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This past week saw a number of countries suspending their funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) – a primary source of providing aid, relief, education and these days, shelter, to the besieged Gaza strip.

The reason for these cuts were allegations by Israel that some of its vast network of 12,000 employees had ties to Hamas and were involved in the October 7 attacks. They were swiftly fired by the UN while allegations had not yet been proven. They remain unsubstantiated to date.

Top donors like the US (nearly $350 million in 2022), France, Italy, Germany and Japan were among the first to cut funding, followed by others. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia and Qatar remain among the more conservative donors on the list of nations.

 Source: UNRWA
Source: UNRWA

Hamas unlikely to reject ceasefire but will demand Israeli withdrawal

Earlier this week, The New York Times published an infuriating op-ed rallying for the abolishment of UNRWA, questioning why only Palestinians get their own dedicated agency. Well, only US President Joe Biden can answer that, but the op-ed made no note of it.

The article also claimed that neighbouring Arab nations have “cruelly refused to fully absorb Palestinian refugees…” not recognising, again, the circumstances that made them refugees in the first place or examining their unwillingness to leave their homeland.

“The changing borders and independence movements of the postwar era produced millions of refugees: Germans, Indians, Pakistanis, Palestinians and Jews, including some 800,000 Jews who were kicked out of Arab countries that had been their homes for centuries,” the op-ed stated further.

Instead, nearly all have “found new lives in new countries—except for Palestinians,” it stated.

But Palestine was no “new country” now, was it, and the onus of the creation of the state of Israel lies with the United Kingdom, which in 1917 – in order to win Jewish support for Britain’s First World War effort – promised the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine via The Balfour Declaration.

Instead, the Palestinians preserve the “irredentist fantasy that someday their descendants will exercise what they believe is their right of return”, effectively through the elimination of the Jewish state, The New York Times op-ed further claims.

The “right to return” is firstly predicated on the complete withdrawal of occupation forces from Gaza and the establishment of a Palestinian state that includes the West Bank – a two-state solution, the one Arab nations and now many Western nations are propagating.

Only two-state solution can end Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Pakistan urges UN

Host nations that absorb Palestinian refugees cannot be commanded to grant them citizenship, and those Palestinians, who left their land and are refugees in Gaza, should be allowed to return to those territories.

Given the current circumstances, why the Arab nations haven’t stepped in yet to bridge the funding gap at UNRWA, we don’t know.

When challenged, the Houthis valiantly and stubbornly vowed to continue their attacks, a notion Biden is aware is not a bluff.

The Arab league, it seems, is playing the long game, and holding out for a bigger ask – recognition of Palestinian statehood and hence, unwilling to step into what Western states have created and perpetuated for decades – especially seeing that unlimited aid for and arms sales to Israel has already come to a defining point in the long war.

If the Palestinian cause isn’t resolved now, then it never will

The Saudi stance seems somewhat clearer – to emerge as a leading force within the Middle East, normalise relations with Israel, and encourage other Arab states to do so in the process. The US is hoping to isolate Iran with this move.

The Arab nations are now primed for intense negotiations and to really prove their mettle if it means wider peace in the region.

Good for them.

President Biden now faces a conundrum. He is being goaded into a war by Iranian proxies when he should be reigning in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leash, establishing better relations with Arab and Muslim nations, and focusing on efforts at home (the border crisis, inflation, cost of living crisis, etc).

Ceasefire now, President Biden, for the ball truly really is in your court. For the sake of re-election of course.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Faiza Virani

The writer is Life & Style Editor at Business Recorder


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