Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip have slammed an agreement between the US and the United Nation’s agency for Palestinian refugees, saying that the deal threatens the Palestinians ‘Right to Return’.

Numerous Palestinian factions protested in front of the headquarters of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on Tuesday. The protestors called to scrap The Framework for Cooperation — a two-year working plan signed between the US State Department and UNRWA.

The demonstrators chanted slogans saying the framework “cancels the rights of return for refugees” along with other international human rights. They held banners that read: “We totally reject the agreement between the US and UNRWA”, and “The right of return is consistent; we won’t give up”.

Earlier in July, the US and UNRWA signed The Framework for Cooperation 2021-22. Under this deal, the US will resume the funding to the refugee agency after the administration of former US President Donald Trump halted it. Washington has so far paid $135m in additional funds to the UN agency.

The agreement said, “No contributions by the US shall be made to UNRWA, except on the condition that UNRWA takes all possible measures to assure that no part of the US contribution shall be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestinian Liberation Army or any other guerrilla-type organization or has engaged in act of terrorism.”

The framework also calls for “monitoring Palestinian [school] curriculum content”.

“Threat” to refugee rights

The agreement has triggered scathing criticism and palpable anger from the Palestinians. Different Palestinian factions say that the deal is a “threat” to Palestinian refugee rights and demand a “serious change” in the UN agency’s vision.

A senior Islamic Jihad member Ahmed al-Mudallal said, “This agreement is totally rejected by all Palestinian bodies as it does not go in line with the UN agency common work towards Palestinian refugees. By this agreement, UNRWA will act as a security agent for the US state through chasing employees and refugees who benefit from its services.”

“Flagrant blackmailing”

Gaza-based lawyer Salah Abdulatti deemed the agreement in violation of the UN covenants, the Refugee Convention, and the UN agency’s mandate. He referred to the funding to UNRWA as “conditional” saying that the new framework was a form of “flagrant blackmailing”.

Abdulatti said, “The UN agency has no right to sign a contract at the expense of refugees’ interests and impose restrictions on their freedom of expression under the pretext of neutrality.”

He said that the framework was signed without consulting the Palestinian Authority or any other Palestinian body. Abdulatti said, “The agreement will transform the agency from a service agency to an intelligence agency whose goal is to provide security information.”

“Dangerous precedent”

The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) criticised the possibility of the UN agency pressurizing its staff and the US interference in the Palestinian curriculum. PFLP’s member Baker Abu Safia said the US used to donate one-third of the UNRWA budget, and then the amount was reduced to $365m annually. He also rejected the US monitoring of school curriculum under the pretext of “incitement to violence”.

Safia said, “Now, years later, the US will donate $135m for an agreement that sets a dangerous precedent in exchange for UNRWA’s pressure on its staff. The agency’s mission is to keep the refugees’ cause alive and uphold their rights, not to eliminate them.”

Palestinians will fight on

The coordinator for the Joint Refugee Committee Mahmoud Khalaf said that the framework stipulates “preventing freedom of expression for its employees on social media platforms, as well as interfering in the Palestinian curriculum”.

Khalaf said that the agreement also requires UNRWA to provide the US State Department with periodic reports on its work, as well as to respond to all its inquiries. He said that the US contributions to UNRWA are voluntary. therefore, should be unconditional in accordance with the principles of UNRWA’s mandate.

He said, “Unlike the agreement with the UN agency, the [school] curriculum should be according to the host country and this is applied over a period of 73 years. Several terms included in the agreement were imposed upon the US vision, such as combating terrorism, anti-Semitism, and women’s rights et cetera.”

Khalaf said that the demonstrations against the deal will not stop until its cancellation.

“We call on the Palestinian Authority and the UNRWA host countries to move to cancel this agreement, and not to accept any conditional funding at the expense of Palestinian refugees’ rights. Our protests will continue until this unjust agreement is revoked.”

UNRWA’s silence

Earlier, the Joint Refugee Committee wrote to the UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini to withdraw the deal, but Lazzarini is yet to respond to the official letter.

Earlier in July, in a statement, Lazzarini said, “The signing of the US-UNRWA Framework and additional support demonstrates we once again have an ongoing partner in the United States that understands the need to provide critical assistance to some of the region’s most vulnerable refugees.”


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