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REUTERS,    Maayan Lubell, Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Potter

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Sunday for the dismantling of the U.N. agency that aids millions of Palestinian refugees, accusing it of anti-Israeli incitement and saying he had conveyed his message to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Adnan Abu Hasna, a Gaza-based spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said Netanyahu was pursuing a “fantasy”. The United States, Israel’s main ally, was the biggest donor to UNRWA last year, pledging $368 million.

In public remarks to his cabinet at its weekly meeting, Netanyahu said UNRWA perpetuated, rather than solved, the Palestinian refugee problem and that anti-Israeli incitement was rife in its institutions, which includes schools.

“It is time UNRWA be dismantled and merged with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” Netanyahu said.

Referring to a meeting he held in Jerusalem on Wednesday with Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Netanyahu said: “I told her it was time the United Nations re-examine UNRWA’s existence.”

UNRWA was established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1949 after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war that followed Israel’s creation.

It says it currently aids five million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East.

Chris Gunness, UNRWA’s chief spokesman, said in an email to Reuters that only the General Assembly, by a majority vote, could change the agency’s mandate.

“In December 2016, UNRWA’s mandate was extended for three years by the General Assembly by a large majority,” he added.

Netanyahu made his comments two days after UNRWA said it had discovered part of a tunnel running under two of its schools in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

UNRWA said it had protested to Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the enclave and which had used a network of cross-border tunnels to launch attacks inside Israel in a 2014 war. UNRWA condemned the tunnel as a violation of neutrality. Hamas denied it was responsible for building it.

Abu Hasna, speaking in Hebrew on Israel Radio, cautioned that if ”UNRWA is gone“ in the Gaza Strip, where its food, educational and health services are crucial, ”two million people will turn into IS (Islamic State) supporters.

Aljazeera by Hanin Abou Salem,  22 Jun 2017

Today the UNRWA aids more than five million registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

On June 11, 2017, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the dismantling of the UN agency that aids millions of Palestinian refugees, accusing it of stoking anti-Israeli sentiments and perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem.

Netanyahu, after a meeting with the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, in Jerusalem, said, "It is time the UNRWA be dismantled and merged with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees".

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established by the UN General Assembly in 1949 after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in the war that followed Israel's creation.

Since its establishment, the UNRWA has provided education, healthcare, and social services to those meeting its definition of "Palestine refugees".

The organisation defines a Palestine refugee as someone whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and who lost his/her home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. UNRWA also provides basic services to Palestinians who became displaced as a result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Today, the UNRWA aids more than five million registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.


Netanyahu wants to dismantle the UNRWA because the agency allows Palestinian refugee men to transmit their refugee status from one generation to another. This transmission of refugee status keeps the right of return for Palestinian refugees alive - it ensures that their hopes for returning to their ancestral homeland do not perish with the death of the original 1948 refugees.

Israel has accused the UNRWA of "perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem" by allowing Palestinian refugees to transmit their refugee status to future generations. This accusation aims to shift our attention away from the fact that Israel is solely responsible for perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem by denying the refugees the right to return to their homes.

READ MORE: Israel calls for end of UN Palestinian refugee agency

If Israel had accepted the right of return that was accorded to Palestinian refugees in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948, the Palestinian refugee problem would not exist today and their descendants, who have inherited their parents' refugee status, would instead have inherited the citizenship accorded to their parents in historic Palestine.

As a consequence of Israel's unwillingness to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, the UN General Assembly had to repeatedly extend UNRWA's mandate because its mandate can only end when a just and lasting solution is found for the Palestinian refugee problem. While the UNRWA does not prescribe a particular solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees, UNRWA's spokesman Chris Gunness, in 2011, implied that he was against resettlement when he wrote in an op-ed that the problem cannot "be made to go away by dispersing [Palestinian refugees] around the globe."


