European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini pledged continued support on Tuesday for UNRWA, the United Nations agency that assists Palestinian refugees.
"The work they [UNRWA] do is crucial for the perspective of an agreement between Israel and Palestine," Mogherini said, adding that the agency's contribution "provides the political space toward achieving a peace deal and building a Palestinian state."
UNRWA is also important for the political process in Gaza, Mogherini said, calling Palestinian reconciliation "essential for the perspective of a viable state of Palestine."
Besides the agency's role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, UNRWA plays an essential part in working toward stability throughout the Middle East, Mogherini said. "Investing in UNWRA is also investing in our collective regional security," she stated.
Mogherini vowed that the EU will continue to financially support UNRWA and called on established donors as well as those "less engaged" to step up their efforts with regards to donating to the agency.
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UNRWA is funded mainly by voluntary contributions from UN member states, with the United States by far the largest donor. Washington announced on January 16 it would hold back $65 million – more than half its planned contribution this year – and demanded that the agency make unspecified reforms.
Following the U.S. announcement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged European, international and Arab world officials to contribute to UNRWA. Speaking during a joint press conference with Mogherini, Abbas also called on the EU to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.
The Palestinian president said that recognizing Palestine will not be a barrier to peace and that "the only way to achieve peace with Israel is through internationally led negotiations."
At the press conference, Mogherini reiterated the EU's commitment to investing in the Palestinian state-building process and called UNRWA "invaluable," in the agency's work ensuring Palestinians' "access to basic services such as education, health and jobs, pending resolution of their situation."
More than half of the two million people in the Gaza Strip are dependent on support from UNRWA and other humanitarian agencies.
UNRWA was established by the UN General Assembly in 1949 after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war that followed the creation of the state of Israel.