King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan has reasserted the role of his royal family to administer Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.
By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner
“Jerusalem is at the heart of this peace. Billions of people around the world hold this Holy City dear. For our part, Jordan will continue working to preserve the historic and legal status quo of Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian Holy Sites, under Hashemite Custodianship,” said the Jordanian Monarch during his address to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.
“I believe Jerusalem’s holiness to Muslims, Christians, and Jews can and must bring us together,” he said, adding, “With international help, the Holy City can be, not a cause of division, but a symbol of unity for all to see.”
Hashemite custodianship of Jerusalem dates back to a 1924 decision by the Supreme Muslim Council, which at the time served as the highest Muslim body in pre-State Israel.
Abdullah went on to call for continued support by the global community for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), in the wake of the 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls conflict between Israel and Islamist terror groups in Gaza.
“The bitter war on Gaza this past year was a reminder that the current situation is simply unsustainable,” said the Jordanian King, insisting that, “And the suffering we continue to see points us once more to the critical need to keep supporting UNRWA, as it continues to fulfil its UN mandate and provide vital humanitarian services to 5.7 million vulnerable Palestinian refugees.”
The Palestinians are also the world’s only people to which a singular UN agency is exclusively devoted.
UNRWA has long faced allegations of mismanagement, scandal and corruption charges that forced the removal of its top leaders amid outright refusal to implement much needed reform.
The US, its biggest donor nation, cut off aid of more than $300 million in 2018 after Washington deemed UNRWA as an “irredeemably flawed operation.” According to a statement from the US State Department at the time, “the fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years – primarily UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries – was deemed by the Trump administration as “simply unsustainable.”
The US condemnation specifically targeted UNRWA’s practice to enable Palestinians to pass “refugee” status down through the generations, unlike any other group in the world. In 1949, the United Nations estimated there were 726,000 Arabs in pre-State Israel, who were registered as “refugees.” That number ballooned to 5 million in 2014, and there are now 5.7 million Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza entitled to UNRWA benefits.
UNRWA has faced a budgetary crisis since the severance of US aid, which the administration of President Joe Biden has indicated is expected to resume, at least partially.
“Desperate living-conditions are looming for millions—family tables without food, homes losing electricity and water, workplaces unable to operate. In this time of great need, we owe the Lebanese people our full support, to enable them to rise from this crisis. And that demands a well-planned, well-executed international response, engaging all of us,” he said, while urging the world to remember “the millions of refugees in host countries like Lebanon” displaced by Syria’s Civil War.