Unlike the UNRWA, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a specific mandate to aid refugees by eliminating their refugee status through the medium of local integration in the host country, resettlement in a third country or repatriation when possible. Netanyahu wants 1948 Palestine refugees to fall under the scope of the UNHCR because it does not insist on repatriation.

The UNRWA should continue to exist until a just and fair solution for the
Palestinian refugee problem materialises.

If the UNRWA is dismantled and merged with the UNHCR, Palestinian refugees scattered all over the Middle East will effectively lose all hope of returning to their homeland. Since the possibility of repatriation is effectively being blocked by Israel, the UNHCR will either integrate them in host countries or resettle them in a third country.

Furthermore, if the UNRWA is dismantled, Palestinian refugees registered with the agency will no longer be excluded from the scope of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons, which calls upon contracting states to facilitate the assimilation and naturalisation of refugees.

This exclusion clause was added to the convention by Arab states who wanted to make sure that the principle of naturalisation within the 1951 Convention did not affect the right of return for Palestinian refugees. But if the UNRWA is dismantled, Palestinian refugees will automatically lose their exclusive status.

Arab countries hosting UNRWA camps are not parties to the 1951 Convention, but they still can be affected by this text. Without the UNRWA, Palestinian refugees will fall under the UNHCR mandate which bases its work on the 1951 Convention. This means that Arab countries hosting Palestinian refugees will find themselves under pressure to either integrate Palestinian refugees or agree to their resettlement in a third country. And Palestinian refugees who could not be integrated or resettled will find themselves facing a legal limbo.


If the UNRWA merges with the UNHCR, Palestinian refugees and their descendants will either be integrated or resettled and as a result will no longer be recognised as refugees and lose all hope for repatriation. This is what Netanyahu wants - ending the Palestinian refugee problem by dissolving their refugee status and alongside their right to return to their homeland.

The UNRWA receives its mandate from the UN General Assembly and the assembly members have long been supporting of the agency. But UNRWA's current mandate ends on June 30, 2017, and Netanyahu will try his best to influence the next UN General Assembly vote on the future of the agency.

The UNRWA should continue to exist until a just and fair solution for the Palestinian refugee problem materialises. When members of the UN General Assembly are voting on UNRWA's mandate, we hope that they will remember the words of the UN Security Council Mediator, Folke Bernadotte, who in 1948 noted that "No settlement can be just and complete … if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes."Bernadotte was assassinated by a Zionist group in 1948 for defending the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The innocent victims he died defending continue to suffer a grave injustice by not being able to return to their homes. In the middle of this injustice, the UNRWA is the only UN agency that can continue to protect and serve Palestinian refugees without stripping them of their right of return. Therefore, saving the UNRWA means saving Palestinian refugees.

Hanin Abou Salem is a political analyst and researcher. She holds an MA (Hons) in International Relations, a BA (Hons) in Social Sciences and a second BA (Hons) in International Relations. She is currently completing a PhD in International Law focusing on the right of return for Palestinian refugees under International Law.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.




Created in December 1949, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is a relief and human development agency which supports more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees, and their descendants, who fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 Palestine war as well as those who fled or were expelled during and following the 1967 Six Day war. Originally intended to provide jobs on public works projects and direct relief, today UNRWA provides education, health care, and social services to the population it supports. Aid is provided in five areas of operation: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; aid for Palestinian refugees outside these five areas is provided by UNHCR.

It also provided relief to Jewish and Arab Palestine refugees inside the state of Israel following the 1948 conflict until the Israeli government took over responsibility for Jewish refugees in 1952. In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA's mandate, most recently extending it until 30 June 2017.

UNRWA is the only agency dedicated to helping refugees from a specific region or conflict and is separate from UNHCR. Formed in 1950, UNHCR is the main UN refugee agency, which is responsible for aiding other refugees all over the world. Unlike UNRWA, UNHCR has a specific mandate to aid its refugees to eliminate their refugee status by local integration in current country, resettlement in a third country or repatriation when possible. Both UNRWA and UNHCR allow refugee status to be inherited by descendants.

