Last year, Israel and the US invested unprecedented efforts in discrediting the legitimate rights of Palestinians and seeking to limit, to the point of dysfunction, the role of institutions working directly with Palestinian refugees, notably the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
During a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in June 2017, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley accused the UN of bullying tactics against Israel, prompting Netanyahu to state mere days later that UNRWA should be dismantled.
Since the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency, Israel is no longer choosing who to discredit. Supported in international institutions by the US in an overt manner, Netanyahu has adopted a different strategy – that of leveraging similar attacks on the UN and Palestinians (despite the body’s support for Israel’s colonial project).
However, both the UN and Palestinians are subjugated to the point of dependence, albeit under different circumstances. The UN’s dependence is directly linked to maintaining the cycle of human rights violations. Palestinians, on the other hand, have been forced into dependence for survival because the international community, in accordance with Israel’s demand, eliminated the possibilities for anti-colonial struggle and framed the political cycle of displacement as a humanitarian concern.
The recent news that Trump is withholding more than half of its financial annual contribution to UNRWA makes this dynamic even clearer. Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl’s statement reflects both the necessity of the organisation’s work, as well as the importance of assuring the permanence of services offered to Palestinian refugees.
It is no secret that the US has always guaranteed billions for Israeli violence and millions as hypocritical compensation for the perpetual violations inflicted upon Palestinians. Identical tactics have been implemented in the context of UNRWA. The needs of Palestinian refugees are not being met in a way which befits autonomy and independence, despite the US being the largest single donor until 2017. The deficit created through US collaboration with Israel ensures that UNRWA will be restricted in its accomplishments, with the result that Palestinians will remain tethered to priorities related to basic needs in order to survive.
Thus, it is contradictory to call for the dismantling of UNRWA while reducing its budget. The needs of Palestinians perpetuated by Israel, the US and the international community, have to be met in a specific manner that is stronger than the current measure. If the organisation’s budget is severely crippled, it stands to reason that necessities will have to remain a priority. Since Palestinians are not fictitious, despite what Netanyahu and the Zionist narrative proclaim, neither the refugees nor their needs will disappear.
UNRWA’s existence is a consequence of the Israeli colonial project. In a world not morally warped, the focus of accountability would be shifted upon the aggressor, rather than a dependent organisation that cannot completely guarantee the well-being of Palestinian refugees, let alone autonomy. Perhaps Netanyahu can consider the obvious solution which would see the end of the humanitarian approach towards Palestinians: decolonise the land, let the refugees return to historic Palestine, and the UNRWA saga will come to a dignified end.