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Cablegate: Prm Acting a/S Witten Attends Unrwa's Annual Hosts And

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E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine
Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) held its semiannual Advisory
Commission (AdCom) meeting November 17 and its annual Hosts and
Donors Meeting November 18-19 in Amman to discuss current
developments affecting Palestinian refugees, UNRWA's financial
situation, efforts to operationalize UNRWA's protection strategy,
and plans to commemorate UNRWA's 60th anniversary. UNRWA
highlighted in particular the adverse operational effects it faces
in 2009 in light of a possible $157 million shortfall and also
provided updates on its three-year management reform process. PRM
Acting Assistant Secretary Witten attended the two-day Hosts and
Donors Meeting, conducted side meetings with UNRWA senior officials,
and signed the 2009 USG-UNRWA Framework for Cooperation. End

Commissioner General Focuses on
Shortfalls and Reform

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2. (SBU) In her opening address, UNRWA Commissioner General Karen
AbuZayd noted that UNRWA will confront significant challenges in
2009 and requested AdCom members to give special consideration for
the "60th anniversary of Palestinian exile." Ongoing hardship in
the West Bank and Gaza caused by obstacles to movement, the
separation barrier, and settlement expansion challenge the viability
of a future two-state solution, she said. Noting the "tremendous
cost of the occupation" on UNRWA operations, AbuZayd called on all
AdCom members to promote peace in the region. Resolving these
challenges "is essential if donor support to UNRWA is to bear

3. (SBU) AbuZayd said UNRWA's 2009 financial outlook is "so grim
that UNRWA will have to examine cutting services for the first time"
in its history. Expected shortfalls leave at least an USD 157
million gap, AbuZayd and senior UNRWA staff stressed repeatedly in
the three days of meetings. AbuZayd noted that the Organizational
Development Plan (ODP), which began in 2006 and will conclude in
2009, has made gains in field-driven reforms in education, health,
and relief, while also streamlining human resource management,
program management, procurement, and leadership. She highlighted
the progress on UNRWA's first-ever Medium Term Strategy for
2010-2015 and a 2010-2011 biennium budget that is needs-based and
reflects the agency's strategic priorities.

UNRWA Developments in West Bank,
Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria

4. (SBU) Each of UNRWA's five field directors described operational
successes and challenges of the previous six months. Common themes
were difficulties posed by border closures and access restrictions;
shortage of schools and double shifting in existing schools; and
increased health care concerns.

-- GAZA: UNRWA Director for Gaza Operations John Ging reported that
the Gaza crossings had been closed since November 4, forcing UNRWA
to temporarily suspend food assistance to 750,000 Palestinian
refugees in Gaza. He emphasized the need to re-open the crossings
for humanitarian access and reminded donors that UNRWA has not been
able to recommence USD 93 million in infrastructure projects in
Gaza, including shelters, schools, and health clinics. (Note: The
crossings were open 11/24 for humanitarian goods and closed again
11/25. End Note.) Ging highlighted the success of the "Schools of
Excellence" initiative that helped 81 percent of failing children to
pass through a remedial summer learning program. UNRWA/Gaza has
also introduced the UNRWA-wide Human Rights Initiative to integrate
the Human Rights and Tolerance Education curriculum into UNRWA
schools to counteract the behavioral and psychological impact of the
ongoing conflict. Ging is seeking support for a special education
program to assist 20,000 - 40,000 refugee children with
disabilities. Ging reported that reforms in the relief and
emergency programs resulted in more accurate targeting of the
poorest of the poor, and in 15 percent efficiency savings.

-- WEST BANK: Director for West Bank Operations Barbara Shenstone
also reported that UNRWA's WB operations were substantially
undermined by Israeli-imposed closures and incursions into UNRWA
facilities. Shenstone noted an increase in roadblocks over the past
year and the absence of "on the ground" improvements in the West
Bank. Although UNRWA staff access improved in June-July, September
witnessed a sharp rise in movement restrictions. So far in 2008,
UNRWA has recorded 17 incidents of military incursions into UNRWA
schools and facilities. Furthermore, house demolitions, evictions
and settler violence accelerated. Within this "conflict
environment," Shenstone said, UNRWA struggles to respond to the

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rising needs. Shenstone highlighted two special initiatives: 1)
"protection" against the impact of violent hostilities, and 2)
integrated, localized emergency response. UNRWA/WB is also leading
an interagency effort to research and respond to the nutrition
problems of Palestinian refugees and integrating women into the
emergency job creation program.

-- JORDAN: Director for Jordan Operations Richard Cook noted that
UNRWA/Jordan's 2008 budget was cut by 18 percent due to funding
shortfalls, preventing UNRWA from filling important international
and national position vacancies in health and education.
Overburdening of staff is affecting the level and quality of
services delivered. Systemic underfunding has also led to
inadequate school facilities in Jordan where over 90% of UNRWA
schools operate on a double shift. Access to UNRWA services in
remote areas also poses a serious challenge, especially for the
131,000 "ex-Gazan" refugees in Jordan who do not have citizenship
and cannot access government services or public employment
opportunities. Cook also stressed the need for shelter
rehabilitation to repair dilapidated homes.

-- LEBANON: Deputy Director for Lebanon Roger Davies said UNRWA
faces significant challenges in Lebanon due to the complex political
and security environment. He said he was encouraged by strong GoL
cooperation in the reconstruction of Nahr al-Bared (NAB). Davies
reported that rubble removal began in October and that construction
of package one (first tranche of housing) will commence in January
2009. He requested donors to fulfill their pledges made at the June
2008 Vienna Conference, noting that receipt of 70 percent of those
pledges (USD 112 million) would enable UNRWA to reconstruct more
than 1,000 housing units. Davies expressed some concern over recent
security incidents in the camps, especially in Ein El Hilweh. He
also identified refugees' access to hospitalization services as a
key challenge for 2009. UNRWA underfunding is severely affecting
its ability to refer refugees for secondary and specialized health
services in Lebanon.

