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Cablegate: Unrwa Tells Hacfo Staffdel Operational Changes To

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
Consulate General Jerusalem.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: UNRWA Acting Commissioner General Karen Abu
Zayd and senior agency officials updated HACFO Staffdel on
the status of current operations and planned changes prior to
disengagement. The closure regime created by Israeli
security measures and the construction of the separation
barrier necessitate significant changes in UNRWA's operations
and warehouse locations if it is to continue delivering
humanitarian assistance. UNRWA reported positively on
vetting measures to ensure that assistance was not being
provided to terrorist organizations. In addition, UNRWA
reported that is continuing to discourage incitement in its
schools by introducing tolerance and conflict resolution
materials to supplement the Palestinian curricula. END

2. (SBU) United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine
Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)'s Acting Commissioner
General (ComGen) Karen Abu Zayd, Director of Operations/Gaza
Field Director Lionel Brisson, West Bank Field Director
Anders Fange, Legal Advisors James Lindsay and Scott Custer,
and the heads of the USG-funded West Bank and Gaza emergency
Operations Support Officer (OSO) programs met House
Appropriations Committee Foreign Operations (HACFO) staff
members Robert Blair and Rodney Bent at UNRWA's West Bank
offices in Jerusalem April 1. The Staffdel was accompanied
by regional Refcoord and ConGen Jerusalem EconOff.

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3. (SBU) Abu Zayd said that UNRWA will consider scaling back
its USD 186 million emergency programs (USD 49 million for
West Bank operations and USD 137 million for the Gaza Strip)
in response to disengagement, but stressed that emergency
interventions would still be necessary given that the World
Bank's "best case" economic recovery scenarios do not/not
anticipate that disengagement will immediately impact the
severe poverty that exists in Gaza. (NOTE: World Bank West
Bank/Gaza Director Nigel Roberts told the Staffdel that it
could take several years for the Palestinian Authority (PA)
to recover from losses incurred during the Intifida. Roberts
added that the PA economy will need to absorb the current
35,000 Palestinian laborers residing in Gaza and the West
Bank that commute to Israel for work. Israel is phasing out
Palestinian laborers from its economy by 2008. END NOTE.)
She added that the impact on Palestinians refugees of
continued barrier construction in the West Bank remains to be
seen. (NOTE: Palestinian refugees make up about 29 percent
of the population of the West Bank. END NOTE.) West Bank
Field Director Anders Fange explained that UNRWA is
particularly concerned about the construction of the
so-called "Jerusalem envelope," which would force UNRWA to
move staff and its Jerusalem warehouse to new facilities in
Ramallah to conduct "cross-border" style operations.

4. (SBU) Gaza Field Director Lionel Brisson noted that
UNSCO's ongoing discussions with GOI authorities on Gaza
access suggests that movement of goods and persons into Gaza
will not improve after disengagement, given reports that
indicate that all humanitarian shipments will still have to
enter via the Israeli port of Ashdod and possibly use a
single Gaza border crossing. Unless strong international
pressure reverses Israel's stated intention to halt
Palestinian employment in Israel after 2008, UNRWA could not
alter its basic emergency planning assumptions, argued

5. (SBU) Given the possibility that there will be a long lag
time for the Palestinian economy to recover, both Brisson and
Abu Zayd argued that UNRWA's planned mid-term response,
outlined in the agency's recently-released Medium Term Plan
(MTP), was critical to demonstrate to Palestinian refugees
that their living conditions could improve. Brisson
explained that UNRWA hoped to secure funding to heavily
invest in vocational and IT education to support economic
activities such as e-commerce that would not be dependent on
Israel for external access to overseas markets. He noted
that UNRWA currently had only 842 vocational training places
for 80,000 persons aged 16-18 in Gaza and would like to
double that enrollment by opening a a second vocational
training center in southern Gaza. He added that UNRWA was
already in the process of extending computer training to its
primary schools in Gaza using a 20 million euro grant the EU
awarded in December 2004. UNRWA's second main initiative is
camp development, improving housing and building sewers and
water lines. Finally, Brisson said that UNRWA wanted to
boost the local Gazan economy by expanding its existing
micro-credit program, which is currently the largest in Gaza,
by offering personal and housing loans in addition to its
currently-offered business loans.

6. (SBU) Abu Zayd noted that UNRWA's estimated cost for the
MTP would add USD 200 million/year to UNRWA's regular
operating budget (currently about USD 340 million) over the
next five years to cover activities in all five of its
fields: West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. She
added that UNRWA had also moved about USD 9 million in
emergency program activities that have longer-term
requirements, such as psycho-social and rehabilitative health
care, to its regular budget this year. However, Brisson
pointed out that UNRWA, fearing donor backlash, had decided
to gradually introduce MTP programming into the 2005 budget,
adding USD 34 million as opposed to USD 200 million. Abu
Zayd added that UNRWA had already had some success raising
funds in the Gulf to support infrastructure works, receiving
USD 25 million from Saudi Arabia for its Rafah housing
project. (NOTE: UNRWA has also received USD 15 million from
Japan for Rafah re-housing. END NOTE.)


