Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat threatened to expel UNRWA from Jerusalem, in a speech delivered Monday morning in Jerusalem at a conference sponsored by Channel 2.
“UNRWA is a foreign and unnecessary organization that has failed miserably. I intend to expel it from Jerusalem,” Barkat said.
He explained that he had already instructed his municipal staff to come up with a plan to replace the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, that he plans to present to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He spoke just three days after the 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.
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 over five million Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem.
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.
But according to media reports, the US plans to work behind the scenes to force its closure. Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told the BBC on Saturday that his government had already rejected a US push for Jordan to service its 2.1 million Palestinian refugees through other avenues than UNRWA.
Channel 2 reported that the US had similarly asked Israel to prevent UNRWA from working in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
At issue for the US and right-wing Israelis who have long battled to eliminate UNRWA, is the concern that it creates an ever growing Palestinian refugee population that provides a stumbling bloc to any attempts to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians.
Barkat told the Jerusalem conference that UNRWA has been responsible for Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp since 1965.
The mayor said that the 30,000 Palestinians in Shuafat are dissatisfied with the organization’s services, including welfare, cleaning and education.
Only one percent of the pupils there go to UNRWA schools, where incitement is high, he said.
“We will close their schools and provide pupils with hope,” said Barkat, adding that the pupils could study for and take the matriculation exams in existing schools throughout the city.
“Wherever the municipality operates, the Arab public is more satisfied and less violent. UNRWA’s treatment of residents as refugees, is a barrier to their advancement and has no place,” Barkat said.
“The time has come transform them from refugees to residents and to rehabilitate them. It is possible.
“The removal of UNRWA will reduce incitement and terrorism, improve service to the residents, increase Israelization in east Jerusalem and contribute to [Israeli] unity and sovereignty in Jerusalem,” Barkat said.
UNRWA said in response that it “has received no notification about this alleged plan and UNRWA’s schools and other core services in the city remain operational.”
The Israeli NGO Ir-Amim said that the 30,000 Palestinians in the Shaufat refugee camp are among the 120,000 Palestinians residents of east Jerusalem which live beyond the barrier.
It charged that the Jerusalem Municipality has neglected to service those areas of the city, such as the Shauafat refugee camp and the other 90,000 Palestinians there who are not classified as refugees.
Barkat’s pledge to better incorporate that area into the city, a rare affirmation that it is part of Jerusalem. Right-wing politicians this year pushed to advance legislation that would have created a separate municipality for the 120,000 Palestinians.
“Barkat will no doubt win the primaries for the cynical politician of the year,” Ir Amim said in response to his speech.
“Nir Barkat, as mayor, has completely abandoned these neighborhoods, so that even garbage removal takes place there only following court petitions,” Ir Amim said.
Barkat’s neglect of this area during his ten years in office, “has turned the neighborhoods on the other side of the fence into terrible slums that lack education, welfare and which have collapsing water infrastructure and roads,” Ir Amim said.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashwarii condemned Barkat’s statement: “Clearly, Barkat’s comments have been emboldened by the latest American decision to defund UNRWA and redefine the status of Palestinian refugees.
“These moves are part of the US administration’s plan to dismantle all permanent status issues at the core of which are occupied Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees and the right of return, the two-state solution, 1967 borders, and the legality of the settlements, thereby destroying the chances of peace,” Ashwari said.
“Regardless of the American administration’s irresponsible and illegal latest moves, neither the United States nor Israel (let alone the so-called ‘Mayor’ of Jerusalem) can impose their will on the international community or target its institutions,” she said.
“It is up to governments worldwide and all members of the international community to rise to the challenge and intervene immediately to ensure that such threats are not carried out and to maintain the integrity of the global legal and political system,” Ashwari said.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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