UNRWA has had to develop a working definition of "refugee" to allow it to provide humanitarian assistance. Its definition does not cover final status.

Palestine refugees are defined as "persons whose regular place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict."

UNRWA services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency, and who need assistance. The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration as refugees. When the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are registered as eligible for UNRWA service.

See also ‘The MiddleEast Piece - What is UNWRA?


Middle East Quarterly

At its inception on May 1, 1950, UNRWA served approximately 750,000 persons whom it considered Palestine refugees. Due to natural attrition, most of those original refugees are no longer alive today. Yet the number of "refugees" now registered with UNRWA has grown exponentially instead of declining, with almost 5,000,000 persons registered as Palestinian refugees—seven times as many as those registered sixty-two years ago.

This has been made possible through the addition of descendants of refugees (along the male line) to UNRWA's refugee rolls, regardless of how much time has passed. Today, the vast majority of those classified by UNRWA as Palestinian refugees are in fact descendants of refugees, not persons who were ever refugees themselves. These are grandchildren and great-grandchildren born in Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere—not in pre-1948 Palestine.

According to a projection published by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees extrapolating from UNRWA's past growth rates, by 2030, UNRWA's refugee list will expand another 70 percent to 8.5 million. In fact, at the same growth rate, by 2060 there will be four times as many Palestinian refugees as there are today and twenty-five times the number registered by UNRWA in 1950—though not a single one of the original Palestinian refugees is likely still to be alive by then.

Projected growth of UNRWA Refugee Rolls

1950     750,000

2010  4,880,377

2020  6,432,567

2030  8,478,434

2040 11,174,981

2050 14,729,159

2060 19,413,735

Source: Mick Dumper, "Future Prospects for the Palestinian Refugees," Refugee Survey Quarterly, 2-3 (2009): 563-6.

This represents a drastic break with UNRWA's early practice. In 1950, its first director told the General Assembly that the "agency has decided that a refugee is a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood."[11] His definition made no reference to descendants.

Human Rights Watch Policy on the Right of Return

Initially the response of host Arab states to the incoming Palestinian refugees was to offer them refuge on the assumption that it would be temporary. When it became obvious that the problem would be protracted, the policies of Arab states toward the refugees changed, and the initial sympathy was coupled with an insistence on Israel's ultimate responsibility for them. As a result most Arab governments strongly opposed resettlement and naturalization of the refugees. Instead, they adopted policies and procedures aimed at preserving the Palestinian identity of the individuals and their status as refugees.

Nearly one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

A Palestine refugee camp is defined as a plot of land placed at the disposal of UNRWA by the host government to accommodate Palestine refugees and set up facilities to cater to their needs. Areas not designated as such and are not recognized as camps. However, UNRWA also maintains schools, health centres and distribution centres in areas outside the recognized camps where Palestine refugees are concentrated, such as Yarmouk, near Damascus.

The plots of land on which the recognized camps were set up are either state land or, in most cases, land leased by the host government from local landowners. This means that the refugees in camps do not 'own' the land on which their shelters were built, but have the right to 'use' the land for a residence.

Socioeconomic conditions in the camps are generally poor, with high population density, cramped living conditions and inadequate basic infrastructure such as roads and sewers.

The remaining two thirds of registered Palestine refugees live in and around the cities and towns of the host countries, and in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, often in the environs of official camps. While most of UNRWA's installations such as schools and health centres are located in the Palestine refugee camps, a number are outside; all of the Agency’s services are available to all registered Palestine refugees, including those who do not live in the camps.

As shown in the video of the Lebanese camp, movement through the camp is via narrow paths and accommodation is in poor condition.  Residents are not allowed to buy property outside the camp.

Gatestone Institute, International Policy Council - click on link to go to full article

If the entire Palestinian Authority leadership lives off an international welfare check that arrives only because the conflict still exists, there isn't much incentive for ending the conflict.

