While Netanyahu publicly endorses Trump’s position on withdrawing US funding for UNRWA, behind the scenes, the Israeli government is seeking that the US condition their assistance on ending the incitement in UNRWA schools rather than a sudden withdrawal of US funding for the international organization.
After US President Donald Trump stressed that he seeks to punish the Palestinians for refusing to negotiate with Israel by cutting aid to UNRWA, in public, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that UNRWA needs to disappear: “I fully agree with President Trump’s strong criticism of UNRWA. UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the problem of the Palestinian refugees. It also perpetuates the narrative of the so-called right of return with the aim of eliminating the State of Israel and therefore, UNRWA must disappear. The absurdity has to stop.” But does Netanyahu’s recent statement on the subject reflect the true position of the Israeli government?
There have been reports that in private, a different story regarding the Israeli government’s official position has emerged. Behind the scenes, Netanyahu’s government is seeking to gradually transfer the work of UNRWA to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who will work with the real Palestinian refugees and not their descendants. The reason for this is apparent. According to an internal Israeli Foreign Ministry report, if funding to UNRWA is cut suddenly, it could worsen the humanitarian situation in Gaza and Israel may have to replace the services that UNRWA presently provides to the Palestinians there.
But aside from the concern over the void that can be left with a sudden rather than a gradual elimination of UNRWA, the Israeli government has other concerns related to a sudden cut in US funding for UNRWA. Presently, the two main donors to UNRWA are the US and the EU. However, the third biggest donor to UNRWA is Saudi Arabia. So long as the US and EU are the biggest donors, they can use their influence in order to reform UNRWA for the better since UNRWA cannot be eliminated without a UN General Assembly resolution, which is something that is unlikely to happen.
Furthermore, there is concern that Saudi Arabia, who is now the third largest donor to UNRWA, can increase their donations to UNRWA to a level where they can make up for all of the funds that are lacking from the US withdrawing their support for UNRWA. If Saudi Arabia and not the US is the largest donor state, then that means that there will be most likely be zero pressure on UNRWA to end the incitement to terror that presently goes on in their schools. In an exclusive interview, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely explained: “In schools run by the United Nations and funded by well-intentioned but uninformed donor countries, Palestinian 8-year-olds are being indoctrinated to exterminate the Jews of Israel.”
Recently, the Center for Near East Policy Research published a comprehensive study on Palestinian school textbooks. The study argues that indoctrination continues to remain a systematic problem in the Palestinian schoolbooks used in UNRWA schools. For example, a 2017 Arabic-language textbook for 5th graders and a 2017 social studies textbook for 9th graders describe Palestinian female terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, who murdered 38 Israeli civilians in the Coastal Road Massacre, as a “martyr” who “commanded the Fidai ‘Deir Yassin’ operation on the Palestinian coast in 1978 in which over thirty soldiers were killed.”
A terrorist attack targeting the Jewish community of Psagot is described in a 2017 Arabic-language textbook for 9th graders as a “barbecue party [haflat shiwa’] there with Molotov cocktails on one of the buses of the Psagot colony [musta’marah – Jewish settlement].” Even the math textbooks encourage Palestinian students to support the “shahids [Islamic martyrs].”
In addition, a 2016 textbook for 3rd graders proclaimed: “And I shall remove the usurper from my country and shall exterminate the foreigners’ scattered remnants.” This was the first time that the PA school books openly discussed the horrific fate planned for the six million Jews who live in Israel after Palestine is “liberated.”
“There can be no hope for true peace negotiations while a new generation of Palestinians are actively being raised in a culture of hate and violence,” Hotovely added. “Making funding by donor nations to UNRWA conditional on reforming the school curriculum is the responsible course of action and in the best interest of the children by educating for peace and raising a new generation that is hopeful for a better future.”
In other words, while the Israeli government in public does not want to contradict the position of US President Donald Trump, behind the scenes, they would prefer it if the US used their funding to UNRWA in order to reform the international organization slowly and gradually rather than suddenly withdrawing their funding, thus leaving the void to be filled by Saudi Arabia and others who are unlikely to pressure UNRWA to end the incitement to terror in their schools.
** Rachel Avraham is a senior media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent for the Israel Resource News Agency. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media.”