7. (SBU) Turning to UNRWA's coordination with the PA, and the
agency's potential to hand over some of its programming, such
as education to the PA as a result of disengagement, Abu Zayd
explained that UNRWA's MTP and PA Medium Term Development
Plan (MTDP) were already in sync, having the same thematic

-- capacity building
-- infrastructure
-- education/economic development

Despite this alignment, Abu Zayd confirmed that UNRWA and the
PA would hold a workshop in early May to ensure their
approaches are harmonized. Abu Zayd elaborated that the
PA's firm position, as stated in meetings she had held with
the PA's point person on disengagement, Minister of Civil
Affairs Muhammad Dahlan, and PA Planning Minister Ghassan
Al-Khatib, is that the UNRWA mandate to provide services to
Palestinian refugees should continue until the establishment
of a two-state solution. She noted that other
refugee-hosting authorities (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria) remained
vehemently opposed to UNRWA turning this responsibility over
to their agencies, despite the fact that the majority of
refugees in Jordan were actually Jordanian nationals.
However, she added that there is an increasing level of
commitment to support refugees in Jordan and Syria.


8. (SBU) Moving to specific UNRWA operations of interest to
Congress, Staffdel Blair asked how UNRWA was taking measures
to combat anti-Israeli sentiment in its schools. UNRWA Legal
Advisor Scott Custer explained that UNRWA's standard
operating procedure is to adopt the curricula of the local
host authority. Accordingly, UNRWA used the PA texts that
previously contained old material from Jordanian and Egyptian
schools. However Custer argued that PA books have improved
dramatically in recent years. Although UNRWA was satisfied
the current texts are not promoting hatred, he added that
UNRWA had developed its own supplemental tolerance education
materials through a PRM grant. These texts are now used in
all UNRWA schools in the West Bank and Gaza, and are being
introduced in UNRWA schools in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
(NOTE: UNRWA provided copies of its supplemental texts to the
Staffdel Refcoord is also working with ConGen Jerusalem to
provide the latest IPCRI assessment of PA texts. END NOTE.)


9. (SBU) UNRWA Legal Advisor James Lindsay also described the
procedures UNRWA uses to vet staff and suppliers for
terrorist activity to comply with section 103 (c) of the
Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. UNRWA monitors staff
support for terrorist organizations at two levels: First, it
strictly monitors what its local and international staff say
publicly, and disciplines staff for inappropriate comments.
Second, it vets potential employees to ensure they have not
been convicted or imprisoned, requiring them to sign
agreements acknowledging that they understand the
requirements for full disclosure imposed by UNRWA. Lindsay
elaborated that UNRWA conducts its own background checks by
reference checks from a minimum of three past employers in
addition to providing the GOI with a list of all UNRWA
employees. However, he said that UNRWA is reluctant to run
background checks with the PA, given that there are competing
PA security services and that derogatory information could be
manipulated for political aims.

10. (SBU) Lindsay said that the Israeli authorities have
provided information on UNRWA employees that that UNRWA has
attempted to act upon. Prior to the current Intifada the GOI
detained no more than two to three people out of a staff of
11,000 in the West Bank and Gaza per year. Currently, the
GOI has informed UNRWA that 17 of its staff have been
arrested, indicted or convicted. Lindsay explained that
UNRWA has been pressing the GOI to provide information on the
conditions of their detention as it cannot legally fire
employees based on administrative detention (i.e., without
criminal charge), which can sometimes occur based on family
association or membership in a student organization. He
added that UNRWA is concerned about disciplining those
convicted automatically, as some detainees are advised to
strike plea bargains by their lawyers. Lindsay said that
UNRWA had "only recently" received information clarifying
that two of the 17 are under administrative detention, three
have been convicted and the remaining 12 are under
indictment. To date, Lindsay said that UNRWA has terminated
one of the convicted employees, as the GOI prosecution
clearly revealed that he employee had lied on his
application, hiding the fact that he had been jailed by
Israeli authorities in the 1980s.

11. (SBU) On UNRWA facilities, the head of the West Bank
Operation Support Officers (OSO) team explained that one of
the OSO primary duties is to inspect UNRWA facilities at
least once every 30 days. He noted that there have been only
minor violations in the past year, involving refugees hanging
political posters. (NOTE: UNRWA acknowledged that both
militants and the IDF have carried out operations in the
proximity of UNRWA schools resulting in the shooting death of
one schoolgirl in the past year. END NOTE.) His assistant
added that UNRWA is preemptively painting "gray areas," such
as external school walls, with murals to prevent them from
being used to paint political graffiti. On UNRWA's housing
policy, Abu Zayd explained that UNRWA's internal policy is
not to provide replacement housing for refugees whose home
has been demolished because it was used to manufacture bombs.
She was unable to offer specific numbers of suspected
violators, but stressed that the numbers are "very small."
Finally, UNRWA's Chief Financial Officer for the West Bank
noted that UNRWA uses the State Department's list of
terrorist organizations to vet all of its international
procurements, and also conducts its own background checks on
local suppliers.

12. (U) The Staffdel did not have the opportunity to clear
this cable before departing.


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