees as a group of people is having real time effects on the lives of thousands of families. UNRWA is out of money and as a result the salaries of tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees employed by UNRWA have been slashed into fractions of what they should be. UNRWA operates schools, social programs, emergency relief, food aid and other meaningful services which provide jobs for those in need.
According to the most recent November UNCTAD report (2020), Gaza’s economy alone has been deprived of 16.7 billion between 2007-2018 due to Israel’s blockade, which doesn’t include the resources Israel has deprived it of harnessing itself. In 2019, UNCTAD also revealed that the Palestinian economy had been robbed of 48 billion between 2000-2017 due to Israel’s ongoing illegal military occupation.
The effects on Palestinian refugees due to this move to destroy UNRWA, with no real plan to provide for these State-less people, will prove to be not only a catastrophe for this group on a scale not yet witnessed, in terms of abject poverty, but will also inevitably create chaos in territories where this program is severely relied upon.
If Gaza’s situation is to deteriorate further, already having been declared ‘unlivable’ by the UN last year, violence between the Hamas government and Israel is almost guaranteed to escalate. On top of this, the already heavily impoverished Palestinian refugee population in Lebanon will be plunged into a hellish condition, which will inevitably lead to violence and possibly unrest in Lebanon.
This attack, initiated at the behest of Israel by the US Trump administration, will create hell on earth for Palestinian refugees if it is allowed to go any further. This not only means chaos for the 5 million plus Palestinian refugees, but for the region, and it means an escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza. Due to the fact that Palestinians represent one of the largest groups of refugees on the planet, it is also foreseeable that more of these impoverished people will attempt to flee the region.