US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson supports developing a sustainable funding mechanism for UNRWA, but it is unclear whether he can convince anyone else in the Trump administration of such an approach.
A Palestinian employee of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency holds a sign during a protest against a US decision to cut aid to the organization, Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Jan. 29, 2018.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson supports a sustainably funded United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which departs from the position of the Donald Trump administration. He made the assertion during a Feb. 14 press conference in Amman with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi.
On the topic of US funding for UNRWA, Tillerson remarked, “[The United States] did release $60 million in order to ensure that teachers’, hospital workers’ salaries would continue to be paid uninterrupted.”
Tillerson made no mention of the publicly stated reason why the United States withheld another $65 million on Jan. 16 that had been committed to the UN agency to help cover its $800 million annual budget. Both Trump and his UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, have conditioned aid to UNRWA on the Palestinian’s “return to negotiations.”
Tillerson correctly noted in Amman that UNRWA is a UN agency, not a Palestinian organization. As such, he stated, “The UNRWA funding is an international commitment. Many countries are donors to UNRWA. And part of, I think, what we would like to see — and I know the foreign minister and I have had many discussions about this as well — is we need to put UNRWA on a more sustainable footing.”
The idea that a senior US official is talking about a sustainable funding model for the agency is diametrically opposed to Trump’s earlier moves to politicize UNRWA. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed Tillerson’s comments. “We have been opposed to politicizing UNRWA, and I am happy that Mr. Tillerson is dialing back the attempt to insert politics into this important humanitarian agency,” Mansour said, speaking to Al-Monitor by phone from New York.
While Mansour welcomed the change in tone by the top US diplomat, he questioned the willingness of the United States to pursue the sustainable funding issue to its natural conclusion. “If we want to make UNRWA sustainable, we need to increase the UN’s contribution to its annual budget, bring in major economic entities like the World Bank and ensure that international support to UNRWA is multi-year and not made in short-term contributions.”
Mansour said that the United States’ expectation that Arab countries could contribute more to UNRWA is unrealistic. “Arab countries have pledged to cover 7.8% of UNRWA’s annual budget, and they have lived up to this commitment. It is difficult to ask them to pay more while they have so many other challenges in the region.” The percentage, established decades ago, was reconfirmed by the Arab League in 2009.
The United Nations pays the salaries of 120 senior personnel at UNRWA, which employs some 30,000 persons. Mansour said that in 1973, the United Nations had agreed to pay senior UNRWA staff directly from UN headquarters in New York. “We need to expand on that by having a much bigger part of UNRWA’s needs come from the UN annual budget,” said Mansour.
Mansour is skeptical that this will happen. He said that attempts to suggest doing so to Haley were summarily rebuffed. “She told me to remove Article 7 from the agenda of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the US will ensure sustainable funding from the UN. Article 7 makes discussion of the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories a permanent agenda item at the Geneva-based council. According to the UN Human Rights Commission, the permanent agenda article reads ‘Human Rights Situation in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories.’”
Mansour said he was promised plenty of money to keep UNRWA working for years if that agenda item were removed. “I told her that I represent Palestine in the UN in New York and that she should take this up with the Human Rights Council representatives in Geneva.”
The idea of sustainable financial support was well-received by UNRWA headquarters. Christopher Gunness, the UNRWA spokesman in Jerusalem, told Al-Monitor that the UN agency welcomes efforts to place UNRWA on sustainable financial footing, saying that it is in line with the 2017 report of the UN secretary-general, which was endorsed by the UN General Assembly. The report deals with the organizational sustainability of the UN and its subsidiaries.
“We welcome efforts to place UNRWA on a financial footing which allows sustainable, sufficient and predictable funding,” Gunness said. “[UNRWA’s] current unprecedented financial crisis shows more than ever before the urgent need for the international community to achieve this aim in reality and on the ground, which it has endorsed at the diplomatic level.”
Mansour said he doubts Tillerson’s welcomed position will win the day in Washington. “[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu wants UNRWA gradually shut down and replaced by a smaller UN agency, while most Republicans in the US are ideologically in favor of major reductions in financial aid, including US money going to the UN,” Mansour noted.
UNRWA is an important humanitarian agency whose sustainability should not be politicized. Support for the welfare of Palestinian children forced to live as refugees because of successive wars in the Middle East should not be a political football to be kicked around. The idea of a sustainable funding mechanism is a necessary one, and there is a clear international consensus on it. The time is now to turn this global will to help Palestinian refugees into a stable funding mechanism.
Trump hails ‘big week’ for historic move; ‘Congratulations to all,’ he tweets ahead of May 14 opening
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman gives a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on May 11, 2018, ahead of its opening on May 14 (Screenshot)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Friday gave a first glimpse of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, showing off workers erecting the official seal on the building and preparing for the opening ceremony.
