The horrific attacks in Israel committed by Hamas have spurred a fundamental revaluation of Palestinian policies by U.S. and Israeli officials.
It has become crystal clear that control of the Gaza Strip cannot be left to a terrorist group whose stated purpose, as acknowledged by President Joe Biden, is “the annihilation of the state of Israel and the murder of Jewish people.”
Pledges that the U.S. will stand by its ally Israel are welcome and justified. However, the situation also should spur a reassessment of U.S. assistance for the Palestinians, particularly funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, known as UNRWA.
Established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1949, UNRWA was created as a “temporary” initiative to assist Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab conflict and ease their resettlement or repatriation. Nearly 75 years on, the U.N. agency has become a permanent institution providing services to multiple generations of Palestinian “refugees.”
Notably, UNWRA is the only such vehicle dedicated to a specific refugee population, the rest being supported by another agency, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The U.S. has been extremely generous to UNRWA, providing more than $6 billion since 1950.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian refugee problem has grown larger, even given all this assistance. Many of the original 600,000 Palestinian refugees are deceased, Now, however, UNRWA registers more than 6 million Palestinians because refugee status is granted to the “descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children.”
A Palestinian may be considered a “refugee” even if he or she lives in the West Bank or in Gaza (territory governed by Palestinians) or earns citizenship in another country such as Jordan.
This unique treatment of Palestinians isn’t consistent with the 1951 Refugee Convention nor the policy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. It perpetuates a culture of victimhood among the Palestinians.
This should be enough to reevaluate support for UNRWA. But routinely uncovered evidence shows that the agency contributes to the sort of Palestinian extremism that was on such grisly display Oct. 7 in Israel.
Earlier this year, the Geneva-based nongovernmental organization U.N. Watch reported numerous examples of what it called “UNRWA’s gross and systematic violations of neutrality and other U.N. rules in their hiring of teachers and in their use of curricula inside UNRWA schools that constitute incitement to hatred, antisemitism and terrorism.”
Examples included social media posts by agency teachers who praised Palestinian “martyrs” for killing Israeli soldiers and civilians, expressed support for the Holocaust and for terrorist groups, perpetuated antisemitic stereotypes, rejected Israel’s right to exist, and used maps that don’t include Israel.
Pertinent to the current conflict, UNRWA has a history of employing individuals affiliated with Hamas and creating social media posts that praise Hamas’ previous rocket attacks, according to U.N. Watch.
Hamas is known to use UNRWA schools and civilian buildings such as hospitals to store weapons or protect its tunnels. The terrorist group frequently places weapons and infrastructure strategically in order to use noncombatants as human shields.
Concerns about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency are long-standing and led the Trump administration to suspend U.S. funding for UNRWA in 2018. That move didn’t result in a significant increase in terrorism.
Unwisely, the Biden administration reversed this decision and provided nearly $344 million to UNRWA in 2022. Thus far in 2023, the U.S. has contributed over $296 million to the U.N. agency and announced an additional $73 million less than a month ago. Since 2021, the Biden administration has provided over $1 billion to UNRWA.
Of course, Biden’s State Department defends this funding, saying that it negotiated a new “Framework for Cooperation” with UNRWA intended to strengthen “accountability, transparency, and consistency with U.N. principles, including neutrality.” Renewed funding was to be contingent on the U.N. agency’s better policing its employees and classrooms, but dollars continued to flow despite reports of violations by journalists, nongovernmental organizations, and even the European Union.
Reports over the past week, based on social media postings by United Nations Relief and Works Agency staff, allege that Hamas stole fuel and medical supplies from UNRWA. This is hardly surprising, considering reports that Hamas previously diverted cement meant for development projects to build its extensive tunnel network and bragged that it used donated water pipes to build missiles.
Yet UNRWA quickly deleted the posts and said no looting had occurred, likely fearing reprisals by Hamas.
The agency’s activities in Gaza consume 40% of its budget. How many U.S. tax dollars meant to assist ordinary Palestinians were instead used by Hamas to support terrorist assaults on Israel?
Hamas is responsible for Palestinian suffering in Gaza. In a show of good faith and willingness to pursue peace, Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005.
Hamas quickly assumed power and responded to Israel’s magnanimity with repeated attacks and calls for Israel’s destruction. This culminated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, when terrorists tortured and killed 1,400 innocent men, women, and children. An estimated 200 were taken hostage.
The civilized world should have no tolerance for such terrible crimes. Israel is justified in its response and declared goal of eliminating Hamas.
History shows that Hamas has and will steal what humanitarian assistance it can, even if ordinary Palestinians suffer. Aid should not be provided without rigorous means to ensure that Hamas won’t benefit.
Specifically, aid should not be provided through UNRWA, which has a proven record of sympathy for Hamas, has employed Hamas members, and has demonstrated vulnerability to extremism, antisemitism, and politicization. Quite simply, this U.N. agency is compromised and should not have been trusted as a neutral humanitarian actor.
It is past time to recognize that UNRWA is not part of the solution, but instead has contributed to the problem. All U.S. funding for it should be ended immediately.
If Biden won’t take the lead on this, Congress will have to act.
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