The Palestinian people, according to a recent study by the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, have received per capita, adjusted for inflation, 25 times more aid than did Europeans to rebuild war-torn Western Europe under the Marshall plan after the Second World War

Most of these funds, according to the study, reached the Palestinian people through The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

UNRWA is the only UN refugee agency dedicated to a single group of people, and the only agency that designates individuals as original refugees if they have lived in areas effected by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, for a minimum of only two years, before being displaced. UNRWA is also the only UN agency that designates the descendants of the original refugees as refugees as well – even though 90% of UNRWA-designated refugees have never actually been displaced

UNRWA, furthermore, violates the UNHCR Refugee Convention by insisting that two million peopht of return.

Although, since World War II, fifty million people have been displaced by armed conflict, the Palestinian people are the only ones in history to receive this special treatment

Before describing why UNRWA is a body that drastically reduces any chance of a lasting peace, let's take a look at which citizens are funding UNWRA. After all: "There is no such thing as public money, there is only taxpayers' money.

The total 2012 UNRWA budget was $907,907,371. Although the permanent supportive rhetoric for the "Palestinian case" from the Muslim world might lead one to expect that UNWRA is funded mainly by Muslim countries, in fact UNRWA is almost entirely funded by Western taxpayers: The USA, EU, UK, Sweden, Norway, Germany, The Netherlands and Japan pay $644,701,999, or 71% of the annual UNRWA budget. The funds from the second largest donor, the EU, are of course already composed of EU taxes from its member statesle (40% of UNWRA's beneficiaries) who have been given full citizenship in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, are nevertheless still classified as refugees, and by encouraging them to act on a "rig.

UNHCR was launched on a shoestring annual budget of US$ 300,000 in 1950. But as our work and size have grown, so too have the costs. Our annual budget rose to more than US$ 1 billion in the early 1990s and reached a new annual high of US$ 7.5 billion in 2016. For up to date information about UNHCR’s financial needs visit our Global Focus website.     We work in 128 countries

(Many of the 5,000,000 + UNWRA refugees are children, grandchildren etc of the


ThIs report describes the current situation for each area.  As an example their report for Gaza is reproduced below.

The Gaza Strip is home to a population of approximately 1.9 million people, including 1.3 million Palestine refugees.

For the last decade, the socioeconomic situation in Gaza has been in steady decline. The blockade on land, air and sea imposed by Israel following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, entered its 10th year in June 2016 and continues to have a devastating effect as access to markets and people’s movement to and from the Gaza Strip remain severely restricted.

Years of conflict and blockade have left 80 per cent of the population dependent on international assistance. The economy and its capacity to create jobs have been devastated, resulting in the impoverishment and de-development of a highly skilled and well-educated society. The average unemployment rate is well over 41 per cent – one of the highest in the world, according to the World Bank. The number of Palestine refugees relying on UNRWA for food aid has increased from fewer than 80,000 in 2000 to almost one million today.

Over half a million Palestine refugees in Gaza live in the eight recognized Palestine refugee camps, which have one of the highest population densities in the world.

Operating through approximately 12,500 staff in over 300 installations across the Gaza Strip, UNRWA delivers education, health and mental health care, relief and social services, microcredit and emergency assistance to registered Palestine refugees.

On 7 July 2014, a humanitarian emergency was declared by UNRWA in the Gaza Strip, following a severe escalation in hostilities, involving intense Israeli aerial and navy bombardment and Palestinian rocket fire. Hostilities de-escalated following an open-ended ceasefire which entered into force on 26 August 2014. The scale of human loss, destruction, devastation and displacement caused by this third conflict within seven years was catastrophic, unprecedented and unparalleled in Gaza.

UNRWA mounted an extraordinary response during the 50 days of hostilities which highlighted its unique position as the largest UN organization in the Gaza Strip and the only UN Agency that undertakes direct implementation.

