A school play performed at the UNRWA Nuseirat School in Gaza, in which students hold an Israeli hostage at gunpoint, April 2016. Credit: Center for Near East Policy Research.
A school play performed at the UNRWA Nuseirat School in Gaza, in which students hold an Israeli hostage at gunpoint, April 2016. Credit: Center for Near East Policy Research.

$50 million in new US funding for UNRWA an obstacle to peace: legal analysts

Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz and other experts tell JNS they would disband the U.N. agency.

On his recent trip to Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke often about the importance of security and stability in the region. Following a terrorist attack in which seven Israelis were murdered, he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israelis should know that America’s commitment to their security is “ironclad.”

But several legal analysts told JNS that Blinken’s pledge of roughly $50 million in U.S. additional assistance to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East directly contradicts that pledge. Refunding UNRWA, after the previous administration reduced it drastically, puts Israel’s security at grave risk, they said.

Einat Wilf, a former Labor Party Knesset member, described the agency as an obstacle to peace. She told JNS the secretary’s announcement dismayed her.

“Continued funding of UNRWA is not conducive to a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” she said. “The U.N. agency must be defunded and dismantled.”

The United Nations General Assembly created UNRWA in 1949—the year after Israel gained independence. First headquartered in Beirut and then in Vienna, UNRWA moved to Gaza City in 1996. The Palestinian Authority has observer status at UNRWA, originally intended to be a temporary agency. Its mandate has continued to be renewed, and it is funded to the tune of nearly 93% by contributions from member governments, including Washington.

In 2017, the U.S. contributed nearly $350 million to UNRWA. The following year, the Trump administration—citing the body’s antisemitism—cut the agency’s funding, in what the latter called an “abrupt” end to its U.S. funding and the “greatest financial predicament in its history.”

The U.N. agency teaches antisemitic material in its educational curriculum and incites violence against Israel. UNRWA educational materials encourage jihad, violence and martyrdom, and promote antisemitism, an analysis by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) found.

Among the examples that the Israel nonprofit cited was a grammar exercise teaching that “Palestinians sacrifice their blood to liberate Jerusalem.” Spelling and vocabulary exercises in UNRWA educational materials also taught of “jihad warriors” fighting “the occupier,” Israel, and commitment to “resisting the enemy courageously.”

Glorification of terrorism

In September 2021, Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s commissioner general, admitted UNRWA-run schools taught hatred and glorification of terrorism. The U.N. agency has been criticized for its failure to dismiss teachers involved in anti-Jewish incitement.

Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum, told JNS that UNRWA is “one of the single greatest impediments to peace.”

“Created to resolve the purported issue of Palestinian refugees, its sole mission has become to instead perpetuate [their status] indefinitely, providing a false hope that one day millions of Palestinians can flood Israel under a ‘right of return’ to dismantle the Jewish state,” he said.

Given Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to condemn the recent massacre in Jerusalem and widespread celebrations of the murders by Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, Ostrovsky said the “last thing the Biden administration ought to be doing is rewarding the Palestinians with another influx of cash.”

UNRWA incentivizes redefining “refugee” to create an endless and perpetual number of Palestinian refugees, who seek Israel’s destruction, according to Ostrovsky. 

Harvard Law School professor emeritus and prominent litigator and legal commentator Alan Dershowitz agrees.

“UNRWA has long been a barrier to peace,” he told JNS. “By maintaining refugee ‘camps’ instead of settling former refugees and their families in the general population—as Israel did—UNRWA foments grievances, facilitates terrorism and preserves the untenable status quo.” 

A supporter of a “modified” two-state solution, Dershowitz called for disbanding UNRWA and ending U.S. funding of it.

“This cannot be done immediately, but a process should begin with the goal of integrating the ‘refugees’ into the general population,” he said.

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