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UNRWA chief on Palestinian statehood and beyond
Published Tuesday 13/09/2011 (updated) 19/09/2011 10:54
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Thousands of Palestinian children fly kites on the beach in the northern Gaza
Strip town of Beit Lahiya on July 30, 2009, in a bid to break a Guinness Book
record. The event was organized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
as part of its summer games program. [MaanImages/Wissam Nassar]
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- As the debate intensifies over the bid for recognition at the UN of a Palestinian state, questions are being raised about UNRWA, the UN agency mandated to bring education, health, relief and social services to as many as five million refugees pending a resolution of their plight.

What will the future hold for refugees following the statehood discussions? And what about the continuation of services provided to refugees? For answers, Ma'an turned to the Commissioner General of UNRWA, Filippo Grandi.

Ma'an: How does the Palestinian bid for recognition and full UN membership affect UNRWA and the plight of the refugees registered with your agency?

Grandi: The aspiration for Palestinian statehood, an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a just and durable solution to the plight of Palestine refugees are distinct objectives, albeit closely related. A bid for statehood does not in and of itself address the plight of the refugees.

We have long advocated that refugees' legitimate rights and aspirations should be addressed and accommodated in the context of discussions between political actors, including the parties - discussions that must be based on international law and UN resolutions and reflect the informed views and choices of the refugees.

There is no doubt in my mind that there can be no just and durable peace in the Middle East unless some five million refugees are brought out of their 63-year state of dispossession and exile. Here we come to a broad range of rights, which we continue to say must be addressed by the parties and in discussion with the refugees. UNRWA does not make specific recommendations about how these rights are to be achieved, but we do say that those rights must be realized.

This is in complete conformity with international law and refugee practice. So, as the statehood debate intensifies, I would encourage all concerned to bear Palestine refugees in mind and to remember that the refugees will play a key role in a political order based on two States living side by side in peace and dignity, and in a comprehensive and just solution to the conflict negotiated by the parties.

Ma'an: There has been much debate about UNRWA's work, the possibility the agency is reducing services, particularly its emergency programs. Do you accept that the statehood debate has increased the fears and concerns of the refugees?

Grandi: You are right. I am acutely aware that the statehood debate has generated fresh anxiety among refugees regarding the future. Allow me to go some way to allaying those fears. By the same token that the statehood debate does not in and of itself deal with the question of the refugees, the need for UNRWA's work also remains paramount and so does the imperative to ensure that our programs are fully funded, whatever the outcome of the coming months.

UNRWA will continue with its mandated services and programs until such time that there is a just and durable solution for the refugees. Our core services in education, health, relief and social services will continue in earnest and I remain a positive and passionate advocate for this. Everyone including the donors is aware of this. On our emergency programs, the need for which continues as the humanitarian needs of refugees persist, we are stepping up our fund raising efforts.

I am renewing an appeal this week for substantial funds. As of today, we are asking our donors for $36 million for our emergency work in Gaza. Of that $36 million -- $11 million is for creating temporary employment, $16 million for food assistance, $6 million is for school feeding and $3 million will be spent on community mental health. We have already approached some major donors with this new appeal and I will do everything in my power to make sure that these programs are funded.

I am aware that our emergency work in Gaza is facing a critical situation and all of our donors and other stakeholders are aware that this situation is unsustainable and needs to be dealt with immediately and as an urgent priority.

Ma'an: If the statehood bid fails, are you concerned that there will be an increase in violence, that the facts on the ground will change and that Palestinians will lose faith in the peace process and return to other means to achieve their goals?

Grandi: I have to say that the threat of Palestinians and Israelis being killed and injured in more violence has to be worrying to someone like me who is committed to humanitarian principles, the upholding of international law and the ideals of non-violent change. Whatever the outcome of the statehood bid, I would like to extend heartfelt appeals at three levels.

First, I appeal to all parties and concerned actors to exercise the utmost restraint in their reactions and to refrain from threats and acts of violence of any kind, bearing in mind that the Palestinian people -- refugees and non-refugees alike -- have had enough of armed conflict, political confrontations, human rights violations and suffering.

Second, all concerned must recognize that the statehood bid and its outcomes must not distract from addressing the pressing issues of rights, freedoms and liberties that remain outstanding, particularly in the occupied Palestinian territory. The occupation itself must be addressed, and with it settler violence, settlement expansion, demolitions and displacements in the West Bank, and the Gaza blockade, which the International Committee of the Red Cross has described as a clear violation of international humanitarian law.

For many years, UNRWA's advocacy against these violations has been consistent and determined and we will not flag in our efforts in this regard.

