Defund UNRWA to help Palestine

Published on Tuesday, 19 August 2014 22:20 - Written by

It’s time to defund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. It must be done now, before the agency steps in to help squander international funds meant to help rebuild Palestine homes and infrastructure.

“UNRWA, the U.N.’s 65-year-old, internationally funded welfare organization for Palestinians, should be commended for providing much needed shelter and aid to displaced Gazans during the crisis,” write Middle East Forum fellows Alexander Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky. “But given several revelations during the current conflict between Hamas and Israel, UNRWA should have no role in any negotiated arrangement regarding Gaza’s reconstruction.”

Writing in the New Republic, the experts point out that the United Nations agency became part of the story in the recent conflict.

“On three occasions, rockets were found in UNRWA schools, closed for the summer, and at least once they were returned to Hamas,” they point out. “On another occasion, the UNRWA accused Israel of targeting civilians sheltering in a school when in fact those deaths were caused by a Hamas rocket that fell short. And on another occasion it accused Israel of targeting a shelter and civilians when in reality terrorists outside the facility were hit and civilian bodies possibly planted at the scene. UNRWA has condemned the rockets found in its schools, but it has not condemned Hamas’ firing rockets from in and around its facilities, or any other locations such as residential areas, hospital parking lots, and hotels.”

The conclusion to draw from these facts is obvious.

“UNRWA is effectively a branch of Hamas,” write Joffe and Romirowsky. “The overwhelming majority of its employees in Gaza belong to the Hamas-linked trade union. An unknown number of employees are actual Hamas fighters (or at least know UNRWA employees with keys to the schools so that rockets can be stored in classrooms over the summer). The curriculum taught in UNRWA schools is shaped by Hamas, which earlier this year rejected textbooks that failed to tout ‘armed resistance’ as too ‘peaceful.’ Gaza cannot be rebuilt at western expense only to return to this perverse status quo.”

Of course, the United States can’t unilaterally abolish UNRWA. That would take an act by the U.N. General Assembly.

“But if donor countries were to reprogram their funds, first by demanding that the PA take over UNRWA’s employees and responsibilities, the effect would be the same,” the authors note. “In 2010, Canada shifted its contributions away from UNRWA, sending a strong message about the organization.”

The U.S. can send an even stronger message by pulling its funds, because right now those funds are desperately needed to rebuild a smashed region. UNRWA wants to get its hands on that money, but history shows that would be a monumental mistake.

Joffe and Romirowsky say that money should be routed through the Palestinian Authority instead. Sure, that agency has its own corruption problems, but at least could be held accountable by the Palestinians themselves.

“There is thus a unique opportunity, perhaps the last, to help Palestinians stand on their own,” they say.

We should take the first step by defunding UNRWA.