Palestinian employees of UNRWA in Gaza City demonstrate against the US decision in Jan 2018 to cut contributions to the agency. Photo: Reuters / Mohammed Salem.
In an unexpected departure from the international consensus in support of UNRWA — the UN body that sustains the descendants of the Palestinian refugees of the 1948 War of Independence — Switzerland’s foreign minister has stated that continued funding for the agency without the reform of its mandate is perpetuating the Palestinian conflict with Israel.
“Today [UNRWA] has become part of the problem,” Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis told a group of Swiss journalists as he flew home from an official visit to Jordan on Thursday. “It provides the ammunition to continue the conflict. For as long as Palestinians live in refugee camps, they want to return to their homeland.”
Cassis continued: “By supporting UNRWA, we keep the conflict alive. It is a perverse logic, because actually everyone wants to end the conflict.”
The foreign minister said his interest in UNRWA’s future had been triggered by the US announcement in January that it was withholding $65 million out of a $125 million aid package earmarked for the agency.
In Cassis’ view, the US was taking “a big risk: millions of Palestinians could take to the streets.”
“When all UNRWA states refuse to provide funds, a machinery which provides stability breaks down,” he said. “This is a risk that Switzerland cannot afford — different from the US, perhaps.”
But he also argued that sustaining UNRWA in its present form — a policy that goes back to the agency’s formation in 1949 — no longer made sense for the international community. “Instead of supporting UNRWA schools and hospitals, we could support Jordanian institutions to promote the integration of Palestinian refugees,” Cassis suggested.