“We are so excited,” Friedman said in a video posted on the embassy’s Facebook page. “We have the official seal of the United States embassy. We have the dedication plaque. They are covered right now, but on Monday they are going to be unveiled.”
‘Next time in Jerusalem,’ jubilant Barzilai yells after victory; ‘Toy’ marks Israel’s 4th win; hundreds jump in Rabin Square fountain to celebrate; PM calls her ‘best ambassador’
Netta Barzilai after winning the final of the 63rd edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, on May 12, 2018. (AFP/ Francisco LEONG)
Israel won the Eurovision song contest for the first time in two decades Saturday as singer Netta Barzilai clucked and bucked her way to the top of the international song contest with women’s empowerment anthem “Toy.”
Backed up by three dancers, her trademark side buns featuring stripes of pink dyed hair to match her pink-and-black outfit, Barzilai busted her way through “Toy” on stage in Lisbon, Portugal, punctuating her singing with her trademark eye rolls and chicken dance moves
Quoted by US president one day, hosted by Russia’s president the next, PM is on a high, including in the polls. But will this encourage his more divisive tendencies?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the Victory Parade marking the 73th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, in Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
JTA — On Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu began his week by meeting his Cypriot and Greek counterparts to finalize the commercial export to Europe of Israeli gas that he has pushed to exploit for about a decade.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from nuclear deal with Iran was widely seen as a coup for Israel’s prime minister, a fierce opponent of the deal.
The same day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that Israel seized Iran’s archive of its military nuclear program in Tehran and spirited it to Israel, a video was posted of IDF soldiers singing Soltane Ghalbha, a traditional Persian love song – in Persian.
Taken together, the two events demonstrate the purpose of Netanyahu’s presentation.
Netanyahu’s detractors in the US and Israel called his presentation as a dog and pony show. “He didn’t tell us anything we haven’t known for years,” they sniffed.
Moreover, they insisted, Netanyahu’s presentation was actually counterproductive because he couldn’t show evidence that Iran is in breach of the nuclear deal it concluded in 2015 and so did nothing to persuade the Europeans to abandon the deal.
While US policy-makers are trying desperately to stabilize Afghanistan, a shift is being orchestrated by China.
The Chinese evidently see their role in Afghanistan as the “good cop” versus the U.S. role as “bad cop.” Like Pakistan, China seems to view the Taliban as the political opposition, not as a terrorist organization, and has offered itself as an intermediary to negotiate the departure of the U.S. and, thereby, be in a position to reap the economic and geopolitical benefits of Afghanistan as a client state of the China-Pakistan alliance.
Reuters/Ipsos set a new standard this week when it condemned its own polling as unreliably favorable to the president.
“This week’s Reuters/Ipsos Core Political release presents something of an outlier of our trend,” stated a paragraph that appeared before the press release on its latest polling even began.
“Every series of polls has the occasional outlier, and in our opinion, this is one. So, while we are reporting the findings in the interest of transparency, we will not be announcing the start of a new trend until we have more data to validate this pattern.”
For the sixth Friday in a row, protestors from Gaza came to Israel’s border with intentions to penetrate it. They come with scissors to cut through the fence, with burning tires, Molotov cocktails, slingshots with rocks, and kites with firebombs attached to them to destroy Israeli farmlands and villages.
This is not some peaceful demonstration akin to Selma in the 1960s when blacks were simply trying to sit together with whites at a lunch counter. The usage of the word “demonstrators” is a misnomer; these are “rioters.”
What would happen if the world took Pope Francis’ advice (via a tweet)? “Do we really want peace? Then let’s ban all weapons so we don’t have to live in fear of war,” said the pontiff.
While on the surface, the disappearance of all weapons might suggest the inability to do violence, in reality, it would mean the certain annihilation of the West as a civilization.
When a Philadelphia Starbucks manager called the police after two black men refused to leave, the chain of events ended with the burnt taste of the overpriced coffee chain colluding with anti-Semitism.
Starbucks reacted to the brief arrest by blaming the police, but Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who is African-American, initially said that his officers, “did absolutely nothing wrong”. But then he was forced to offer a bewildering apology to the arrested men, the officers and the entire city.
“It is me who in large part made most of the situation worse than it was,” he announced.
“Your threshing season will last until your grape harvest, and your grape harvest will last until the time you plant. You will have your fill of food, and you will dwell securely in your land” (Vayikra 26:5).
This blessing is promised to the People of Israel on condition that, as a unified nation, they observe the laws of the Torah and live by its spirit. Its promise is quite surprising. Not only will the Israelites have plenty to eat but, as the verse clearly indicates, the Jews will experience an overflow of food. The first season, when produce is brought to the threshing floor, will last until the days of the grape harvest, which in turn will continue into the planting season.