Cablegate: Un Commemoration of 60 Years of Unrwa

Published: Wed 30 Sep 2009 02:39 PM
DE RUCNDT #0864/01 2731439
O 301439Z SEP 09
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A. USUN 831
B. USUN 806
C. USUN 798
1. (SBU) Summary: The commemoration of the 60th anniversary
of the founding of United National Relief and Works Agency
for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) special
high-level meeting of the General Assembly took place at UN
headquarters September 24, 2009. The event was an
opportunity for UN member states and representatives of the
UN community to recognize the work of UNRWA over the past six
decades and to discuss challenges UNRWA faces in the
implementation of its mandate. Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas delivered an address focused on the
Palestinian "right of return" as laid out in UN General
Assembly Resolution (GA Res) 194. UN Secretary General (SYG)
Ban suggested that the General Assembly review UNRWA's
budgeting, as currently only a small percentage is allocated
from the UN regular budget with the rest provided by
voluntary contributions. Members of the Arab group used the
meeting to reiterate support for right of return under GA Res
194 and to accuse Israel of attacks targeting UNRWA.
Portugal, current chair of the Western Europe and others
group (WEOG), and the United States both expressed support
for UNRWA and noted regret that Israel was denied a speaking
role at the event. Representatives of the five regional
groups, the EU Presidency (Sweden), and the European
Commission focused on commemorating UNRWA's work and the need
to provide the agency with adequate resources. The
high-level speakers' event was preceeded by a panel debate
and remarks by President of the General Assembly Dr. Ali
Treki and UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd. End
Abbas' Remarks
2. (SBU) Palestinian Authority President Abbas expressed deep
gratitude for the support and assistance of UNRWA to
Palestinian refugees. He said the anniversary was a time to
renew commitment to a "just, agreed and lasting solution to
the plight of the Palestine refugees, in accordance with
international law and UN resolutions." Noting that more than
half of the Palestinian people worldwide - 4.7 million - are
refugees, Abbas said that "the Palestinian people remain a
stateless and oppressed people, still suffering from the
grave injustice inflicted upon them in the 1948 Al-Nakba."
Praising UNRWA's assistance as invaluable, especially in
periods of crisis, Abbas highlighted, "the brutal Israeli
military aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip"
adding that they "continue to suffer tremendously under the
collective punishment of the inhuman Israeli blockade."
Abbas accused Israel of deliberately attacking UNRWA
facilities, "including schools where civilians were known to
be sheltering." While calling for a return to the peace
process, Abbas asserted, "Israel's security is linked to our
independence and to our security, and the continuation of the
occupation and Al-Nakba does not bring security to anyone."
(Comment: Abbas' mentioned GA Res 194 four times during his
speech. Palestinian contacts said that highlighting GA Res
194 shows Palestinians that Abbas' remains committed to the
"right of return." End comment)
UN and UNRWA officials
3. (SBU) GA President Treki noted that the resolution that
established UNRWA was adopted in 1949 without opposition and
that the General Assembly offers, "near universal support for
UNRWA's work and renewing its mandate." (Note: While the
U.S. fully supports UNRWA, it regularly abstains or votes
against UNRWA-related resolutions as they contain
politically-charged language that seeks to prejudice the
outcome of final status negotiations. End note.) Treki
praised UNRWA's local staff's "extraordinary dedication to UN
principles, upholding humanitarian impartiality towards all
parties to the conflict, often in the face of violence
directly affecting their families." Speaking off-script,
Treki expressed hope that Palestinian refugees would be able
to soon return to their homeland. UNRWA Commissioner-General
AbuZayd called for additional financial support, and
commented, "The protracted exile of Palestine refugees and
the dire conditions they endure, particularly in the occupied
Palestinian territory, cannot be reconciled with State
obligations under the United Nations Charter." AbuZayd
continued, "UNRWA stands ready to play its constructive and
enabling role to ensure that the Palestine refugee voice is
heard and that their interests and choices are reflected in
any future agreement." AbuZayd highlighted UNRWA's work in
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providing humanitarian assistance and human development to
members of a future Palestinian state. SYG Ban honored the
work of UNRWA, and suggested that the General Assembly review
UNRWA's budgeting, as currently only a small percentage is
