Barkat: We Don’t Need UNRWA in Yerushalayim

Palestinians receive aid packs from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees’ (UNWRA) aid box in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on September 27. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

After having its U.S. funding cut off and finding itself booted out of Gaza, UNRWA, the U.N. group that works exclusively with Arabs and their descendants who fled their homes in 1948 and 1967, may now find itself out of business in Yerushalayim as well.

In recent weeks, outgoing Mayor Nir Barkat has made clear that he intends to shut down UNRWA operations in the city. As a result, UNRWA is “concerned,” it said in a statement. The statement by Barkat “challenges the core principles of impartial and independent humanitarian action and does not reflect the robust and structured dialogue and interaction that UNRWA and the State of Israel have traditionally maintained,” the group said.

Since the liberation of eastern Yerushalayim in the 1967 Six Day War, UNRWA has operated schools, food distribution centers, health clinics, and other social service facilities for the city’s Arab population.

But in an Associated Press interview published Sunday, Barkat said that there was no need for those services; the Arabs of Yerushalayim are official residents of the city, and are able to obtain the services they need just like any other resident of the city.

“I look at all of my residents as residents,” Barkat said of Arab residents of the neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city. “There’s no such thing as residents that live in the city of Jerusalem that are defined as refugees. We will treat them like any other residents in the city and provide the best services we can.” Barkat said he was “inspired” to hatch his plan after the U.S. announced last month that it would no longer fund UNRWA operations.

Speaking to Hadashot News, Barkat said that “UNRWA is a foreign body that is unnecessary, and I intend to remove it from Yerushalayim. “Only one percent of the Arab population sends its children to their schools, where the level of incitement against Israel is extremely high. Their sanitation services don’t keep neighborhoods clean, and their social services provides no hope for the future for those utilizing them – and the level of satisfaction of their clientele is very low. UNRWA has failed on every parameter. I have instructed city officials to prepare a plan to remove the agency from the city that I will present to the Prime Minister,” he added.

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