by Miceál O’Hurley
DUBLIN — Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister Mr. Simon Coveney T.D., announced on Thursday, 19 November that Ireland was making an additional humanitarian funding commitment of €1 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The move comes on the heels of Israel escalating tensions by tendering for more than 1,200 new housing units in East Jerusalem, a move the UN contends is a violation of international law. Observers believe the moves serve to further undermine the viability of a Two State Solution to which Israel had previously committed itself.
The latest Irish funding addresses both humanitarian and development needs, providing emergency assistance to the most vulnerable whilst also supporting the Palestinian Authority in public service delivery and civil society organisations in their advocacy of human rights.
Palestinian Ambassador Expresses Gratitude
Her Excellency Dr. Jilan Abdalmajid, the Ambassador of the Mission of the Palestinian State in Ireland reacted with appreciation for the humanitarian generosity of the Irish people, “We are sincerely grateful for the continuing solidarity and practical assistance from Ireland to Palestine. At times of deepest need, Ireland is always one of the first to step up and offer a helping hand. The Palestinian people and our leadership highly value the longstanding and committed bilateral relations between our two countries.” In 1980, Ireland was the first European Union member state to endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In January 2011, Ireland accorded the Palestinian delegation in Dublin diplomatic status. A few months later, Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Eamon Gilmore, T.D. stated Ireland would “lead the charge” in recognising Palestinian statehood, but that it would not come until the Palestinian Authoirty was in full and sole control over its territories. In October 2014, Seanad Éireann unanimously passed a motion calling on the Government to recognise the State of Palestine. Dáil Éireann adopted the same affirmative position on Palestinian Statehood in December 2014.
Israel Increasing Rate of Illegal Settlement
In the last two weeks Israel has escalated the pace of attempting to copper fasten its position of dominance over the Palestinians by increasing the rate of illegal demolition of structures in the Palestinian Territories. Large-scale home demolitions in Wadi Hummus, a neighbourhood in southeast Jerusalem, an area under the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction but controlled by Israel Defense Forces as an occupying power, left the community almost entirely destroyed. The latest demolitions were accompanied by threats to demolish 52 West Bank schools, such as the Ras al-Tin primary school near Ramallah have inflamed the conflict.
The European Union, several of its member states, including Ireland, provided humanitarian funding for the construction of the school. The Israeli military confiscated construction materials and tools on four occasions between 31 August and 10 September, including the school’s roof, desks, and chairs, under the pretext that the school lacked an Israeli-issued building permit. Israeli authorities deny as much as 98 per cent of Palestinian requests for building permits in Area C, defying Palestinians the ability to even repair if not improve, let alone build schools and basic infrastructure.
According to the Education Cluster, a forum that coordinates the humanitarian education response, Israel has partially or fully demolished three schools in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, so far this year, and 52 other schools are under threat of demolition. In 2019 alone, the Education Cluster recorded 328 education-related incidents, involving access restrictions, attacks on students and staff, and destruction of education infrastructure, affecting 19,913 students, thwarting Palestinian children’s fundamental right to receive a basic education.
Since the start of this year, the UN reported that Israel, as an occupying power, demolished 555 structures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, forcibly displacing 747 people, including 382 children, and adversely affecting 2,722 others. The structures included 217 residential properties and 45 water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. Donor states had provided 93 of the Israeli-destroyed or seized structures as humanitarian relief.
Earlier this month, Coveney condemned the use of Israeli Army bulldozers and diggers to demolished the Palestinian village of Khirbet Humsa, leaving 74 people, including 41 minors, homeless, calling Israel’s conduct a “brutal and violent act,” adding, “It is deeply disappointing that Israel continues to carry out these reprehensible acts which are a grave breach of international humanitarian law.”
Israel Encouraged by Trump Administration
Israel’s escalation of illegal settlement activity has seemingly been bolstered by encouragement from the Trump Administration which broke with long-standing US policy to maintain the viability of a Two State Solution. In 2018, Trump ordered the US Embassy to relocate to Jerusalem while simultaneously closing the Palestinian Authority offices in Washington, D.C. Using his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an official with no foreign policy experience appointed by Trump without Senate confirmation, Trump promoted a “Peace Plan” for the Israel-Palestinian conflict which would have recognised Jerusalem as the “un-divided capital of Israel.” Both Palestinians and Israel maintain a right to claim Jerusalem as their capital, a position promoted by the last six US Presidents over more than 40 years.