allocated from the UN regular budget with the rest provided
by voluntary contributions. He said that the Agency is too
important to suffer "budget crisis after budget crisis." Ban
expressed support for President Obama's efforts for a
resumption of negotiations towards a two-state solution to
the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
Regional Group Statements
4. (SBU) With the notable exception of Algeria,
representatives of the five regional groups, the EU
Presidency (Sweden), and the European Commission all
delivered remarks focused on commemorating UNRWA's work and
the need to provide the agency with adequate resources. The
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana Rodrigues-Birkett, on
behalf of the group of Latin American and Caribbean States
(GRULAC), called UNRWA an important contribution to peace and
stability in the region. Japanese Foreign Minister Okada,
speaking on behalf of the Asia Group, underlined Japan's
contributions to UNRWA and the Palestinian people totaling to
more than one billion dollars since 1993. Poland's Deputy
Foreign Minister Bernatowicz expressed the Eastern European
Group's appreciation for UNRWA and noted that the agency has
"evolved from a relief and resettlement organization to one
focused on relief and development." Portuguese Minister of
State and Foreign Affairs Amado delivered the WEOG statement,
which noted "The State of Israel, a concerned party,
requested the opportunity to address you today from this
podium. The WEOG regrets that it was not possible to agree
on an appropriate format for its participation." (Note:
Reftels describe consideration of Israel's request. End
note.) The WEOG statement also called for "unimpeded access
for humanitarian aid, including food, fuel, and humanitarian
assistance as foreseen in Security Council Resolution 1860."
5. (SBU) Swedish Minister for International Development
Cooperation Carlsson, speaking on behalf of the EU
Presidency, stressed the need for "a fair, stable and
equitable solution to the question of Palestine refugees."
Noting that limited access constrains UNRWA's ability to
fulfill its mandate, she said "The EU calls for the immediate
and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of
humanitarian aid, commercials goods and persons to and from
Gaza." Sweden said it is unsustainable that ninety percent
of the agency's resources are provided by only fifteen
countries. Carlsson said that, "Respect for international
law including international humanitarian law and human rights
law has guided the EU's policy, not only with respect to the
conflict between Israel and its neighbors, but also EU
support to UNRWA." The European Commission's Deputy Director
General for External Relations Mingarelli said that President
Obama's address to the UN General Assembly will allow for a
return to negotiations. Striking a distinctly different
tone, Algeria's Ambassador to the U.S. Abdallah Baali,
speaking on behalf of the Africa group, focused his remarks
on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He called for
resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue in accordance
with international law and the UN charter and noted "the
right of return must be part of any fair and definitive
Arab Group Statements
6. (SBU) MFA Under Secretary for Multilateral Affairs of
Saudi Arabia Prince Torki Al Kabir expressed gratitude for
all those who had worked to mitigate the suffering of
Palestinian refugees. He condemned "recent aggression
carried out by Israel on the Gaza Strip" where "the Israeli
occupation army launched direct and deliberate strikes on the
UNRWA buildings and facilities, ignoring the humanitarian
help and aid provided by the agency to Palestinian refugees
who are the victim of the Israeli brutal aggression and
occupation." He stated Saudi Arabia's contributions to the
Palestinian National Authority's budget and UNRWA's budget
from 2002-2009 totaled 734.8 million USD. Saying that the
international community rejects the policy of settlements and
demands its complete cessation, including in East Jerusalem,
he called for lifting restrictions placed on UNRWA and its
staff and compelling Israel to exempt humanitarian assistance
provided by UNRWA from the "exorbitant taxes" it imposes.
7. (SBU) Naela Gabr, Deputy Foreign Minister of Egypt, said
that UNRWA provided for the "minimum" needs of Palestinian
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refugees. She called on member states to show their support
to the Palestinian people by increasing contributions to
UNRWA. Gabr noted the continued decline in humanitarian
conditions within the Palestinian territories, compounded in
the Gaza by the Israeli blockade. She called the blockade a
clear violation of international law, and said that until a
just solution could be found in accordance with GA Res 194,
Egypt will continue to support the work of UNRWA.
