Ex-head of UN Palestinian refugee agency denies wrongdoing amid misconduct probe

In this file photo taken on August 27, 2019 shows Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA), giving a press conference in Gaza City. (AFP)
Updated 07 November 2019

Ex-head of UN Palestinian refugee agency denies wrongdoing amid misconduct probe

  • Pierre Krahenbuhl was replaced on Wednesday pending completion of a review of “management-related matters”
  • “I have rejected these allegations from the start and will continue to do so,” Krahenbuhl said

ZURICH/JERUSALEM: The former head of the United Nations’ Palestinians aid agency who resigned in the face of an inquiry into misconduct allegations has denied wrongdoing and said his agency was the victim of a political campaign designed to undermine it.
The agency has faced budgetary difficulties since last year, when the United States, its biggest donor, halted its aid of $360 million per year. The United States and Israel have both accused UNRWA of mismanagement and anti-Israeli incitement.
Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl, a Swiss diplomat, was replaced on Wednesday pending completion of a review of “management-related matters” at the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said.
“I have rejected these allegations from the start and will continue to do so,” Krahenbuhl said in an interview with Swiss broadcaster RTS on Wednesday evening. “There is no corruption, fraud or misappropriation of aid.”
In a resignation letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, obtained by Reuters, Krahenbuhl complained the inquiry “has been fraught with leaks...despite your personal commitment to confidentiality.”
He denied what he called “the unfounded allegation that I entertained a romantic relationship with a staff member.”
Krahenbuhl said he was “above the politics that have governed this entire process” and was resigning “in the firm belief that this is in the best interest of Palestine refugees, of my family and myself.”
He added: “A further delay would only benefit those who have so actively engaged in political, financial and personal attacks over the past two years with the declared objective to undermine UNRWA and the integrity of Palestine refugees.”
UNRWA assists more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Krahenbuhl wrote that Washington’s withholding of funding had caused “an existential financial crisis” at UNRWA.
He was notified in March that an investigation was under way by the UN Secretariat in New York “based on allegations received against UNRWA personnel relating to unsatisfactory conduct,” an UNRWA spokeswoman said.
Krahenbuhl, who took over the UNRWA post in 2014, was previously director of operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross.
His tenure at cash-strapped UNRWA saw frequent clashes with US President Donald Trump’s administration, which has suggested refugee host countries should take over UNRWA’s services across the Middle East.
Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium have separately suspended payments to UNRWA over the management issues that are now under investigation. The agency’s spokeswoman says it still needs $89 million to keep operating until the end of this year.


Abbas poll decree lifts hopes of Palestinian unity

Updated 57 min 42 sec ago

Abbas poll decree lifts hopes of Palestinian unity

  • First elections in 15 years “will usher in badly needed democracy”
  • The PA will hold legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31

AMMAN: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement of the first parliamentary and presidential elections in 15 years has raised hopes of an end to longstanding divisions, but skeptics doubt it will bring about serious change.
According to decrees issued by the presidential office on Friday, the Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, will hold legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31.
Hanna Naser, head of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, told a packed press conference a day earlier that the decrees will usher in a badly needed democratic process.
Naser said the elections will be transparent and will deliver a functioning legislative council, adding: “After 15 years without a legislative body, it is important to have accountability through a council elected by the people.”
Jibril Rajoub, secretary of the Fatah movement and a key force behind the election deal, said on Palestine TV that the decrees are a major breakthrough and reflect a Palestinian commitment to democratic principles.
Rajoub said that the elections commission will be responsible for all aspects of the poll, and that a meeting of all Palestinian factions next week in Cairo will help resolve any remaining issues.
Hussein Sheikh, minister of civil affairs and member of the Fatah Central Committee, tweeted that the presidential decrees are “an important step to strengthen democracy and partnership in a unified political regime that ensures the end of the split and will create a unified vision for a cooperative effort aimed at ending the occupation and accomplishing freedom and liberty for our people.”
Hamas welcomed the decrees, which include a commitment by all participants that the PLO represents Palestinians, and is responsible for foreign affairs and negotiations.
The decrees stipulate elections for a 132-member legislative council that will include Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza on a full proportional basis.
Presidential elections will follow in July and the Palestine National Council will hold elections wherever possible for candidates in different locations. All lists must have a woman as the third and fourth candidates on the list, with at least 26 percent of the next council to be female.
However, Ghassan Khatib, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University and a former minister, told Arab News that while he strongly supports the elections, he is worried about the quality of the poll.
“I am concerned that the elections will reflect the wishes of the political elite since the lists will be national and will be made up by political leaders who might not give enough attention to local communities and their needs,” he said.
Khatib, who founded the Jerusalem Center for Communication Studies, said that polls show Fatah could win the coming elections if it can present a unified list.
Hani Masri, director of the Masarat think tank, said that holding elections before national reconciliation is complete is a “formula for trouble.”
“Issuing presidential decrees for elections before reconciliation is doing things in reverse order,” he said. “To have elections, the land mines must be removed. If we don’t address some of these problems, we are inviting trouble,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
One suggestion to overcome this issue has been that the two main parties, Fatah and Hamas, agree on a joint list and a single nominee for president.
Marwan Muasher, vice president of Carnegie Endowment for International Studies, told Arab News that national unity is a necessary first step.
“National elections serve to renew Palestinian legitimacy, which has been significantly affected,” he said.
Palestinians are also unsure if Israel will allow East Jerusalem residents to take part in the elections. Under the Oslo accords, Jerusalem residents can vote at local post offices.