This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shocked the diplomatic community by personally visiting an Israeli settlement deemed illegal under UN Resolutions and international law, again, breaking with long-standing policy by previous Democratic and Republican administrations. By clearly aligning with Israel, and touting his personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump is perceived to be encouraging Israel to take advantage of his last months in office as a ‘Lame Duck’ President. While President-Elect Joe Biden has yet to take office, and is prohibited from interfering in international relations under the Logan Act (1 Stat. 613, 18 U.S.C. § 953, enacted January 30, 1799) a US Federal law that criminalises negotiation by private American citizens with foreign governments) until sworn-in, observers tend to agree that Biden would likely follow the more even-handed policies of former administrations, including that of President Barrack Obama, whom Biden served as Vice President. Such policies often brought Netanyahu into sharp conflict with the Obama administration.
Dr Hanan Ashrawi, a long-time peace negotiator and Palestinian politician said of Pompeo’s visit, “The visit of US Secretary to the occupied West Bank is a last ditch effort by the outgoing US administration to entrench its pattern of criminality, illegality, and direct complicity in the colonization of Palestine and dispossession of our people.” Pundits and critics have claimed Pompeo’s visit is not only damaging to the US’s long-term foreign policy goals, and contrary to its tradition of promoting a Two State Solution for peace between Israel and the Palestinian State, but may have more to do with Pompeo targeting the Jewish-American vote to enhance his personal ambition to be elected to public office in the not-too-distant future.
UNRWA Commitment Targets Humanitarian Relief
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Ireland’s contribution of additional humanitarian funding will help support UNRWA’s valuable work in addressing the humanitarian and development needs of 5.7 million Palestine refugees, providing emergency assistance across UNRWA’s five fields of operation in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A key aspect of UNRWA’s work in 2020 will be to address the humanitarian impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on Palestinian communities.
Upon announcing the additional humanitarian funding for Palestine refugees Coveney said, “Earlier this month, I had a long discussion with the new Commissioner General of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, during which he outlined the significant daily challenges faced by Palestine refugees; their overcrowded living conditions, physical and mental stress and the effects of years of protracted occupation and conflict, on these communities who are particularly susceptible to the pandemic. He described the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic is having on the health and education systems for which Palestine refugees are so dependent and underlined the need for additional financial resources to ensure that delivery of these critical services continue. I am pleased, therefore, to announce that Ireland is providing a further €1 million for UNRWA’s Programme Budget to support the Agency in delivering critical services, at a time of unprecedented challenges. These additional funds bring Ireland’s total funding to UNRWA this year to €8 million.”
The Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora Colm Brophy T.D., added, “Ireland has been a steadfast supporter of the Palestinian people and this additional funding being provided to UNRWA underlines our support for Palestine refugees, whom we recognise are significantly impacted by the worsening socioeconomic conditions. This funding will support UNRWA in continuing its critical work as it faces increased pressures in combating and mitigating the potentially devastating impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on an already vulnerable community.”
Funding Represents Ireland’s Commitment to Justice for Palestinians
Spanning more than two decades, Ireland’s support to Palestine reflects the Government’s longstanding commitment to justice for the Palestinian people and to the development of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. It is estimated that there are some 5.7 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The latest Irish commitment represents a further demonstration of Ireland’s commitment to responding to the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable Palestinian people, especially in this year of unprecedented global humanitarian challenges. With this further €1 commitment, Ireland will have provide upwards of €8 million to UNRWA in 2020 alone. Disbursed in two tranches, the initial €6 million disbursement comprised €5 million in support of UNRWA’s 2020 Programme Budget (of which €1 million was earmarked for use in Lebanon); and, a further €1 million allocated towards UNRWA’s Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal. A second tranche of a further €1 million for UNRWA’s Programme Budget was disbursed following the Ireland’s pledge at UNRWA’s extraordinary virtual pledging conference held in June.
Ireland’s support to UNRWA takes the form of an initial annual contribution to UNRWA’s Programme Budget and support to the Agency’s Emergency Appeals, followed by additional funding to the Programme Budget if possible as the year progresses and resources allow. This year, in recognition of the difficult budgetary situation by UNRWA, Ireland is providing this further contribution of €1 million.
UNRWA Support Deemed Critical to Palestinians
UNRWA’s Programme Budget is used to provide essential services for 5.7 million Palestine refugees in the fields of health, education, microfinance, infrastructure and camp improvement, protection, relief and social services across its five areas of operation.
UNRWA’s Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal addresses the basic humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees affected by the conflict in Syria. Palestine refugees have been disproportionately affected by this conflict, with an estimated 438,000 UNRWA-registered refugees remaining inside the country, 40% of whom are now internally displaced. Of the refugees, 91% of those registered are living in poverty and in need of sustained humanitarian assistance.