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Volume XXIX – Number 2

Nitza Nachmias & Eric A. Belgrad

Abstract: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is an anomaly in the list of United Nations agencies. It is the oldest temporary agency of the United Nations, created in the wake of Palestinian refugee crisis in the late 1940s. Its sole purpose is to deal with the Palestinian refugee crisis, a much different mandate than that of other UN agencies, which have a broader and more global focus. Everything down to its modus operandi, requiring constant contact with clients as opposed to the detached modus operandi of other agencies, makes this agency significantly different from other UN agencies. And that is perhaps why the UNRWA seems to be in a constant state of flux regarding its operations, its goals, and its future. Since its inception, the UNRWA has changed from an agency providing relief and repatriation to Palestinian refugees to becoming the sole provider of education, housing, and other forms of aid to these refugees. Initially conceived as a temporary solution to the refugee problem, the UNRWA has become a problem in solving the plight of the Palestinians. This paper analyzes the mandate and operating methods of the UNRWA, discusses its transformation over the last fifty years, and theorizes about its uncertain role in the future with the increasing authority of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).


Keywords: United Nations, Palestine, UNRWA, Middle East

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