Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis has defended his earlier criticisms about United Nations aid work hindering the Middle East peace process. He says his comments stimulated a healthy debate in Switzerland about the issue.
“This allows the Swiss people to ask themselves what our country is doing and perhaps come to the conclusion that it is the best way forward at the moment," he told Swiss public radio RTS.
In a newspaper interview earlier this month, Cassis said the UN Palestinian Relief and Works Agency UNRWA has become part of the problem by maintaining refugee camps. More work should be done to integrate refugees into other countries rather than give them hope of a return to Palestinian territories, he argued. “By supporting the UNRWA, we keep the conflict alive. It’s a perverse logic,” he said.
Five million Palestinian refugees currently live in such camps, with aid and protection provided by the UNRWA.
Cassis had just returned from a visit to Jordan. His comments sparked criticism within Switzerland.
The day after his interview, Swiss President Alain Berset stepped in to say that Switzerland would continue its support of the UNRWA, but as a donor the Swiss had a right to debate its work.
“What I said, I said after a long discussion with the director general of UNRWA, so I spoke with full knowledge of the facts,” Cassis told RTS on Wednesday.
Cassis was also asked about his subsequent address to a “Switzerland-Israel Day” event in Switzerland where he praised the friendly relationship between the two countries. This took place weeks after at least 58 Palestinian citizens were killed in a clash with Israeli security forces at the Gaza border.
"I had expressed my dismay at the deaths and victims of the Gaza Strip. One wonders whether the use of violence at that time was legitimate,” he said. However, he said that an independent inquiry should rule on whether the force used by Israel was disproportionate or not.