TEL AVIV – The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) vowed Saturday that it would continue servicing the Arab population in Jerusalem despite Israel’s plans to remove it from the city.
On Thursday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat announced that schools, clinics, sports centers, and other services operated by UNRWA in Jerusalem would be transferred to Israeli authorities. Barkat’s announcement comes in the wake of the U.S.’s decision to defund the agency. The outgoing mayor charged UNRWA with involvement in incitement and terror against Israel.
“The U.S. decision has created a rare opportunity to replace UNRWA’s services with services of the Jerusalem Municipality. We are putting an end to the lie of the ‘Palestinian refugee problem’ and the attempts at creating a false sovereignty within a sovereignty,” Barkat said in a statement.
Under Barkat’s plan, seven UNRWA-run schools, which operate without a license from the Education Ministry and service a total of 1,800 students, would be closed by the end of the academic year. The students would be absorbed into municipal schools.
The plan would also see the establishment of an educational and municipal services complex in eastern Jerusalem “whose services will be far superior to those that UNRWA has provided.”
The plan will also see the shuttering of UNRWA’s medical centers, which operate without Health Ministry licenses, and the construction of a new public medical center in their place, Barkat said.
Garbage disposal and sewage infrastructure, which is currently under the auspices of UNRWA, will also be transferred to the municipality. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have for years complained that UNRWA’s sanitation services have been sub-par and petitioned local authorities to take over.
“The residents of Jerusalem cannot be turned into Palestinian refugees in order to serve a dangerous strategy for the destruction of Israel, and we will no longer be able to push the residents into the arms of refugees, terror and incitement,” Barkat said.
UNRWA stated that despite Barkat’s plan, it would continue its “important work” in Jerusalem.
The U.S., UNRWA‘s largest single donor, recently announced that it would no longer be donating its usual sum of around $350 million a year.
Palestinian refugees are the only “refugees” in the world that pass that status on to their descendants in perpetuity. One of the core issues in the conflict is the Palestinian demand that those so-called refugees and their descendants — who now number around 5 million — be allowed to return to Israel. Israel has categorically rejected this demand, deeming it a bid to destroy the Jewish state by demographics.