This is not the first attempt by Israel to delegitimize the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); nor is it the first time the US administration withholds funding or threatens to do so as a form of political blackmail to serve its own interests. In fact, historical examination of Israel’s demands and the US administration’s conduct from the outset of Oslo until today reveals an organized and deliberate strategy designed to eradicate Palestinian fundamental rights in general, and the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in particular. This strategy is intricately linked to the demise of UNRWA, which serves as a reminder and testament to the international community’s dubious failure to resolve the world’s largest and longest standing displaced population.
The last 25 years, since the start of Oslo, witnessed the following deviations vis-à-vis UNRWA:
- Significant reductions in states’ voluntary contributions to UNRWA’s budget;
- Using states’ financial aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a justification for these reductions;
- Placing restrictions on the existing states’ contributions to UNRWA; or in other words, shifting from core to project-based funding which allows states to dictate the agency’s programs and priorities to suit political goals;
- An increased reliance on emergency funding and diverging UNRWA’s efforts from program and service delivery to fundraising;
- An increase in the funding provided by Arab states in general, and the Gulf states in particular, whether for projects or emergency response;
- Israel’s demonization of UNRWA coupled with US criticism of UNRWA’s programs and attempts to redefine its mandate, including who should and should not be considered a refugee;
- Encouraging (and implementing) the partial and gradual transition of UNRWA’s mandate to host states;
- Invoking the principle of neutrality concerning UNRWA’s position vis-à-vis UN Resolution 194 of 1948.
The renewed attack on UNRWA’s agency, mandate and existence has been initiated and spurred by the US administration’s recent decision to withhold half of 2018’s pledged contribution of 120 Million USD. Historically, the USA is the biggest contributor to UNRWA’s budget, contributing over 350 Million USD in 2017. Combined with an existing 150 Million USD deficit, UNRWA is facing the largest budget deficit in its history.
All of this is occurring under the nose of the Palestinian leadership (PLO/PA) that has focused its political interventions to appeals for recognition of Palestinian statehood under occupation rather than developing a much needed national strategy that should incorporate an initiative to thwart the aggressions against UNRWA.
Under these bleak circumstances, the core issue plaguing the ‘Question of Palestine’ remains the same: the lack of durable and just solutions for the historic and ongoing displacement of the Palestinian people according to international law. In light of the fact that the protection framework specifically designed for Palestinian refugees, comprised of UNRWA and the UNCCP, under the auspices of the international community, has miserably failed to address this fundamental issue due to both structural deficiencies and lack of accountability, a more rigorous and strategic response is required. These recommendations should be part and parcel of the Palestinian national strategy shouldered by the PLO to mobilize the UN General Assembly towards the following strategic provisions:
- The expansion of UNRWA’s mandate to explicitly include the three components of international protection for Palestinian refugees: legal protection (to exercise their basic human rights as enshrined in international law), physical protection (to ensure their safety and security) and humanitarian aid and assistance (to provide services and infrastructure).
- The expansion of UNRWA’s geographic scope to include all areas in which Palestinian refugees reside and free UNRWA from the traditional areas of operation (West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan) especially in light of the secondary displacement of Palestinian refugees to other Arab countries and Europe.
- The expansion of the existing definition of “Palestine” refugees within UNRWA’s mandate to include all Palestinians that meet the definition of refugee according to international law.
- Modification of the voluntary contribution of UN member states to mandatory in order to ensure sustainable financial resources to achieve the minimum core budget of UNRWA by the UN General Assembly.
- Incorporating Palestinian internally displaced persons both inside the green line (approximately 380,000 people) and within the West Bank (approximately 330,000 people) under the jurisdiction of the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
It should be noted that these recommendations have been enumerated by human rights organizations and groups, international experts and academics and dozens of civil society organizations, movements and networks, including Palestinian civil society, for at least the last five years. Unfortunately, these voices have been lost, suppressed or ignored amidst regional conflicts, the ‘war on terror’, the insistence on maintaining a failed ‘peace process’, and Trump’s threats to relocate the US Embassy. The time has come for the international community to fulfill its responsibilities towards the Palestinian people in general and Palestinian refugees and IDPs in particular by developing a counter strategy capable of deflecting the concerted efforts of the US administration and Israel to bury the ‘Question of Palestine’.
 UNRWA was created via UN Resolution 302 of December 1949 and tasked with providing humanitarian aid and assistance to Palestine refugees. See, UN General Assembly, 302 (IV). Assistance to Palestine Refugees, 8 December 1949, A/RES/302, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe2ffa52.html [accessed 19 January 2018].
 David M. Halbfinger, “U.S. Funding Cut Reignites Debate on Palestinian Refugee Agency,” The New York Times, 17 January 2018, available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/17/world/middleeast/palestinian-refugee-agency-unrwa.html?emc=edit_th_180118&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=71464687 [hereinafter Halbfinger, “U.S. Funding Cut”][accessed 19 January 2018].
 UNRWA, Statement By UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl, 17 January 2018, available at: https://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/official-statements/statement-unrwa-commissioner-general-pierre-krähenbühl-1 [accessed 19 January 2018].
 Halbfinger, “U.S. Funding Cut”, supra note 2.
 The United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) was created within UN Resolution 194 of 1948 and mandated to provide international protection in the form of durable solutions for Palestinian refugees. In other words, the UNCCP was to seek, facilitate and implement the right to reparations (voluntary repatriation, property restitution, compensation and guarantees of non-repetition/satisfaction). While the UNCCP continues to exist today, it has been a defunct and ineffectual UN body since the 1950s. See, UN General Assembly, 194 (III). Palestine - Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator , 11 December 1948, A/RES/194, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe2e5672.html [accessed 19 January 2018].