With the Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) – The interim chief of the U.S. agency, which helps Palestinian refugees, accused the United States of lobbying foreign parliaments on Thursday to stop donations to the organization that Washington had stopped funding in 2018.
In an interview with Reuters in his office in Gaza, Christian Saunders said Israel wanted to replace the services of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinians commissioned by the United Nations General Assembly in East Jerusalem.
UNRWA has been struggling with budgetary problems since 2018, when the U.S.’s largest donor ceased spending $ 360 million a year. The United States and Israel have both accused UNRWA of mismanagement and anti-Israel incitement.
In November last year, UNRWA General Commissioner Pierre Krahenbuhl resigned as part of an investigation into allegations of misconduct.
In the interview, Acting General Commissioner Saunders said the investigation by the United States Internal Oversight Services Bureau has been completed and Secretary General Antonio Guterres has confirmed that there has been no corruption or misuse of funds.
Saunders said the investigation uncovered mismanagement of human resources and abuse of authority and that major donors who withheld funding during the investigation resumed contributions.
However, he said the United States pleaded “against funding UNRWA in European parliaments and elsewhere”.
“We are engaged to the United States, we will continue to deal with them in the hope that they will see UNRWA as a reliable and worthy partner,” said Saunders.
According to Saunders, UNRWA also felt “the pressure especially in East Jerusalem”, where Israel was building schools and institutions “to compete with the agency” and to cease its activities there.
“It is important that UNRWA has the mandate of the (United States) General Assembly to serve the Palestinian refugees in East Jerusalem,” said Saunders.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem, including the eastern part conquered along the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War, as its “indivisible capital”. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they want to build in the West Bank and Gaza.
Last month, the United States General Assembly extended UNRWA’s mandate for another three years. The agency helps more than 5 million registered refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Saunders said he was confident that UNRWA had enough money for the first quarter of 2020, but there was still a tough road ahead.
(Cut by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)