newsIsrael at War

UN Gaza coordinator blames ‘data gap’ with Israel for aid row

Governance of post-Hamas Gaza will ultimately come down to “the voice of the Palestinian people themselves,” says a spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (center) walks with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center-left behind) and U.N. Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag (right) at the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on May 1, 2024. Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (center) walks with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center-left behind) and U.N. Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag (right) at the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on May 1, 2024. Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

The United Nations point person on Gaza said on Tuesday that a “data gap” with Israel is leading to “different conclusions” where the Gaza Strip is concerned.

Sigrid Kaag, the U.N. senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, briefed the U.N. Security Council in an open setting before following members into closed consultations. 

During the discussion, she noted that while additional supply routes for humanitarian aid were provided by Israel and the process has been streamlined under a mechanism created by the council in December, the process “has been fraught with challenges.” 

In the end, Kaag said, “There is no substitute for political will” to change the conditions on the ground.

Kaag, a Dutch politician, diplomat and veteran U.N. administrator, cited the start of the Israeli military operation in Rafah and the subsequent closure of the Rafah border crossing in early May as a turning point, since which “the volume of aid entering into or distributed across Gaza has dropped significantly.” 

The “near-total breakdown of civil order has further led to an environment of lawlessness and criminality,” according to Kaag, who noted that the United Nations “has asked Israel to find solutions to enable the safe delivery of aid that includes its distribution.” 

With respect to ongoing disputes between the United Nations and Israel regarding the amount of aid being screened by Israel and entering Gaza, “and the ability of the U.N. actually to come and collect it and distribute it, you see a data gap there. And those are obviously different conclusions that we draw,” said Kaag during a later press briefing in answer to a JNS query. 

However, she added, the mechanism created by the Security Council to enhance the flow of aid led to a single database, via which “you can see which types of goods go in, what’s approved, what’s denied, and where’s the follow up.” 

That database, Kaag said, will “hopefully” provide “common ground in order to fix” any aid delivery issues. 

Nicolas de Riviere, France’s U.N. ambassador, told the council that Paris was calling on Israel to immediately reopen the Rafah crossing and “provide immediate, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, as demanded by the International Court of Justice,” including providing the scandal-plagued United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) with “necessary authorizations.”

Israel has accused UNRWA, the U.N.’s Palestinian-only refugee agency, of links to Hamas.

Stephanie Sullivan, the United States’ acting deputy U.N. representative, told the council that Washington has “consistently conveyed to Israel’s senior leadership the need to provide sustained and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance to enter via all routes into Gaza.” Washington welcomes “Israel’s commitment to fulfill specific U.N. requests and continue constructive conversations with U.N. officials on how to best meet the further needs of U.N. agencies and facilitate their work,” she added.

She criticized the IDF for what she characterized as an “unacceptable” delay in creating a more reliable, robust mechanism to protect humanitarian workers in the war zone. The topic was the subject of a letter last week from the United Nations to Israeli military authorities, which reportedly included a threat to shut down humanitarian aid delivery if security for humanitarian workers was not improved.

However, Sullivan said a ceasefire was the most effective way to scale and speed up aid and that, “Unfortunately, Hamas has ignored the calls from this council and across the international community, coming back with new demands outside of the framework” of the ceasefire deal proposed by Israel and backed by the United States.

“We urge all council members to continue to press Hamas to accept this deal without delay or conditions and to bring about the ceasefire with a release of hostages,” said Sullivan.

Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, refused to lay the blame on Hamas. Moscow holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, and has been heavily critical of Israel during the war.

“We heard that allegedly Israel agreed for the implementation” of the U.S.-backed proposal, “but then we heard at the same meeting where we adopted the latest resolution that Israel will not be negotiating with Hamas,” Nebenzya told reporters. 

“Then Hamas came up with their view of how the resolution should be implemented and was immediately accused of refusing the deal. Negotiations mean that countries talk and negotiate with each other how a deal will be implemented, but whatever Hamas said to the proposal that was initially put on the table was flatly rejected immediately,” said Nebenzya. 

Ultimately, he added, Kaag was trying her best but her mandate “really doesn’t function because of the absence of ceasefire. The absence of the ceasefire, the absence of the ceasefire and the absence of the ceasefire,” he said.

Nebenzya told JNS before Tuesday’s session that “day-after” scenarios for Gaza were not expected to be discussed in detail with Kaag, who touched briefly on the topic during the open portion of the meeting.

Kaag said that the Palestinian Authority has a critical role to play in Gaza, and will be foundational to the Strip’s recovery and reconstruction. She urged the international community to back the P.A.’s financial stability and its reform.

The Israeli government has ruled out allowing the P.A. to resume governance of the Gaza Strip, which it held before Hamas’ violent 2007 takeover.

Netanyahu said in a television interview last week that he would prefer the establishment of  a “civil administration—if possible with local Palestinians and hopefully with support from countries in the region,” to govern Gaza.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a Tuesday press briefing that while Guterres “would want to see a reinvigorated Palestinian Authority resume the authority of all Palestinian territories,” he acknowledged that “there will have to be some sort of an interim arrangement” to govern Gaza and that “the voice that matters the most here will be the voice of the Palestinian people themselves.”

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