The organization now serves more than five million Palestinian refugees.
No matter how often attempts are made to minimize or delegitimize the individual and collective experiences of Palestine refugees, the undeniable fact remains that they have rights under international law and represent a community of 5.4 million men, women and children who cannot simply be wished away.
— UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat threatened to expel UNRWA from Jerusalem, in the first public statement by an Israeli official that called on the government to use its power to shut down the agency that services Palestinian refugees.
“UNRWA is a foreign and unnecessary organization that has failed miserably,” Barkat said in a speech he delivered Monday morning in Jerusalem at a conference sponsored by Channel 2. “I intend to expel it from Jerusalem.”
Barkat explained that he had already instructed his municipal staff to come up with a plan to replace the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which he plans to present to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He spoke just three days after the US State Department announced that it intends to permanently halt its annual contributions to UNRWA, which last year amounted to $360 million out of the organization’s one billion dollar budget. Netanyahu publicly stated his support for that decision.
The Trump Administration’s decision to defund UNRWA is seen as an initial step in a larger plan to destroy the organization which has serviced Palestinian refugees and their descendants, since the 1948 War of Independence caused 750,000 Palestinians to flee.
The organization now services more than five million Palestinian refugees, including 2.17 million in Jordan, 1.3 million in Gaza, 809,738 in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, 526,744 in Syria and 449,957 in Lebanon.
UNRWA operates under a UN mandate and only the UN General Assembly can abolish the organization or change its definition of who is a refugee.