UNRWA chief admits other aid agencies can replace activities, but says Palestinians refuse

Contrary to prior protestations that UNRWA’s work is irreplaceable, commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini acknowledged that activities of his agency could indeed be replaced by other aid organizations such as the World Food Program, but that he is warning donors not to challenge UNRWA’s monopoly because Palestinians fear this would undermine the “rights of the Palestinian refugees” and UNRWA’s “current mandate.” Which is basically to seek the “return” of millions of Palestinians into Israel, in the manner of October 7th.


We had this discussion two years ago, when I tried to look at alternatives, to promote partnerships in the midst of the financial crisis, and basically was wondering, who else within the broader development system or UN system could provide some of the activities?

I’ll just give you one example, and let’s go outside the peak of the emergency crisis. The social protection safety net, it’s primarily cash or food. We have within the broader UN family, an agency specializing in cash and food, which is the World Food Programme.

Now, at that time, the proposal was to say, if we are in such a difficult financial situation, and other agencies have better support from donors because of the nature of their activities, why not, on behalf of UNRWA, under the auspices of the mandate of UNRWA, have a partnership with an organization like WFP, to provide cash and food to the Palestinian refugees.

When we had this discussion, the perception within the community was to push back. And they pushed back, first, because they felt that asking someone else to come in was the beginning of the dismantlement of the agency.

There was this fear, but also at this time, there was no real, genuine desire to reactivate the political process.

Now, if today, after what happened, we are in a situation where genuinely, there is again a political horizon, we could certainly, with this type of reassurance, imagine that some activities could be undertaken or implemented in partnership.

I’m not saying it’s easy. There is also a question of perception, which is extremely important, of trust, of reassurances. But that’s something I wanted to initiate two years ago, as a Commissioner-General.

But today, I’m really warning the donors who are tempted to look at alternatives to UNRWA, not to do this in a way which would undermine the rights of the Palestinian refugees, undermine the current mandate being conferred to UNRWA.

So I keep telling them: it’s not just a technical issue. We are dealing with something much more complex than the pure technicalities.

UN Watch