Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

United Nations Report: UNRWA Moving Its Headquarters to Gaza

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

United Nations Report: UNRWA Moving Its Headquarters to Gaza

Article excerpt

United Nations Report: UNRWA Moving Its Headquarters to Gaza

By Ian Williams

UNRWA is Gaza-bound. For 45 years, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency has been the major source of relief, employment and education for 2.7 million refugees still registered with it. Driven to Vienna from its Beirut headquarters in 1978, in July it announced the return of its headquarters from Vienna to the Middle East. The agency said the move, to be completed by the end of 1995, demonstrates "the commitment of the United Nations to making peace a success," and its "confidence in the Palestinian Authority." UNRWA said the move should make it easier for the agency to carry out its "Peace Implementation Program" to build the infrastructure needed in the territories.

UNRWA's existence, however, is a reminder that there are millions of refugees outside the territories, in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, whose problems so far have been overlooked in the rush to make peace. UNRWA records and indentifications are crucial if U.N. resolutions on the return of refugees or their compensation are ever to be implemented--even partially.

More Delay in Western Sahara Referendum

It has to be said that U.N. resolutions in Western Sahara look no closer to implementation than those on Palestine. The Moroccan government seems to be taking lessons in negotiating tactics from Israel's book. Whenever agreement is in sight, it finds another symbolic reason for objection.

Following an agreed compromise on identification of voters for the long-delayed referendum on the future of the territory, King Hassan threw another wrench in the slowly moving works. The agreement he had made provided for observers from the Oranization of African Unity. Laden down with affairs of state, it seems that he had forgotten that the OAU recognized the claims to Western Saharan independence by Polisario, and therefore was biased. So he could not accept OAU observers. He suggested several alternatives--all of which were biased toward Morocco's claims.

In the past, the Moroccan monarch has blown hot and cold on the referendum, depending on his assessment of how the vote would go. In fact, both Polisario and independent Moroccan political observers suggest that his motives now are even more complex, in that he needs the Western Saharan issue to divert domestic discontent. That does not play well at the Security Council, where members see the U.N. operation in the Sahara diverting desperately needed resources from major crises like Rwanda. The one success so far has been an effective cease-fire along the Western Sahara front line, and at present, neither party seems to want to disturb that. But the volatility of domestic politics in Algeria and Morocco, and the capacity for forgotten sparks of conflicts to start major conflagrations in the New World Disorder, should tick a warning to the world.

Silence on Israel's Lebanon "Security Zone"

Lebanon, of course, has more than Palestinian refugees to worry about. Israeli hints at withdrawal from Syria, and the tentative steps to pull out from the West Bank are in contrast to complete silence about the possibility of withdrawing from Israel's "security zone" in south Lebanon. The silence is bizarre. The Security Council renewed the mandate of UNIFIL and made numerous references to previous resolutions which, it lamented, remain unimplemented. The president of the Council then made a statement regretting "the continuing violence in southern Lebanon" and "the loss of civilian life" and urging "all parties to exercise restraint. …

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