Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis and his Israeli counterpart discussed working together to find an alternative to the embattled UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, according to Israeli press reports which Cassis’ ministry has denied.
The story in the Jerusalem Postexternal link, picked up by the Swiss mediaexternal link and the Swiss national broadcaster RTSexternal link on Thursday, comes after the two men met in Lucerne on Monday to celebrate 70 years of Swiss-Israeli relationsexternal link.
Israel Katz was quoted by the Jerusalem Postexternal link as saying that he and Cassis had discussed working together to consider alternatives to the UNRWA during their meeting in Switzerland. The news has caused protests among Palestinians at UNRWA headquarters in Jerusalem, RTS reports.
The Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs denies working with Tel Aviv to find an alternative to UNRWA. A foreign ministry spokesperson told swissinfo.ch that at the Lucerne meeting, "Cassis recalled that it is legitimate for Switzerland, as one of the main contributors to the UNRWA budget, to be involved in discussions on improving the functioning of this organisation and to help find a lasting solution for Palestinian refugees. UNRWA plays an essential role in the stability of the region and in the fight against radicalisation."
The foreign ministry decided at the end of July to temporarily stop payments to the UNRWAexternal link (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Near East) amid claims of misconduct by its top management. Among those under investigation is Pierre Krähenbühl, the Swiss Commissioner-General of the UNRWA.
Switzerland has been a member of the UNRWA since its beginning in 1949 and has paid about CHF20 million ($20 million) in contributions for this year. One of its main sponsors, the United States, cut funding drastically last year. Cassis has also publicly criticised the role of the UNRWA.