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RAMALLAH: A proposal by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees to delegate some services to other UN agencies has sparked outrage among Palestinians, who have warned of a plot to ‘dismantle’ the body .

Established in 1949, a year after the creation of Israel, UNRWA is the only major UN body dedicated exclusively to a conflict and a people and holds a symbolic role which, according to experts, corresponds to its importance in as a provider of Palestinian refugees.

The agency has long been the target of Israeli criticism, accused of fueling the conflict in part by teaching anti-Zionist messages in its schools.

UNRWA “is not limited to service delivery”, said Muhammed Shehada of the Swiss-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Observatory.

“As long as UNRWA is there, it is a reminder that the international community has a responsibility to solve the Palestinian refugee problem,” he said.

The agency responsible for helping Palestinians who were driven from their homes during the war that surrounded the creation of Israel – and their descendants – has faced a funding crisis for years, steadily losing tens of millions of dollars. dollars compared to its declared needs.

On the face of it, the announcement last month by the head of the agency, Philippe Lazzarini, that UNRWA could ask other UN bodies to help with service delivery, may have to have looked like a bland, bureaucratic cost-sharing plan.

Relying primarily “on voluntary donor funding would not be reasonable” in the future, he said in a statement. “One option that is currently being explored is to maximize partnerships within the wider UN system.”

Palestinians saw the remarks as a potentially devastating blow to UNRWA’s long-term mission.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the plan would “violate” UN resolutions that established UNRWA, while the Palestine Liberation Organization said refugees would be outraged.

Mohammad Al-Madhoun, a senior figure in Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, described the proposal as “an attempt to dismantle UNRWA as a prelude to the end of its work”.

With more than 30,000 staff and a budget of approximately $1.6 billion this year, UNRWA is a leading provider of health care, education and other services to some 5.7 million Palestinian refugees spread across the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank as well as in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Former US President Donald Trump has publicly sided with Israel to blow up UNRWA and cut its funding.

The agency has staunchly defended its school curriculum against pro-Israel criticism, though Lazzarini told European lawmakers last year that problematic issues were “dealt with.”

President Joe Biden’s administration has since restored funding, but Lazzarini warned in November that UNRWA faced an “existential threat” due to budget discrepancies.

Agency spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai said this year would see another $100 million shortfall that could worsen given “the rising cost of basic commodities and food that the current crisis in Ukraine has caused”.