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Ashrawi: Netanyahu's call to dismantle UNRWA 'epitome of arrogance'

June 16, 2017 5:57 P.M. (Updated: June 19, 2017 7:44 P.M.)
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi (File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi released a statement Thursday evening strongly condemning recent calls by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to shut down the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Earlier this week, Netanyahu called for the dismantlement of the organization, which is responsible for providing services to more than five million Palestinian refugees across the occupied Palestinian territory and the Middle East, saying “UNRWA, to a large degree, by its very existence, perpetuates -- and does not solve -- the Palestinian refugee problem.”

Netanyahu also accused UNRWA of “considerable incitement against Israel.”

Ashrawi called Netanyahu’s statements “the epitome of arrogance, particularly since Israel itself is responsible for creating the Palestinian refugee problem.”

“Israel should not be allowed to dictate how to change the legal system and to persist with its unlawful unilateralism,” Ashrawi said, adding that the Israeli government “bears a moral and legal responsibility for Palestinian refugees and the serious injustices of the past.”

Ashrawi highlighted that UNRWA “remains a lifeline” for millions of Palestinian refugees residing in Occupied Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, providing them with essential services, assistance and opportunities for work, growth and development.

“UNRWA has also given the refugees a sense of hope and contributed effectively to regional stability. Any developments that endanger the existence of UNRWA and its mandate threaten to destabilize the whole region,” the statement said.

“It is high time that the plight of the Palestinian refugees is recognized by the international community and resolved in accordance with international law and conventions, particularly by implementing UNGA Resolution 194. Until then, it is crucial that UNRWA remains in operation to fulfill its mandate.”

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness responded to Netanyahu’s comments at the time by noting that UNRWA’s fate was decided only by the UN General Assembly, which extended the agency’s mandate by three years in December “by a large majority.”

Gunness added that the issue of Palestinian refugees -- who number an estimated 6.5 million according to legal NGO BADIL -- could only be resolved through a negotiated end to the Israeli-Palestinian refugee conflict, instead of shuttering an aid agency catering to their humanitarian needs.

While UNRWA has been the target of Palestinian criticism on a number of occasions, Palestinian refugees, notably in the occupied Palestinian territory, see the preservation of their status as refugees as maintaining their claim to their right of return to the villages in historic Palestine from which their ancestors fled during the creation of the state of Israel.

Israel has long criticized the UN, claiming that it has been unfairly targeted by the international body over the state's repeated breaches of international law, particularly its illegal settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territory.

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