Penny Mordaunt urged to take ‘firmer approach’ on UN Palestinian refugee agency
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Penny Mordaunt urged to take ‘firmer approach’ on UN Palestinian refugee agency

International Development Secretary told by Conservative Friends of Israel to take tougher line in letter from the organisation

Penny Mordaunt
Penny Mordaunt

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has been told by Conservative Friends of Israel to take “a firmer approach” to the UN agency supporting millions of Palestinian refugees.

In a joint letter to the Tory cabinet minister, the organisation’s chair Stephen Crabb MP joined CfI grandees Lord Eric Pickles and Lord Stuart Polak in taking Mordaunt to task over the Government’s financial support for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA).

The trio said the agency was “exploited for terror activities” and questioned the Government’s decision to support UNRWA “unconditionally in its existing format,” mirroring language used recently by the Trump administration.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for UNRWA to be dismantled with its activities submerged in other UN agencies, and last year the US State Department pulled funding for what it called an “irredeemably flawed operation”.

The agency was established in 1949 and supports five million Palestinians living in refugee camps in countries such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as well as working with communities in the West Bank and Gaza.

Last month the UK announced an additional £5 million in emergency funding for UNWRA’s activities in Gaza, after the US withdrawal threatened its ability to provide basic humanitarian services.

Mordaunt said the Government’s commitment was necessary, arguing that “the situation in Gaza is dire and getting worse… only three percent of piped water is drinkable, 70 percent of young people are unemployed and hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to operate”.

She said the situation was caused by conflict between Israel and Hamas, and between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, but CfI said this “wrongly implies that there is parity” between Israel and Hamas.

The letter’s authors also said a debate about how to define Palestinian refugees was “long overdue,” claiming that Palestinian refugees are “globally unique in that refugee status is inherited in perpetuity”.

Last year Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, who was raised Jewish but converted to Christianity, argued for the status of Palestinian refugees to be changed, saying: “There is no provision for refugee status based on descent in the 1951 refugee convention or in internationally accepted practices.”

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