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Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry: Review of UNRWA’s neutrality offers ‘cosmetic solutions’

“Hamas has infiltrated UNRWA so deeply that it is no longer possible to determine where UNRWA ends and where Hamas begins,” a ministry spokesman said.

Gilad Erdan, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, addresses the U.N. Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question on April 17, 2024 alongside Philippe Lazzarini (left), commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. Photo.
Gilad Erdan, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, addresses the U.N. Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question on April 17, 2024 alongside Philippe Lazzarini (left), commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. Photo.

António Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, said on Monday that he accepts recommendations made by a group reviewing the neutrality of the beleaguered U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

Critics predicted months ago that the review would whitewash the U.N. agency’s ties to Gazan terror groups, and Oren Marmorstein, a spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the released report.

“Hamas has infiltrated UNRWA so deeply that it is no longer possible to determine where UNRWA ends and where Hamas begins,” Marmorstein stated. “The problem with UNRWA-Gaza isn’t that of a few bad apples. It is a rotten and poisonous tree whose roots are Hamas.”

Catherine Colonna, the former French foreign minister, led the group that released the report on Monday. The report says that the Jewish state failed to provide evidence for its claims that UNRWA staff participated in Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre and, broadly, about terror activity in the Gaza Strip.

The review found UNRWA “irreplaceable and indispensable” to Palestinians it serves in Gaza and elsewhere and said that the U.N. agency already has a detailed screening process in place to “ensure compliance with the humanitarian principles.”

It noted that stronger safeguarding mechanisms could be implemented with respect to neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The secretary-general accepts the recommendations contained in Ms. Colonna’s report,” stated Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Guterres. 

“He has agreed with Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini that UNRWA, with the secretary-general’s support, will establish an action plan to implement the recommendations contained in the final report,” Dujarric added of the U.N. secretary-general.

The review, which ran separately from and parallel to an internal U.N. investigation,  addressed allegations that 12 UNRWA workers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks. 

It was seen as a way for UNRWA to assure donors of its compliance with employment and neutrality mandates in the wake of 16 countries suspending aid to the agency. Some have already resumed contributing to UNRWA. Washington is bound by law to cease funding UNRWA at least until next year. 

Guterres “counts on the cooperation of the donor community, the host countries and the staff to fully cooperate in the implementation of the recommendations,” Dujarric stated. “Moving forward, the secretary-general appeals to all stakeholders to actively support UNRWA.”

The three Nordic research groups that took place in the review have a history of criticizing Israel and defending UNRWA.

Critics have long said that UNRWA acts in coordination with—and often as a front for—Hamas. It has been accused of fomenting hate and violence through its youth education curriculum and for turning a blind eye to Hamas military infrastructure and storage at UNRWA sites in Gaza.

The Colonna report states that UNRWA “has a more developed approach to neutrality than other similar entities of the United Nations or NGOs.”

UNRWA employees making anti-Israel and antisemitism statements have been documented extensively.

Beyond alleging that 12 UNRWA staffers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks, Israel has accused up to 12% of the agency’s staff of affiliations with terror groups in Gaza.

Israeli officials have also called for UNRWA to be defunded and disbanded, claiming other U.N. and international organizations can replace it.

“The Colonna report ignores the severity of the problem and offers cosmetic solutions that do not deal with the enormous scope of Hamas’s infiltration of UNRWA,” Marmorstein stated.

“This is not what a genuine and thorough review looks like,” the Israeli ministry spokesman said. “This is what an effort to avoid the problem and not address it head-on looks like.”

Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum, told JNS that the report “into UNRWA’s complicity during the Oct. 7 massacre by Hamas, handed down today by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, is nothing short of a complete whitewash of the mass murder, rape and abductions committed by UNRWA staff.”

“Instead of using the opportunity to provide an independent and honest account of UNRWA’s actions, the report was fixed from the outset, with a restricted mandate, deeply biased appointees and conflicting interests in violation of the UN’s own Standards of Conduct,” he added. “Its sole purpose was to exonerate UNRWA and serve as an excuse by donor nations to resume funding.”

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