Gaza factions increase calls for revocation of US-UNRWA deal

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Palestinian factions in Gaza held a conference on September 14 to call for the revocation of the framework between the United States and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA).

The conference, held in al-Shati refugee camp, west of Gaza City, brought together hundreds of citizens. The Palestinian flag was hoisted as several banners highlighted “the refugees’ rejection of conditional funding for UNRWA and the rejection of the deal.”

The UNRWA-US Cooperation Framework 2021-2022 called for the restoration of US funding to the UN agency after it was cut off for several years under former US President Donald Trump.

The framework, signed in July, states that “the United States shall not make any contribution to UNRWA, except on the condition that UNRWA takes all possible measures to ensure that no part of the United States contribution is used for assist a refugee receiving military training as a member. of the so-called Palestinian Liberation Army or any other guerrilla organization or participated in a terrorist act.

As part of this framework, the United States contributed an additional $ 135 million to the agency.

Palestinian national and Islamic parties in the Gaza Strip staged protests on July 15 against the cadre.

In April, the US government resumed funding for UNRWA with $ 150 million. In May, the United States also provided approximately $ 33 million in humanitarian assistance to UNRWA in response to the difficult humanitarian conditions that followed the military confrontation between resistance factions in Gaza and Israel.

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During his presidency (2017-2021), Trump gradually cut the financial aid that had been reserved for Palestinians in the US budget for decades.

The United States is the largest contributor to UNRWA, contributing around $ 300 million annually to the $ 1.2 billion budget. The agency is the largest employer in the Gaza Strip, with around 13,000 workers in a community where half the population is unemployed.

The Joint Committee for Refugees, which includes the committees for refugees from the Palestinian parties (including factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas and Islamic Jihad), explained in a statement on September 16 that the cooperation framework “imposes unacceptable conditions for funding to continue. . Foremost among them is that it ties its continuation to the alleged neutrality at the level of Palestinian labor, staff and beneficiaries of UNRWA. The framework also frees the refugee issue from its political dimension, which is based on the right of return.

The statement added that “the framework gives donors, especially in the United States, the right to oversee the overall work of UNRWA, allowing its performance to be judged on the basis of the American concept and not according to international law. “.

Ahmed al-Mudallal, the head of the refugee case in the Islamic Jihad, told Al-Monitor: “The framework for cooperation is illegal because it does not respect the UN agreements that preserve the rights of the Palestinian people. It is simply a bilateral agreement between the United States and UNRWA that aims to fund the agency to act as a security arm for the United States Department of State and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. in order to monitor the national affiliations of [UNRWA] employees and refugees [in Gaza] benefit from the services of the agency.

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He added: “The interference of the United States in the curricula of UNRWA schools, especially the subjects of national education, religion and geography, and the hiding of the map of Palestine is a flagrant interference that threatens future generations and undermines the primary role of UNRWA in safeguarding the rights of refugees.

UNRWA’s pledge that no Palestinian refugee receiving military training would benefit from the US contribution is a “serious precedent in how a United Nations organization treats refugees,” said the UNRWA Department of Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine in an August 21 statement. “It puts economic pressure on them and hinders their struggle to regain their occupied lands with the recognition of the UN itself.

On September 2, the Higher Committee for Monitoring Palestinian Factions in the Gaza Strip sent a letter of protest to UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini in response to the cooperation framework.

Mohammed al-Madhoun, head of Hamas’s refugee department, told Al-Monitor that Palestinian factions were unaware of the terms of the framework before signing it in July.

“About a month after it was signed, the framework was posted on the US State Department’s website, and factions worked on its translation and discussion in several workshops before it was rejected,” he said. he added.

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In a statement released on September 2, Hamas said the framework included conditions it called “dangerous and humiliating.”

The movement announced its rejection of any action that would be taken against UNRWA staff or beneficiaries on the basis of this framework.

Mustafa al-Sawaf, a political scientist close to Hamas, believes that the framework of cooperation “obliges the refugees to give in to American conditions, knowing that the Palestinian refugees would not agree to remain mere recipients of aid, without preserving the identity of refugee and the right of return. , which are the foundations of UNRWA. This framework gradually eliminates the issue of refugees.

Economics researcher Mohammed Nassar told Al-Monitor: “There are Palestinian concerns about the cooperation framework because despite its positive aspects, its funding is subject to political conditions…”.

“What Palestinian factions reject is US interference in the Palestinian curriculum in UNRWA schools, which would revoke the right of return and interfere with the refugees’ freedom of opinion and expression Palestinians, ”Nassar said.

He added: “I am from the third generation of Palestinian refugees who were displaced from the village of Barba in 1948, and refugee law is a genuine right that the Palestinians are trying to preserve, and I dream of returning to my village. . at any time. The US agreement with UNRWA must preserve the rights of Palestinian refugees.