update deskIsrael at War

Israel examines replacements for UNRWA

Jerusalem may redirect aid through the World Food Programme.

An UNRWA school in eastern Jerusalem on Jan. 29, 2024. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
An UNRWA school in eastern Jerusalem on Jan. 29, 2024. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.

Israel is looking into alternatives to UNRWA, amid mounting national and international concern over the U.N. agency’s connection to Palestinian terrorism.

The move follows a bombshell Israeli intelligence report shared with the U.S. administration which found that about 10% of the agency’s 13,000 employees in Gaza are Hamas members.

At least 12 UNRWA employees actively participated in the Oct. 7 massacre, which killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and saw an estimated 253 others abducted to Gaza, leading more than a dozen countries, including the U.S, and the U.K., to suspend funding to the agency.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry is proposing to redirect aid to the Palestinians through the World Food Programme, an organization within the United Nations that provides food assistance worldwide. Another option under consideration, pending American support, is funneling the support through USAID, an independent agency of the United States government that is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance.

Both international organizations are listed in an Israeli Foreign Ministry paper being prepared to offer alternatives to UNRWA that will be presented to the nation’s Security Cabinet for approval.

‘Part of the problem’

 “We are actively working to disengage UNRWA from Gaza,” Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz tweeted Sunday. “They are part of the problem and not a part of the solution.”

Meanwhile, leaders of the Dutch Parliament will discuss UNRWA’s complicity in Hamas terrorism in a meeting in the Netherlands on Wednesday with the heads of the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus.

The caucus leaders have called for UNRWA to be dismantled.

Former diplomats and security officials told lawmakers at a Knesset hearing last month that Israel needs to formulate its policy on the U.N. agency going forward, and then enlist allies around the world to further its goal.

Perpetuating the conflict

Israel has long said that UNRWA was created to perpetuate the conflict by granting Palestinians refugee status seven and a half decades after the establishment of the State of Israel even though no other people in the world would qualify under the same circumstances.

Established by the U.N. in 1949 to carry out relief and work programs for the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who fled their homes during the 1948-49 War of Independence, UNRWA defines refugees not only as refugees themselves but also their descendants in perpetuity, including those who have citizenship in other countries. As a result, the number of Palestinian “refugees” registered with the organization has mushroomed from 750,000 in 1950 to nearly six million today.

The main U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, which cares for the rest of the refugees in the world, has no such policy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long said UNRWA should be abolished and its responsibilities taken over by UNHCR.

Foreign funding

Amid decades of hate and terror indoctrination, the Trump administration cut off U.S. funding to UNRWA in 2018, a move President Joe Biden reversed shortly after taking office in 2021.

Last summer, the U.S. State Department allocated more than $200 million for UNRWA despite its schools’ curriculum glorifying violence and terrorism as well as an agreement conditioning funding on the prevention of teaching hate and antisemitism.

The new funding brought the total United States assistance to UNRWA during the Biden administration to more than $600 million, cementing the United States’ status as UNRWA’s largest donor.

The Oct. 7 massacre has placed renewed international focus on UNRWA’s terror ties and led to calls from across the Israeli political spectrum to cut off all ties with the organization and enact major reform.

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