Many Palestinians heaved a sigh of reduction this week. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the restoration of U.S. help to the Palestinians three years after the Trump administration lower it off. Trump lower U.S. funding to East Jerusalem Hospitals, peace-building initiatives and the Palestinian Authority, in addition to to the controversial UN Relief and Works Agency, referred to as UNRWA. The new help bundle will restore that funding, with $150 million going to UNRWA, $75 million going towards financial and improvement help, and $10 million for USAID peace-building applications.
The new bundle is a part of the Biden administration’s dedication “to advancing prosperity, security, and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians in tangible ways in the immediate term,” as Blinken put it.
And for Palestinians, it couldn’t have come at a extra pressing time. UNRWA is liable for the training of 500,000 Palestinian youngsters. It offers well being care and meals to tens of millions extra. And it has been on the brink of financial ruin.
And but, regardless of the essential position UNRWA performs in Palestinian life, Biden’s resolution to refund the group sparked a backlash. Though the new help bundle falls effectively bellow the pre-Trump ranges of U.S. help to the Palestinians, which was set at $360 million simply to UNRWA yearly, many—together with Israeli officers—expressed their dismay at the resolution.
The backlash was targeting three details: that UNRWA is “corrupt and counterproductive,” as former Ambassador to the UN underneath Trump Nikki Haley put it; that it incites the youngsters in its care to violence, as Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Gilad Erdan put it; and that it exists not to assist resolve however to further perpetuate the battle.
Each of those objections deserves a response.
Corruption and Transparency
Accusations of UNRWA’s corruption peaked in 2019 after a confidential internal report was leaked to Al-Jazeera that alleged “abuses of authority for personal gain” in UNRWA’s prime administration. This prompted Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands to temporarily halt their UNRWA funding pending an official investigation by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services. While they did resume their UNRWA help few months later after five OIOS investigations discovered no problems with fraud or misappropriation of funds, the costs of corruption proceed to plague the group.
But even when they had been true, the Biden help bundle addresses these issues. Blinken’s announcement insists that “the United States is deeply committed to ensuring that our partnership with UNRWA promotes neutrality, accountability, and transparency.” For some, this was a hint that bilateral negotiations between UNRWA and the State Department had been imminent, wherein reforms to the group could be broached to tackle issues about transparency and the way the funds are spent.
Certainly, the U.S. may have extra leverage to tackle any lingering problems with corruption as soon as bilateral negotiations are again on the desk.
Israel’s principal allegation towards UNRWA is that its mere existence perpetuates the conflict. The argument is that its definition of a refugee to embody later generations of Palestinians makes the battle extra intractable.
But UNRWA is not perpetuating the battle; it is a essential stopgap offering stability in an unstable area, stability that’s essential to getting again to the negotiating desk with the hopes for lasting peace.
Even when Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands briefly defunded UNRWA, they maintained that UNRWA “plays an essential role for the security and stability in the region,” as the Swiss Foreign Minister advised me, sentiments shared by the Netherlands’ Foreign Ministry’s Director for Multilateral Organizations and Belgium’s Foreign Ministry’s President of the Direction Committee, who advised me at the time that disrupting UNRWA’s “crucial” companies “could be fatal for thousands of Palestinians.”
He’s proper: Defunding UNRWA would spell catastrophe, particularly in the besieged Gaza Strip, where 80% of the population depends upon humanitarian aid simply to survive. And right here once more we see how UNRWA is crucial to fixing the battle, somewhat than a perpetuator of it, for additional impoverishing an uninhabitable enclave is a recipe for radicalization. Abolish UNRWA and you will note Gaza’s residents additional sink into despair, with nothing to hope for and nothing to lose.
Moreover, undermining UNRWA would solely bolster Hamas. As House Foreign Affairs Chair Gregory Meeks famous, tons of of 1000’s of children in Gaza would end up in Hamas-run colleges if UNRWA’s colleges had been fully defunded.
But this is not merely the opinion of UNRWA donors; it is an evaluation shared by Israel’s protection institution. Before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did an about face and demanded Trump cut all aid to UNRWA, the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Israeli Ministry of Defense all shared the reverse view; as Axios reported at the time, “the Israeli policy was that any cut in American funding of UNRWA should be gradual and without any aid cuts to Gaza, thanks to the fear of a humanitarian collapse and an escalation on the ground.”
The concept that the U.S. ought to be extra hardline on Palestinians than Israel’s far-right authorities is preposterous and counterproductive.
Incitement and Ties to Hamas
Another outstanding declare towards UNRWA is that it is a conduit of anti-Semitic incitement, a cost generally coupled with an allegation that UNRWA has ties to Hamas. But as somebody who personally studied in UNRWA colleges my complete life, I can inform you that is false, no less than in my expertise.
It was in my UNRWA faculty that I realized about the Holocaust, the Jewish diaspora, and the persecution of our Jewish brothers and sisters all through historical past. UNRWA again then used to manage journeys to the Netherlands and U.S. for college kids who excelled in school. Those journeys included excursions of Holocaust museums and Anne Frank’s home.
In reality, Hamas publicly criticized UNRWA for these activities, and in 2012, there have been even talks inside Hamas about how they could probably substitute UNRWA.
UNRWA for its half has constantly fired teachers and employees with recognized ties to Hamas, prompting additional tensions with the motion. In 2017, after the head of the UNRWA staff’ union in Gaza was revealed to be a Hamas member, UNRWA gave him a alternative: He might resign or be fired.
It’s true that each Israeli and Palestinian textbooks comprise unfavorable bias of their portrayal of the different, according to a 2013 State Department-funded study. But the means to meaningfully reform this concern could be to require either side to make mutual, simultaneous enhancements to their respective curricula.
To repeatedly demand unrequited reforms and moderation from Palestinians whereas making no comparable calls for on Israel, at a time when Israel is drifting additional in the direction of the proper, devalues these calls for. And it makes them seem to be capitulation in the eyes of Palestinians, which naturally provokes resistance to implementing them.
UNRWA’s existence was by no means meant to be everlasting. Most Palestinians yearn to a day the place they will not want humanitarian help anymore. But so long as the battle continues, UNRWA stays essential to maintaining life getting in the occupied territories, even to the minimal extent that they do.
The means to do away with UNRWA is for Israelis and Palestinians to attain a simply and lasting peace. If you hate UNRWA, your finest wager for seeing it gone is to channel your energies towards peace.
Muhammad Shehada is a author and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a scholar of improvement research at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza workplace of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights.
The views on this article are the author’s personal.