Cablegate: Unrwa Seeks Direct Role in Disengagement Planning

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


This message was prepared by regional refcoord and cleared by
Embassy Tel Aviv and Consulate General Jerusalem.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Karen Abu Zayd, Acting Commissioner General
of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine
Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), called on Ambassador
Kurtzer and Consul General David Pearce in separate April 5
meetings to review the modifications UNRWA is making to both
its emergency and mid-term development programs to respond to
Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the northern West
Bank. Although UNRWA is satisfied with the coordination it
is receiving from the PA point man on disengagement, Minister
of Civil Affairs Muhammad Dahlan, and from PA Planning
Minister Ghassan Al-Khatib, Abu Zayd said the agency is
pressing to join other international players, including
UNSCO, in the Task Force on Project Implementation (TFPI) to
ensure that UNRWA can pre-position emergency food aid ahead
of July. She also indicated that UNRWA hopes to join the
next AHLC and World Bank Consultative Group meetings to
secure funding for its mid-term plan to develop the eight
refugee camps it operates in Gaza, and to expand its
vocational training programs, arguing that the PA remains
firm in its position that UNRWA should address the
development needs of refugees. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) Acting UNRWA Commissioner (ComGen) General Karen Abu
Zayd, accompanied by the agency's External Affairs director,
Andrew Whitley, made separate April 5 calls on Ambassador
Kurtzer and Consul General David Pearce to discuss how UNRWA
is modifying its emergency and development plans in light of
Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the northern West
Bank. Abu Zayd explained that she had met with PA Minister
of Civil Affairs Muhammad Dahlan twice since he was appointed
earlier this month to lead PA disengagement planning, and
that he had re-affirmed in those meetings the PA's firm
position that UNRWA's mandate to provide services to
Palestinian refugees (i.e., education, health, welfare and
business loans) should remain in effect until a two-state
solution is achieved. Abu Zayd added that Dahlan wants to
issue a joint PA-UNRWA statement clarifying that the current
division of UNRWA and PA responsibilities for the refugee and
non-refugee populations will continue after disengagement.

--------------------------------------------- --
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3. (SBU) In addition to its interaction with the PA, Abu Zayd
said UNRWA is using World Bank projections to shape its
short-term response. She noted that the World Bank's "best
case" post-disengagement economic recovery scenarios suggest
that poverty would only be reduced by a couple of percentage
points in 2005 and that strong demand exists for UNRWA's
relatively low-paid, short-term job creation programs.
Accordingly, Abu Zayd said UNRWA is planning to maintain its
emergency aid program through 2005, while modifying its
temporary job creation program in Gaza to target unemployed
youth (aged 16-18), rather than heads of households. Abu
Zayd said that UNRWA might also consider phasing out
emergency food aid post-disengagement. In the near term,
however, she said securing access to pre-positioned emergency
food stocks remains the agency's primary concern.

4. (SBU) Abu Zayd said she was concerned about the
"inconsistent messages" various UN, PA and Israeli sources
are offering on the timing of disengagement, and on the
severity of the closures the GOI will enforce to facilitate
the departure of settlers and the IDF. Given that consistent
access for its humanitarian goods and personnel is critical
to sustain UNRWA's emergency aid programs, she explained that
UNRWA is renewing its long-standing effort to secure a seat
in the TFPI. (NOTE: The UN Special Coordinator (UNSCO) is a
member of the TFPI and represents the UN family of agencies.
END NOTE.) As an example of the impact closures can have,
Abu Zayd said that movement of several hundred shipping
containers of humanitarian aid from Ashdod Port into Gaza had
been slowed in the last two weeks by the unanticipated
cessation of a temporary agreement to use the Sufa border
crossing vice the Karni cargo terminal after the latter had
been heavily damaged in a terrorist attack in January. Abu
Zayd added that UNRWA,s West Bank staff continues to be
denied access to refugees in seam zone areas on a frequent

5. (SBU) Ambassador Kurtzer cautioned Abu Zayd to prepare for
a two-stage withdrawal -- settlers first, to be followed by
the IDF )- based on current GOI thinking. Given the sheer
number of trucks required to carry out the evacuation of the
settlers and their belongings, the Ambassador warned,
significant closures of either corridors or possibly the
entire Gaza Strip are likely, based on past IDF practice. He
added that Israel has a clear timetable for disengagement
that calls for all settlers to be out of Gaza ahead of the
start of the 2005-2006 school year in September.