Third, the parties and the international community must renew with greater urgency the search for a negotiated solution to the conflict, one which comprehensively addresses all outstanding issues, including the refugee issue, in a manner consistent with UN resolutions and international law.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as complex and intractable as any the world has known. Yet solutions would be possible if political actors were to engage the issues and fulfill their obligations in principled, courageous and compassionate ways. The outcomes from the statehood bid will leave intact the obligations of the parties and the responsibility of the international community to continue pressing for a fair and just solution to the conflict.

I believe that the legendary fortitude of the Palestinian people and their refusal to be daunted by overwhelming odds will carry them through the coming months and enable them to derive positive outcomes regardless. Rest assured that UNRWA, on its part, will remain steadfast in its commitment to serve the humanitarian and human development needs of Palestine refugees until a just and lasting solution is found to their plight.
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1 ) Teresa / USA
13/09/2011 20:59
Filippo Grandi is a principled man and true international civil servant. UNRWA should be fully supported in carrying out its humanitarian mandate and protecting the Palestine refugees and their rights until this tragic conflict is brought to a close.

2 ) orianna / usa
13/09/2011 21:46
is there any other group of people who have remained "refugees" and continued to receive services for several generations? I think about all the refugees the US has absorbed. Are they still considered refugees two generations on?

3 ) EE / UK
14/09/2011 02:18
After failed Palestinian bid in UN America will stop its annual contribution of $670M to UNRWA because palestinians from West bank and Gaza are not refugees any more, but internally displaced citizens of Palestinian state. And because US and Israel are not going to recognize that Palestinian state, palestinians will also lose US aid ($570M a year) and Israeli collected taxes and fees on Palestinian behalf (>$950M a year). Palestinians will be broke in a matter of 2-3 month after their UN bid.

4 ) Ali / Scotland
14/09/2011 04:46
orianna It matters not if the Refugees in the US have made a super life for themselves and more money than one could imagine nor would it matter if it were 100 years ,these people have been illegally forced from their point of origin through no fault of their own.The land is linked to the refugees and their culture in many ways. Would you be happy if you were forced from your home and way of life? Yes they are and should be considered refugees and have an inalienable and legal right to go home .

5 ) Me / here
14/09/2011 07:11
Israelis need to go back to Poland & Germany.

6 ) Colin Wright / USA
14/09/2011 09:27
In case no one's noticed, Israel has dialed the killings way down in the run-up to the UN vote. What happens afterwards can't be predicted, but at a guess, so far Palestine's bid for UN membership has saved the lives of perhaps a dozen Palestinians who would otherwise have been the victims of random IDF killings.

7 ) Colin Wright / USA
14/09/2011 09:33
To orianna #2 'is there any other group of people who have remained "refugees" and continued to receive services for several generations? ' No other nation has been able to maintain a situation of manifest injustice for so long as Israel. Normally, these things do get settled one way or another. However -- thanks to US support -- Israel is able to sustain what would otherwise be an untenable position. Hence the refugees.

8 ) Mel / USA
14/09/2011 18:18
#2 Orianna: Don't be under illusiion that 300 million Americans r living well. Right now,by US census records 47million( 1 in 6) is living below the poverty line,on food stamps,16 %w/out health ins. work,homes,dignity&abandoned by what is now a fascist Govt.Refugees in US are mainly used as slave-labor,&private-prison fillers,with 50%of US non-whites w/out work(except military).US is in deep shit depression,we won't be able to support Israel soon,&poor Americans are raging that so much money....

9 ) Mel / USA
14/09/2011 18:34
cont: US tax $'s r propping up FOREIGN despots/corrupt regimes,like Israel,as so many millions of Amrcns are laying in gutters 2. Ordinary Amrcns always support oppressed people&send what they can.BUT! US plutocrats are about 2 get mob-lynched for looting/pillaging 95% of 300 million Amrcns,who r oppressed/on our own UNRWA.USG cannot sustain Israel & w/out our tax $'s,Isrl will sink.US military campaigns r killing US.The host is dying,Israel is its parasite.China/S.Amer/Saudi must help now.

10 ) Mel / USA
14/09/2011 18:56
cont:Refugees,came 2 USA to escape USG backed regimes,USG condoned policies,abroad &USG now practicing it on 300 mill. Amrcns in our sham 'democracy',somewhere between greedy fascist & extreme theocratic(like Israel).Oppressed peoples r ready to explode worldwide &here in USA,against oppression&enforced collective punishment by a few brutal elite. We are all Palestinians now.No more brutal bullies starving our kids,killing our human rights.Real democracy leaves no scars,doesn't starve.

11 ) Carlos / USA
22/09/2011 19:02
There are refugees and there are refugees. I have been lucky to be a preferred refugee in the US. You get green papers without any problem. Government donates homes and old refugees get social securtiy. There are the other refugees who get nothing. They are discriminated against and if they don't get papers they will never be citizens. The US Indians are more like Palestinians in West Bank. There are areas where they are autonomous but they are not independent.
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