On 4 November 2022, 165 United Nations’ Member States voted in favor of renewing the mandate for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) until 2026. The mandate has been renewed despite a strategic and persistent campaign to delegitimize as well as eliminate UNRWA, and with it, the issue of Palestinian refugees. Accordingly, the renewal reaffirms the responsibility and commitment of the UN and its Member States towards not only UNRWA, but more importantly, towards Palestinian refugees.
The vote, which was overwhelmingly in favor of renewing the mandate, signifies that Palestinian refugees remain a crucial issue to the UN and its Member States, and that UNRWA is the sole agency responsible for assisting Palestinian refugees until a durable solution is provided and implemented. This year’s UNGA vote on the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate is highly important due to the many challenges the Agency faces. However, once again, the draft decision fails to provide a solution to one of the most important challenges that UNRWA is confronted with: the chronic budget crisis.
UNRWA’s funding crisis is of grave concern and must be adequately and resolutely resolved by the international community. The Agency’s short-term but renewable mandate and the absence of mechanisms to address the natural growth of the Palestinian refugee population, together with the predominately voluntary funding system, have resulted in a chronic funding crisis for UNRWA. This dependence on voluntary contributions has rendered the Agency vulnerable to the political inclinations of states and has often resulted in greater resource allocation to UNRWA’s emergency and project-based budgets, at the expense of the Agency’s General Fund.
Lacking direct decision-making power over the future of UNRWA, Israel has exerted political pressure on UNRWA donor states and led defamation campaigns to discredit the Agency’s work, with the explicit purpose of defunding UNRWA. This Israeli-engineered funding crisis is aimed at gradually and surreptitiously precipitating UNRWA’s de facto decommissioning by incapacitating the Agency and disabling its mandate.
Cutting funds to UNRWA cripples its capacity to provide essential services to and protect Palestinian refugees. The continued and unobstructed operation of UNRWA is the responsibility of the international community, specifically the UN and its Member States, and is essential to safeguarding the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including their right of return.
As such, BADIL calls on the United Nations and its Member States to:
- Address the root causes of the chronic financial crisis by making state contributions to the UNRWA budget mandatory rather than seeking alternative solutions such as transferring UNRWA’s responsibilities to other agencies.
- Take into consideration the limitations within UNRWA’s mandate – such as its restricted Palestine refugee definition and geographic scope – with the aim of eliminating those limitations to ensure the provision of adequate and necessary services to all Palestinian refugees regardless of their location.
- Acknowledge and condemn any Israeli-led campaign aimed at delegitimizing the Agency’s work and take practical measures to ensure UNRWA has all the material and political resources it needs to fulfill its mandate.