-- SYRIA: Director Panos Moumtzis noted strides in education,
vocational training, and capacity building, particularly for the
majority youth population. UNRWA/Syria's needs assessment revealed
that youth under the age of 25, comprising over 50 percent of
Syria's Palestinian refugee population, have a much higher rate of
unemployment than Syrian youth. In response, UNRWA embarked on a
rigorous "youth and business" initiative, including school
construction, expansion of vocational training and establishment of
youth career centers in five camps. UNRWA/Syria is also using
school buildings to offer adult education in the evenings. With all
UNRWA schools currently operating on a double-shift, Moumtzis
appealed to donors to support school construction to avoid moving to
a triple-shift in the near future. He also appealed to regional
governments to address the needs of Palestinian refugees from Iraq
stranded for three years in al-Tanf camp on the Syrian-Iraq border.

UNRWA Facing Bleak Financial Situation in 2009
--------------------------------------------- -

5. (U) UNRWA Deputy Commissioner General Filippo Grandi noted that
UNRWA anticipates a 2009 budget shortfall of USD 157 million (of a
USD 583 million budget). UNRWA's 2009 Budget includes its original
2009 estimates of USD 549 million, UNRWA along with USD 34 million
in additional required expenditures, due to currency adjustments,
hiring 900 teachers in Gaza, and maintaining competitive salaries.

6. (U) Grandi emphasized that, in 2009, UNRWA will have to seek
increased resources while imposing additional austerity measures.
To illustrate UNRWA's precarious financial situation, Grandi
explained that UNRWA's working capital has fallen from USD 15.6
million at the beginning of 2008 to USD 1.3 million as of January 1,
2009. Insufficient working capital will impact UNRWA's ability to
loan money internally to ensure continuity of health, education and
relief services early in 2009. At the urging of the Norwegian
chair, AdCom participants agreed to hold an extraordinary meeting in
late February or March 2009 to detail how UNRWA will adjust to its
2009 shortfall and assess donor plans to help bridge the funding

UNRWA's Protection Strategy in Action

7. (SBU) UNRWA Legal Advisor Anna Segall led a panel discussion on
UNRWA's efforts to translate its protection strategy, developed in
2007, into action. Segall stated that UNRWA considers its
protection mandate as distinct from UNHCR's mandate, because it does
not include durable solutions (e.g, finding a place of permanent
residence). UNRWA aims to safeguard Palestinian refugees' rights

JERUSALEM 00002178 003 OF 003

vis-a-vis host governments and the GOI, to deliver services that
protect these rights, and to ensure that protection needs cut across
all UNRWA's policies and programs.

8. (SBU) UNRWA Protection Officer Florence Anselmo highlighted the
acute protection needs due to the ongoing conflict in West Bank and
Gaza. The humanitarian impact of the conflict in refugee camps
includes human casualties, property damage, increased domestic
violence, higher incidence of child depression, and lower academic
achievement. UNRWA responds to these needs, including through
advocacy with the GOI on refugees' behalf, providing counseling
services for women and children and delivering mobile health
services to refugees unable to access UNRWA services due to movement

UNRWA Plans To Commemorate 60th Anniversary

9. (SBU) UNRWA staff reported that, on December 8, the 60th
anniversary of UNRWA's mandate, UNRWA will launch a world-wide
commemoration of its six decades of work. Working with host and
donor governments, UNRWA hopes to hold events and activities
September 2009 - June 2010 to highlight achievements in children's
health and education, relief and micro-credit programs. UNRWA is
also planning a high level event at the UN General Assembly in
September 2009 in New York. Other proposed activities include
concerts; digitizing UNRWA's archives; creating a resource center
and a museum documenting the Palestinian refugees and highlighting
their achievements; a high impact visual art installation project
entitled "Between Heaven and Earth;" and a scholarship endowment for
refugee children to pursue higher education. UNRWA hopes the
commemoration activities will serve as a platform to attract
non-traditional donors and expand and diversify funding

Acting Assistant Secretary Witten
Holds Side Meetings

10. (SBU) AA/S Witten met separately with CG Karen AbuZayd, Deputy
Commissioner General Filippo Grandi, Senior Regional Representative
Peter Ford, External Relations Director Fabian McKennon, and other
UNRWA officials. Discussions focused on 2009 shortfalls and UNRWA
efforts to attract new donors, particularly Arab States, as well as
the continuing difficult political context in West Bank and Gaza and
its implications for UNRWA's humanitarian mandate. Witten explained
USG funding constraints and uncertainty for FY 2009, but reaffirmed
USG commitment to UNRWA. AA/S Witten strongly cautioned senior UNRWA
officials to avoid letting the commemoration of its 60th anniversary
turn into a forum for political debate or criticism of Israel. CG
AbuZayd strongly agreed and stressed that the aim was to promote new
donor interest in UNRWA and UNRWA's mission of providing services to
the UNRWA-registered Palestinian population. On November 18, AA/S
Witten and CG AbuZayd signed the 2009 USG-UNRWA Framework for
Cooperation, which lays out mutual priorities for 2009, including
performance targets for UNRWA's health, education, relief and social
services, and its emergency programs.

11. AA/S Witten has cleared this cable.

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