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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

60th Anniversary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

Eric P. Schwartz
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
New York City
September 25, 2009


Assistant Secretary Eric P. Schwartz:

Commissioner-General AbuZayd, President Abbas, Ministers, and Distinguished Colleagues:

I am honored to represent the United States, on behalf of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, as we recognize the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Today we mark UNRWA’s six decades of providing core services and critical humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, often in very challenging circumstances.

With the support of donors and host governments, UNRWA has assisted millions of Palestinian refugees. UNRWA’s humanitarian programs have improved the lives of generations. Millions of Palestinian children have had schools to attend and tens of thousands of refugees have had vocational training, primary health care, and a roof over their heads. Even during periods of instability and conflict, UNRWA staff members have ensured that the assistance needs of the most vulnerable refugees are met. And it is only by sustaining the focus on the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality in this highly charged environment that UNRWA leadership and staff can fulfill the Agency’s essential mandate.

We also note that UNRWA’s success depends in part on continued close cooperation between UNRWA and host governments, as well as coordination with the Government of Israel. In light of Israel’s special role in facilitating UNRWA’s mission, we deeply regret that Israel’s request to publicly recognize UNRWA’s efforts by speaking in this forum was not approved. President Obama just hosted a trilateral meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to help launch permanent status negotiations and create an environment in which these negotiations can succeed. Creating this environment requires ensuring that our dialogue in international organizations is constructive. Today, as we focus on the important work of UNRWA, let us redouble our commitment to moving beyond arguments of the past and toward creating an environment conducive to successful peace negotiations.

Mr. Chairman,

As participants in this event are aware, the United States is the largest bilateral donor to UNRWA with over $260 million contributed this year. U.S. financial support to UNRWA is but one manifestation of our commitment to helping the Palestinian people. The United States remains steadfast in its commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and we look forward to the day when Israel and Palestine live side-by-side in peace and security.

As we continue to work together toward achieving this goal, let me reiterate UNRWA’s important role in encouraging stability and moderation in the region, and in promoting the human development of Palestinian refugees who will ultimately help forge a successful Palestinian state. I want to express appreciation for the dedication and commitment of UNRWA’s staff, now numbering nearly 30,000, many of whom are Palestinian refugees themselves and work to provide quality services to the Agency’s beneficiaries.

I also want to note UNRWA’s reform initiatives over the past five years, which have increased the transparency, accountability, and efficiency of the Agency’s operations. We encourage UNRWA to continue these important initiatives. While these reforms have enhanced UNRWA’s ability to serve Palestinian refugees, the Agency remains hindered in its ability to provide a consistent high standard of services due to chronic funding shortfalls. As Governments acknowledge the important accomplishments of UNRWA during the course of this morning, we must also continue to focus attention on our responsibility as members of the international community to provide UNRWA with sufficient resources to meet the needs of over four and a half million refugees. I am concerned that the vast majority of contributions to UNRWA’s core services come from traditional donors. I urge non-traditional donors, especially from within the region, to make contributions to the General Fund.

In closing, I want to recognize the work of the UNRWA Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd, who over the past nine years has served UNRWA and Palestinian refugees tirelessly. I thank Karen for her dedicated service, and wish her well in the years to come.

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