Despite Israel, U.S. Pressure, and Ongoing Probe, UN Renews UNRWA Mandate

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Palestinian children chant slogans and raise the victory gesture over a UN flag during a protest at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school, financed by US aid, in the Arroub refugee camp near Hebron in the West Bank on September 5, 2018
Palestinian children during a protest at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school, financed by US aid, in the Arroub refugee refugee camp near Hebron, September 5, 2018.Credit: AFP

The United Nations General Assembly Fourth Committee renewed the mandate of the agency tasked with supporting Palestinian refugees on Friday, in an overwhelming show of support amid an investigation of its former chief, accused of misconduct.

Only Israeli and American representatives on the committee voted against the resolution, with Canada, Cameroon, Guatemala, Vanuatu, Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Nauru abstaining. Another 170 nations voted for renewing the mandate.

A final vote on another three-year extension to UNRWA's mandate, until 2023, is expected later this month at the General Assembly.

The decision comes after a long campaign by Israel and the United States against the organization, on grounds that it justifies the claim that Palestinians are refugees who could potentially exercise their right of return to Israel, thus preventing a practical solution to the conflict.

UNRWA, which was created in 1949 and is one of the organization's oldest agencies, has faced an unprecedentedly rocky period in its history in the past few years. 

In 2018, the Trump administration cut the U.S.'s contribution to UNRWA's budget, sending the agency into financial turmoil. It remained afloat only after European and Arab countries managed to plug the gap.

Over the last few months, allegations of misconduct in the top echelons of the organization have thrown UNRWA into further disarray, leading to the resignation of the agency’s commissioner general, Pierre Krahenbuhl.

The veteran diplomat jumped before being pushed, as circumstances surrounding the UN internal investigation, which started in March 2019, became public. Prior to his resignation, a UN spokesman said preliminary findings excluded “fraud or misappropriation of operational funds,” and noted that the allegations were likely connected to personal misbehavior.

A confidential report by the UN's ethics office leaked in July 2019 claimed that Krahenbuhl and other management staff had "engaged in sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority."

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