Virtually every media outlet took the UNRWA condemnation of the Hamas tunnels found under an UNRWA school at its word. Yet no media outlet reminded the world that the UNRWA school teachers’ union and the UNRWA workers’ union of Gaza have been under the tight control of Hamas since 1999, without a word of disapproval from UNRWA.
The statement by the Prime Minister of Israel that UNRWA should be ”dismantled” indicates that the Israeli government holds UNRWA responsible for the existence of Hamas terror tunnels.
The timing of this discovery is important, occurring just before Hamas will conduct its annual summer military training camp to train upwards of 50,000 UNRWA students, aged 9-15, in the use of live weaponry.
However, it is unfortunately not within Israel’s power to ”dismantle” UNRWA.
UNRWA operates under the mandate of UNGA, United Nations General Assembly, and only they can “dismantle” UNRWA.
If Israeli and Western democratic nations were to cut funds to UNRWA, two scenarios would likely occur:
- The radical Islamic state of Qatar, which has established a presence in Gaza and in Judea/Samaria, would likely step in to replace any income lost from Western cuts to UNRWA.
- Saudi Arabia, which recently increased its funding of UNRWA to become the number three donor, would likely increase its contribution to UNRWA.
If Qatar and Saudi Arabia became the largest donors to UNRWA, no leverage could be brought against UNRWA to cease connections with Hamas or other terror groups.
What, then, can the Israeli government do to ameliorate UNRWA?
Jerusalem could demand that UNRWA donors condition funds on reforms of UNRWA in six areas:
- Ask for an audit of donor funds given to UNRWA. This would address widespread documented reports of wasted resources, duplicity of services and the undesired flow of cash to Gaza-based terror groups, which have gained control over UNRWA operations there for the past 18 years.
- Introduce UNHCR standards to UNRWA, to advance the resettlement of Arab refugees after 68 years of their relegation to refugee camp existence. Current UNRWA policy is that any refugee resettlement would interfere with the “right of return” to Arab villages that existed before 1948.
- Cancel the UNRWA curriculum, based on Jihad, martyrdom and the “right of return” by force of arms.
- Cease paramilitary training in all UNRWA schools. Should UNRWA, as a UN agency, not demonstrate a renewed commitment to UN principles to “peace education?”
- Insist that UNRWA dismiss employees affiliated with Hamas, in accordance with laws on the books in western nations which forbid aid to any agency that employs members of a terrorist organization.
- Since UNRWA has recently hired a “youth ambassador” — Mohammad Assaf — to travel the world and encourage insurrection and violence, would this not be the appropriate time to demand that UNRWA cancel its contract with a promoter of war?
Now that the Israeli government has finally come to the conclusion that UNRWA is an impediment to peace, the government of Israel should act within reality to curb UNRWA policy: to reform UNRWA, which is within the scope of possibility, and not to dismantle UNRWA, which is not possible.
In November, 2005, I published an essay in the New York Jewish Week about why UNRWA should be dismantled and replaced by UNHCR, the umbrella agency which handles all refugees in the world, and an agency that works to resettle them, not to perpetuate their indignity as refugees.
A few days later, I made that presentation to a packed UN Press Club in New York and shared the concept with UN officials. There was not one diplomat or journalist at the UN who did not like the idea.
And then reality hit. Veterans at the UN pointed out that any change in the UNRWA mandate would require approval of the UNGA, the United Nations General Assembly, and that even if 30 or 40 nations would vote to change the UN mandate, the Arab League and the automatic majority of “non-aligned nations” would vote down any decision perceived as pro-Israel.
Therefore, UNRWA cannot be “dismantled.” However, the 68 donor nations to UNRWA can and should condition their aid to UNRWA based on UNRWA reform.