Canada has stepped in to help replace funding for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, after President Trump eliminated the US contribution a few weeks ago. Read more…
Hundreds of thousands of desperate Palestinian refugees depend on UNRWA for survival. It provides health clinics, schooling for 526,000 refugee children across Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and food assistance to 1.7 million people — a million of them in Gaza.
When Donald Trump announced on September 1st that the USA would stop funding UNRWA, it sent an immediate shock wave through the Palestinian community. The USA had been the agency’s largest single funder.
US and Israeli criticisms of UNRWA have mostly focussed on what they claim is “inefficiency”, “mismanagement’, and even fostering “antisemitism”. But it would appear that their real agenda is to undercut the Palestinian refugee demands for the right of return, which is guaranteed by a UN resolution. The existence of UNRWA continues to be an embarrassment to Israel, which denies any responsibility for the Palestinian refugee issue.
“Cutting UNRWA funding has been widely interpreted in both Israel and Palestine as a blunt move by the US to unilaterally sweep aside one of the main sticking points in peace negotiations – the right of return of Palestinians”, reported The Guardian.
Since the US announcement, other countries, have stepped in. Last week the European Union announced an increase in its contribution, and there are rumours that both Russia and China are also considering requests. “The agency still has a funding gap of $217 million, and will ask donors for more and seek new sources of income”, said spokesperson Christopher Gunness.
In the past the USA has used its significant contribution to UNRWA to control its activities. However, if the USA ends its UNRWA contribution, it would seem inevitable that US leverage in the Israel/Palestine conflict, already under criticism, will further decrease.
Canada stands up
While the Trudeau government has in most ways been just as “pro-Israel” as the Harper government, that has not been the case everywhere. After becoming Prime Minister, and despite strong lobbying by pro-Israel lobby groups like CIJA, in 2016 Trudeau restored Canadian funding to UNRWA which had been cut by Harper.
Again this time, Canada has stood its ground against the US, Israel and even in the face of more lobbying by pro-Israel forces in Canada.
Early last month, B’nai Brith Canada presented its anti-UNRWA case in a letter sent to Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs. “Over many years, B’nai Brith has made clear to successive Canadian governments our serious concerns over the mandate and activities of UNRWA,” the letter read.
Nonetheless, the Liberal government stood firm. On October 12, Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced that Canada would contribute another $50 million dollars to partially make up the shortfall due to the US decision.
“This assistance demonstrates how Canada and UNRWA are working together to ensure respect for the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, operational independence and impartiality,” a statement from Global Affairs Canada said.
The funding will go to refugees in Gaza and the West Bank. Canada is earmarking $40-million toward the basic education, health and livelihood needs of millions of Palestinian refugees, especially women and children. Another $10-million is aimed at helping 460,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon.
UNRWA is not a solution
UNRWA has been an important and necessary institution for Muslim and Christian Palestinians who were made refugees in 1947/48 when Israel was created. However, even with a current annual budget of over $1.2 billion, UNRWA does not and cannot end the Palestinian refugee crisis. That can only come about by international recognition of the need for a just solution for the Palestinian refugees.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue, and Canada’s response to it. We invite brief comments (under 100 words) from readers.