WEST BANK (Dispatches) – The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees says Arab countries’ rapprochement with the Zionist regime should not pose an obstacle to their funding of the organization.
“You can have strong bilateral relations with Israel and be a strong supporter of the agency,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told Reuters.
The comments come as UNRWA - which provides services to nearly six million Palestinians registered in the Palestinian territories, including East Al-Quds, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – warns that “compounding challenges” have placed it under “immense strain”.
Last year, it raised less than $1.2bn of the $1.6bn it had appealed for, Lazzarini said.
“It is true that in 2022, we succeeded to keep all our services running for the Palestinian refugees,” he said, adding though that it “came at a cost, at a very high cost”.
“For the fourth consecutive year, we are ending with a large deficit of above $70 million.”
The UAE, Bahrain and Morocco established official relations with the occupying regime as part of the U.S.-brokered so-called Abraham Accords in 2020, and have since signed trade and economic agreements with the regime.
Lazzarini said that Arab countries should translate the solidarity they often express with the Palestinians “into tangible and substantial resources to UNRWA”.
In 2018, Arab countries represented 25 percent of the agency’s budget, but their share shrunk to three percent in 2021 and four percent last year, he pointed out.
“Whatever rapprochement or ties [with the Zionist regime] should not have the slightest impact on your commitment and your solidarity with the Palestine refugees and your support to an agency like UNRWA. We should not be the proxy or byproduct of any political considerations,” he said.
The agency warns that its needs have been skyrocketing as global crises, inflation and disruptions in global supply chains contribute to surging poverty and unemployment levels among Palestinians. Yet donors have been reluctant to boost funding levels.
The plea comes as Persian Gulf states have boosted cash injections to struggling neighbors like Egypt and Pakistan. However, they have increasingly looked for investments, as opposed to direct aid.