6. (SBU) On UNRWA's post-disengagement planning, Abu Zayd
said that Whitley and UNRWA Chief of Operations/Gaza Field
Director Lionel Brisson had met PA Planning Minister Ghassan
Al-Khatib earlier this month to discuss the implications of
the PA position that refugees remain the responsibility of
UNRWA, as stated in the PA's Medium Term Development Plan
(MTDP). Abu Zayd said Khatib had agreed to hold a joint
UNRWA-PA planning session in early May to harmonize the MTDP
with UNRWA's five-year mid-term plan, which is focused on
ensuring that UNRWA hands over "assets, not liabilities" to
the PA. Although the two plans were developed independently,
Abu Zayd thought they could be harmonized quickly, given that
the MTDP and UNRWA's MTP had adopted virtually the same
thematic approach. UNRWA intends to provide a detailed brief
on the status of joint UNRWA-PA planning to donors at its May
18-19 Major Donors Meeting (MDM) in Amman.

7. (SBU) Apart from that review, Abu Zayd said, UNRWA is in
the process of refining its MTP for Gaza, but remains
convinced that its focus on expanding vocational education
programs to support youth job creation, alleviating
over-crowding, and removing open sewers in its eight Gaza
camps is fundamentally correct. UNRWA is now determining how
to upgrade its existing vocational training programs to
target the job market, as it has done recently in Syria. On
camp development, Abu Zayd explained that there has been
considerable debate within UNRWA over the extent to which the
agency should replace the 3,000 refugee homes destroyed
during the Intifada. (NOTE: UNRWA has built 1,000 homes in
Rafah and Jenin to date, and has received $35 million from
Saudia Arabia and Japan to start work on an additional 1,000
homes in Gaza. END NOTE.)

8. (SBU) Abu Zayd said she is convinced that upgrading
refugee living conditions will be critical to counter anxiety
that she claimed appears to be increasing within the Gaza
Strip. Although internal movement will clearly be easier in
Gaza post-disengagement, Abu Zayd said Palestinians are not
equating disengagement with liberation. Instead, they joke
that Gaza will become ICRC's largest case load of detainees,
realizing that unemployment will not be alleviated if Gaza is
forced to rely soley on access to Egyptian markets. Beyond
that, Abu Zayd noted that Hamas flags have started to line
"virtually every street in Gaza" in anticipation of the July
elections, sparking debate over Abu Mazen's ability to
control the militants. Abu Zayd confirmed that UNRWA has
initiated land access discussions with the PA to support its
camp development/expansion approach, despite the lack of
information on the future disposition of Israeli settler
assets. Abu Zayd said that UNRWA is assuming that the PA
municipalities will rely on UNRWA to build related camp
infrastructure (i.e., water and sewer lines), given that they
have turned to UNRWA technicians for assistance to develop
their own water and sewer plans in recent years.


9. (SBU) Acknowledging that the World Bank has reservations
about convening a consultative group meeting, Abu Zayd said
that UNRWA is nevertheless using UN and PA channels to try to
raise the profile of refugees in anticipation of the next
pledging conference. She explained that UNRWA was alarmed
that the London Conference focused exclusively on the PA
MTDP, asserting that PA planning excludes the almost
two-thirds of Gaza's population who are refugees. Abu Zayd
added that UNRWA would like to participate in the next AHLC,
and any future CG, to help generate donor support for its
MTP. (COMMENT: UNSCO represents the UN family of agencies in
all of the local and international donor coordination
organizations focused on the West Bank and Gaza. There has
been a clear divide between UNSCO and UNRWA in the past
which, perhaps, could now be overcome, given that both are
experiencing leadership transitions. END COMMENT.)


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