The Trump administration's chief negotiator for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict delivered a blunt message to the United Nations Security Council Wednesday, asserting that it is time “to move past Band-Aid solutions" and claiming that the U.N. agency to support Palestinian refugees had "failed" in its mission.
“The UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency] model cannot provide to Palestinians what they deserve – a life where they can plan for their future and the future of their children, and one where they know whether schools and health clinics will remain open," said Jason Greenblatt, who noted that despite American donations of $6 billion to UNRWA since its founding in 1949, the organization was operating in a "permanent crisis mode."
Greenblatt reiterated that the U.S. is ready to engage with host countries or non-governmental agencies to take over providing UNRWA services to 5.3 million refugees. Greenblatt said the U.S. tried to broach the issue before it cut aid to UNRWA last year. The U.S. reduced its $360 million annual contribution to UNRWA in 2017 to just $60 million in 2018 and nothing this year.
Before Greenblatt’s remarks, UNRWA Director-General Pierre Krähenbühl told the Security Council that UNRWA would need another $1.2 billion for its activities in 2019, including opening the school year on time.
"It is political inaction — not the action of humanitarian organizations — that perpetuates conflicts," said Krähenbühl, who added that he was "strongly convinced that preserving UNRWA's services is a crucial contribution in terms of human dignity and regional stability."
Greenblatt addressed the Security Council's other 14 members as well as the Israeli and Palestinian representatives days after the Trump administration announced it would roll out the first stage of its multi-faceted plan for peace next month at a conference in Bahrain designed to highlight economic benefits that could be reaped if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. The Palestinian leadership has already called the plan "dead on arrival" and has said it will boycott the Bahrain event.
"This is the first stage of a process that we want to begin to showcase what could be – how, if we can achieve a political solution to the conflict, we can also transform the lives of the Palestinians," Greenblatt said. "It would be a mistake for the Palestinians not to join us. They have nothing to lose and much to gain if they do join us. But it is, of course, their choice."
Greenblatt made clear that the business-as-usual approach to Middle East peacemaking had not succeeded and took aim at the failed approaches employed by the United Nations and others.
"What we have today is not the answer," Greenblatt said. "We do know that Palestinians and Israelis both deserve better. We do know that it is time to move past Band-Aid solutions and political assertions, into the adult world of hard choices."
Greenblatt, perhaps aware of what the members of the Security Council would say once he had finished speaking, made no bones about his call for a fresh approach to solving the decades-long conflict, saying that "Palestinians have been held hostage for too long to UN resolutions, regional politics, donor fatigue, and weak leadership." He also made the Trump administration's support of Israel unequivocally clear.
"As President Trump has said, the United States will always stand with Israel, and we will always support its right to self-defense," Greenblatt said. "But we should not stand alone. We must all speak loudly and clearly and say that these attacks upon Israel, which are perpetrated by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, whether by rockets, incendiary balloons or other methods, must end.”
Greenblatt concluded his remarks with a pointed message.
“This conflict is sad and tragic, and complex on so many levels. But we must stop pretending that UNRWA and UN resolutions will somehow solve the conflict. They simply won’t. Let’s work together to find a real cure.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon also took aim at UNRWA, its leadership, and its workers, accusing the agency of "empowering the refugee problem instead of trying to solve it," and of inciting violence against Israel instead of rehabilitating Gaza.
"The organization's schools have been transformed into terror and incitement infrastructures, with textbooks distributed on the ground denying Israel's existence," he said, adding that "UNRWA employees assist terrorist groups."
The Palestinian deputy representative, Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, responded in her remarks that "no one can deny that we are in need of new efforts and new energy to overcome the suffocating political deadlock, least of all us. But 'new' cannot mean trampling the law or mocking and discarding the longstanding international consensus" on a two-state solution.
Abdelhady-Nasser added that Palestinian leaders can't accept improving the lives of Palestinians while Israel's "illegal occupation continues, nor have the Palestinian people endured decades of suffering and waited nearly half a century for freedom to resign themselves to 'limited autonomy.'"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.