8. (SBU) Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh expressed strong
support for President Obama's efforts to end settlement
activity and for a two-state solution to the conflict. Judeh
urged the international community to provide financial
support to UNRWA. He noted that Jordan, as the country
hosting the greatest number of Palestinian refugees, faces
financial burdens. He said Israel bears the historic
responsibility for the refugee crisis, and recalled the right
of host countries to reparations for outlays spent on refugee
support. Judeh criticized the suggestion that UNRWA be
eliminated and its mandate folded into the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He reiterated that a
settlement to the conflict would need to take into
consideration Palestinian rights, including the "right of
9. (SBU) Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh noted that
the commemoration of UNRWA also marked 60 years of human
suffering endured by Palestinian refugees. He said that
until a just resolution of the plight of refugees can be
reached in accordance with GA Res 194, the refugees are "the
responsibility of the whole international community." He
reiterated the claim that UNRWA's offices and staff have been
targeted by the Israeli military. Sallouk noted that even
with Lebanon's financial resources, it tried to assist
Palestinian refugees. He expressed Lebanon's support for
efforts to restart negotiations for a political solution to
the conflict, but claimed that Israel has not been
cooperative with efforts thus far.
10. (SBU) Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said that
the 60th anniversary of UNRWA underscored the fact that the
Palestinian people had been suffering under great injustice
since 1948. He stressed that no solution to the refugee
problem has been reached as called for by GA Res 194, and
that Israel, "the occupying power," is only making the
situation more difficult by curtailing access to refugees and
continuing to build settlements. He called for increased
support for UNRWA, noting that Syria and other host countries
face financial burdens from supporting the refugees. He
called for the establishment of a Palestinian state with East
Jerusalem its capital and the return of the Golan Heights to
US Statement
11. (SBU) Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of
Population, Refugees, and Migration Eric Schwartz, noted in
the U.S. statement that "In light of Israel's special role in
facilitating UNRWA's mission, we deeply regret that Israel's
request to publicly recognize UNRWA's efforts by speaking in
this forum was not approved." The statement also reiterated
strong U.S. support for UNRWA's mandate and work, including
its contributions to the human development of the future
Palestinian state. A/S Schwartz remarked that the U.S. is
UNRWA's largest bilateral donor, with over $260 million
provided in 2009, and urged other donor governments,
especially those from within the region, to provide
contributions to UNRWA's General Fund. (The full text of the
U.S. remarks, as well as several other countries' statements,
can be found at: .
Panel Debate
12. (SBU) During the panel debate, held before the high-level
speeches, Spanish Foreign Minister Moratinos highlighted
Spain's contributions to Palestinian refugees and said that
the time has come to establish a Palestinian state. UAE
Minister of State Reem Al Hashimy called on the international
community to force Israel to stop aggression against
Palestinian refugee camps and remove blockades and closures,
to reiterate the UN's responsibility towards the Palestinian
refugees, and to double contributions to UNRWA. UNHCR
Antonio Guterres spoke of UNRWA's unique mandate and said
that it "does not make sense" to merge UNRWA and UNHCR given
the differences between the organizations' mandates.
Guterres stated that UNRWA's work has played an important
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role in showing, in a positive light, the work of the UN. UN
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes
commended the work of UNRWA and called for opening the
crossings between Israel and Gaza and said that the provision
of humanitarian assistance should never be subject to
political considerations. Rami Khouri, Director of the Issam
Fares Institute for Public Policy at the American University
of Beirut, called for greater understanding of the foundation
of political Zionism, as a movement for "the opportunity to
live a normal life" predating the Holocaust. Drawing a
parallel to the aspirations of the Palestinian refugees to
live normal lives, Khouri said "they (the refugees) are not
going away."
13. (U) NEA DAS Connelly amnd PRM/ANE have cleared this
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