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No quick alternative to UNRWA, Israeli defense official tells US

But Jerusalem's position is that the agency must be replaced, and soon.

A teacher leads a class at an UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip, September 2011. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/U.N. Photo.
A teacher leads a class at an UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip, September 2011. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/U.N. Photo.

Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT), told senior officials in the Biden administration that at this stage there is no alternative to the activities of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip. 

Alian is currently in the U.S. and has been meeting, among others, with administration officials dealing with the humanitarian situation in Gaza. He has told them that Israel’s position is that UNRWA, the U.N. agency embroiled in scandal after it was revealed that its staff has been aiding Hamas and inciting against Israelis, must be replaced and that there needs to be an accelerated and swift plan to bring in alternative aid organizations into the Gaza Strip.

Several of the agency’s staff members took part in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Alian emphasized that alternative aid organizations could be found, including within the U.N. However, he explained that currently there was no other body that could distribute humanitarian supplies in the Gaza Strip. 

Thus, Israel believes that currently there is no choice but to continue working with the agency. Similar statements have been made by other senior COGAT officials behind closed doors throughout the war. Alian has also criticized UNRWA for the slow pace of bringing in the humanitarian aid given to it by Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that a replacement must be found for UNRWA: “I think it’s time that the international community and the U.N. itself understand that UNRWA‘s mission has to end.

“UNRWA is self-perpetuating. It is self-perpetuating also in its desire to keep alive the Palestinian refugee issue. And we need to get other U.N. agencies and other aid agencies replacing UNRWA if we’re going to solve the problem of Gaza as we intend to do. There are other agencies in the U.N. There are other agencies in the world. They have to replace UNRWA,” the prime minister said.

At the most recent Security Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu instructed the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, to find a replacement for the agency. However, no binding timeline has been set for implementing the decision. Security officials confirmed to Israel Hayom that staff work is being done to formulate alternatives to the problematic agency.

It should be noted that there is consensus in the security establishment and in Israel’s political system that UNRWA cannot continue operating in Gaza. However, according to sources, if the connection with UNRWA is completely severed, there will be no one to distribute aid to Gaza Strip residents, leading to a humanitarian crisis.

Israel expects to hear what the U.S. position will be regarding bringing aid into Gaza and to align itself accordingly. According to Israeli figures, since the beginning of the war 10,000 supply trucks have entered Gaza.

COGAT issued the following response to press inquiries: “Any position presented by security officials in the U.S. has been approved by the security system and coordinated with the political echelon.”

Previously published by Israel Hayom.

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