The human, social and economic costs of the last hostilities are sit against a backdrop of a society already torn by wide-spread poverty, frustration and anger, heightening vulnerability and political instability. The compounded effects of the blockade and repeated armed conflicts and violence have also had a less visible, but quite profound, psychological impact on the people of Gaza. Among Palestine refugee children, UNRWA estimates that a minimum of 30 per cent require some form of structured psychosocial intervention. Their most common symptoms are: nightmares, eating disorders, intense fear, bed wetting.

In recent years, UNRWA has made significant improvements to its services in Gaza, such as its schools of excellence and excellent health services initiatives. It also better targets its assistance to the poorest of the poor through the implementation of a proxy-means tested poverty survey. UNRWA continues to:

UNHCR  (The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency)

UNHCR was established on 14 December 1950 and succeeded the earlier United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.

UNHCR's mandate has gradually been expanded to include protecting and providing humanitarian assistance to whom it describes as other persons "of concern," including internally displaced persons (IDPs) who would fit the legal definition of a refugee under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol, the 1969 Organization for African Unity Convention, or some other treaty if they left their country, but who presently remain in their country of origin. UNHCR presently has major missions in Lebanon, South Sudan, Chad/Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan as well as Kenya to assist and provide services to IDPs and refugees in camps and in urban settings.

UNHCR maintains a database of refugee information, ProGres, which was created during the Kosovo War in the 1990s. The database today contains data on over 11 million refugees, or about 11% of all displaced persons globally. The database contains biometric data, including fingerprints and iris scans and is used to determine aid distribution for recipients.The results of using biometric verification has been successful. When introduced in Kenyan refugee camps of Kakuma and Dadaab in the year 2013, the UN World Food Programme was able to eliminate $1.4m in waste and fraud.

To achieve its mandate, the UNHCR engaged in activities both in the countries of interest and in countries with donors. For example, the UNHCR hosts expert roundtables to discuss issues of concern to the international refugee community.


A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.




5.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide

21.3million refugees  
(over half of whom are under the age of 18).

(16.1 million under UNHCR mandate
5.2 million registered by UNWRA)

10 Million stateless people

100,100 refugees resettled in 2015  

There are also 10 million stateless people
who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights
such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

In a world where nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day
as a result of conflict or persecution,
our work at UNHCR is more important than ever before.



They would be accepted as full citizens in the Arab country in which they settle.

Will provide the basis for a happier life.

Will end the distinction between them and refugees in other countries so putting them on the same basis as other UNHCR refugees


UNWRA has 30,000 employees and deals with one national group - the Palestinians.  No Palestinian refugees means no UNWRA and the loss of jobs for many of those 30,000 employees, especially those in management.

Many employees and others receive corruption.  This would stop.  


They would have to assume responsibility, for example for education, for the services


They would have to take over some of the UNWRA responsibilities for services being provided to surviving refugees who fled in 1948.


They would have to decide how they will take over functions such as education currently being carried out by UNWRA

They would have to agree how UNHCR will be of help

Will improve prosperity


Will be viewed by Israel as a population transfer with the Jewish exiles from Arab countries.

Will (hopefully) reduce anti-Israel propaganda by Arab governments

Will eliminate one Arab-Israel problem

Will enable improved local cooperation leading to their increased prosperity

Israeli PM Calls for Dismantling of U.N. Palestinian Refugee Agency

Why is Netanyahu Trying to Disband
the UNRWA?

Creation of UNWRA

Growth of  Palestinian Refugees

UNWRA Palestinian Refugee Camps

The UNRWA Dilemma

GAZA UNWRA Annual Report


Effect on Palestinian Refugees


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency
2016 (4.59)

Conflict and persecution caused global forced displacement to escalate sharply in 2015,
reaching the highest level ever recorded.

UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report said 65.3 million people were displaced as of the end of 2015, compared to 59.5 million just 12 months earlier. This is not only a 21st-century high,
but also the first time the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.