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Dubai and Tel Aviv plan to dismantle the UNRWA

UN General Assembly. June 2017. (AFP)

In August last year, the United Arab Emirates and the Israeli regime decided to normalize - or as critics put it - to publicize their relations. Since then, many bilateral agreements in various areas such as technology, media, and tourism have been made.

Whereas these deals have been announced with much fanfare, Dubai and Tel Aviv are reportedly in cahoots with each other over issues they prefer to keep secret.

One of them is the elimination of UNRWA, or the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

Founded in 1949, UNRWA meant to support Palestinian refugees dispersed across the region after the creation of the Israeli regime with jobs, essential food, healthcare and education.

The bombshell to eliminate the agency was dropped by the French daily Le Monde in last December. According to the daily, Israeli and Emirati officials have formulated a "strategic axis to make UNRWA progressively disappear, without conditioning this on any resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem."

In fact the Israeli Prime Minister has long been complaining about the existence of UNWRA, blaming it for perpetuating "the narrative of 'right of return', which the Israeli regime regards as an existential threat.

Through various efforts, including expansion of settlements, Tel Aviv has tried to Judaize the entire Occupied Territories; therefore the existence of millions of Palestinian refugees in neighboring countries would make the Judaization project difficult.

For the past 23 years, the Israeli narrative has been threatened by the mere survival of Palestinians and all policies that Israel is employing to silence and marginalize Palestinians, from apartheid policies to ongoing settler colonialism, dispossession, house demolitions, jailings and killings of Palestinians, including children, is part of a(n) ongoing system, very genocidal in its structure and Israel's policies are a form of the settler colonial inscription that demands erasure of the indigenous people. Now, the UNRWA is a reminder of the Palestinians and their refugee crisis that Israel has created during its violent wars and expulsion of Palestinians in 1948.

Denijal Jegić, Author and Researcher

With the abolition of UNRWA, millions of Palestinian refugees concentrated in camps across Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza will become displaced people scattered around the world, and their right to return will automatically be vanished.

In Gaza, refugees have been under the Israeli regime's crippling siege for 13 years, while almost all Palestinian refugees in Syria are living in extreme poverty as a result of the war.  And in Lebanon, they need sustained humanitarian assistance.

A rather threatening development for Palestinians because the UNRWA does assist millions of Palestinians and their daily lives, and also employs 1000s of Palestinians. Now, this latest move is not surprising given that Israel has been trying to silence Palestinians and their narrative for decades, and it is also part and parcel of Israel's transnational violence as it has for the past 23 years tried not only to silence, and basically erase Palestinians within Palestine, but also across its borders in refugee camps, all over the region.

Denijal Jegić, Author and Researcher

The first blow to UNWRA was dealt when former U.S. President Donald Trump ended its annual funding to the agency.

Last November, Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General raised the alarm that his agency was "on the edge of a cliff". In a series of tweets, he wrote that the donations to UNWRA had been the lowest since 2012: "Contributions in 2020 to UNRWA core education, health and relief services are lowest since 2012 while needs of #PalestineRefugees have significantly increased. This situation today: the worst financial crisis of the Agency’s recent history."

Having the UAE on its side is clearly a crucial step for the Israeli regime to fulfill its dream of Greater Israel.

In the words of French Journalist Benjamin Barthe, "In doing so, Abu Dhabi would be rallying to a long-standing demand from Israel, which insists that the agency is obstructing peace by nurturing refugees in the dream of returning to the lands from which their parents were driven in 1948."

Israel wants the refugee problem to be solved by the Arab states, at the expense of the Arab states, and in the location of the Arab states. And of course this is against UNRWA's mandate, and it's against the wishes of the Palestinian people, who want to return to their homes, so nobody has ever seriously considered Israel's request to extinguish UNRWA, and the United Arab Emirates says, Well, maybe we can give you something new. Maybe we can offer you something that nobody really wants, other than you, which is to pretend that the Palestinian people don't exist.

Jonathan Kuttab, International Lawyer, Human Rights Activist

While Abu Dhabi has remained silent about the allegation leveled by le Monde, there are a number of reasons to suspect its collusion with Tel Aviv.

Although the UAE was a major funder of UNRWA in 2018 and 2019, Abu Dhabi cut its 52 million dollars in 2019  to 1 million dollars in 2020. 

The Emirati regime is in an axis together with the Israeli regime and the United States. And it has ever since the normalization extended its economic ties with the Zionist  regime, but it also aims to extend its access to the Mediterranean through Israel for its economic and public collaboration, and it has been energized by this, to an extent.

At the same time, the United Arab Emirates cannot … speak on behalf of Palestinians, nor (can) any other regime, particularly given that the UAE regime does not even have a democratic mandate from its own population.

Denijal Jegić, Author and Researcher

By doing such a big favor to the occupying regime, Emirati officials expect a closer military integration with Israel.

For example, the UAE has long tried to acquire Israel's Iron Dome missile interception system and now it hopes to get the system in the near future.

According to Hussein Ibish of the Arab [Persian] Gulf States Institute in Washington, “The question of the transfer of this technology will be raised in coming years.” In fact, by betraying the Palestinian cause, the Emiratis hope to get access to arms and intelligence from the UAE and Israel denied them under the doctrine of ensuring the regime’s regional “qualitative military edge”. 

Palestinians have always suffered in the Arab world, Arab leaders anyway, supporting them verbally, without actually doing anything to help them. Pretending to be on our side without actually advancing our interests, talking about using our cause to justify repressing their own people, because we are very busy fighting the Israelis.

Jonathan Kuttab, International Lawyer, Human Rights Activist

All in all, a continued denial of funding might eventually result in the abolition of UNRWA, and a further displacement of Palestinian refugees.

It's hard to believe that an Arab country is helping the Israeli regime erase the Palestinian refugees from history. The issue is still under reported but it doesn’t mean that the opposite is at play.





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