UNRWA on the Ropes

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The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the internationally funded relief agency established in 1949 to work with Palestinian refugees displaced from their homes during the creation of the state of Israel, has long been accused of being a hub for the promotion of anti-Israel activity and a supporter of Palestinian militancy.

Critics have gone so far as to claim that UNRWA perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem, actively obstructs peace efforts and serves as a civilian arm of Hamas in Gaza.

Although initially created as a temporary international relief agency to aid some 700,000 displaced Palestinian people, UNRWA has failed to elevate the Palestinian population. Instead, over its more than seven decades of activity, UNRWA has helped subjugate its Palestinian population by cultivating generations of “refugees” which now number more than 5 million people.

UNRWA’s operations focus on refugee neighborhoods across the Middle East, including the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But its biggest operations are in Gaza, where it looks after an estimated 80% of the local population and runs hundreds of schools and scores of clinics. Teachers make up nearly 75% of UNRWA’s Gaza staff in schools that use textbooks approved by the Palestinian Authority that have been criticized for their blatant glorification of terrorists and promotion of hatred toward Israel.

In 2018, former President Donald Trump announced an end to U.S. funding of UNRWA, stripping hundreds of millions of dollars from the agency. His blunt goal was to get the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel to resolve issues. His message was clear: “You’ll get money, but we’re not paying until you make a deal. If you don’t make a deal, we’re not paying.” That decision was reversed by President Joe Biden in 2021 on the asserted ground that the suspension of funding had “neither produced political progress, nor secured concessions from the Palestinian leadership” and had “only harmed innocent Palestinians.”

On Jan. 27, the U.S. and eight other international donors cut off support for UNRWA after Israel released evidence that at least 13 UNRWA employees were involved with Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel and took part in varying capacities, ranging from direct involvement in the kidnapping of hostages to being present where scores of Israeli civilians were shot and killed, and being responsible for coordinating logistics for the assault, including procuring weapons.

Intelligence estimates claim that roughly 10% of UNRWA’s employees in Gaza have links to Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad and about 50% of its employees have close relatives who belong to the Islamist militant groups. The terror-connected infection of UNRWA is deeply disturbing.

UNRWA fired several employees in the wake of the allegations and has ordered an investigation into the claims. But that may not be enough. A broad range of congressional leaders have made clear that they are willing to explore plans to dissolve and replace UNRWA, even as they acknowledge that some alternative will be needed to work with the Gaza population. That will be a difficult challenge.

But given UNRWA’s historic ineffectiveness and its disturbing record of anti-Israel bias, prejudice and active terror involvement, UNRWA should be shut down and its responsibilities transferred to experienced agencies with the credibility and talent to provide necessary humanitarian services.

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