The mandate of UNRWA, the UN agency operating in 59 refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, is set to have its mandate renewed next week at the UN General Assembly in New York. Nevertheless, what makes this a big deal now is that UNRWA Commissioner Pierre Krahenbuhl just resigned over “managerial issues.”
Krahenbuhl’s resignation came after an internal UN report found that mismanagement of UNRWA led to “sexual misconduct, nepotism, discrimination, retaliation and other abuses of authority for personal gain in order to suppress dissent and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.” This internal report prompted Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland to stop funding UNRWA, after the US had already stopped funding the international humanitarian organization.
Furthermore, according to four recent reports conducted by the Center for Near East Policy Research and published by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center, the textbooks utilized in the UNRWA schools today utilize a curriculum that prepares students for war. Israel does not exist in the PA schoolbooks used by UNRWA. The term “beautiful” found in these textbooks is defined as a “shahid,” meaning martyr. Four UNRWA textbooks glorify Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian female terrorist who murdered over 30 men, women and children. In these textbooks, Newton’s law of physics is demonstrated with a picture of an Arab firing a slingshot at IDF soldiers. And a 2016 textbook for 3rd graders that is still in use by UNRWA proclaimed: “And I shall remove the usurper from my country and shall exterminate the foreigners’ scattered remnants.”
Even UNRWA has acknowledged that some of the PA textbooks utilized in UNRWA schools incite hatred: “About 4-5 percent of the material in the PA textbooks has been found to not be in line with UN values.” However, while UNRWA claims that their teachers have found a way to get around problematic sections in PA textbooks, their claims appear suspect when UN Watch published a report claiming that UNRWA staff members and teachers regularly share anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist content on social media.
Despite the grave allegations against UNRWA, Peter Mulrean, director of UNRWA’s office in New York City, did not seem too concerned about the contents of the internal UN report regarding UNRWA’s misconduct: “UNRWA conducts regular self-evaluations to ensure cost-effectiveness and efficiency so that we can improve our work. A recent review of the Agency conducted by the Multilateral Organization Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN), funded in part by the United States, concluded, ‘UNRWA in 2018 is an organization that is competent, resilient and resolute. Its way of working and the results it is achieving in a resource-constrained environment reflect a well-managed organization that delivers.’”
Although the Swiss Embassy in Israel declined to comment on why they stopped funding UNRWA, the Netherlands Embassy in Israel begged to differ on the seriousness of the charges against UNRWA: “There was regret and concern regarding the allegations of misconduct, sexual abuse and all forms of misconduct. In response to the recent allegations of misconduct, we decided to wait for the UN Office of Independent Inspection to reach its conclusions and to suspend our core contributions to UNRWA. We stressed the importance of a thorough and independent investigation and the prompt publication of its results. The investigation will have to demonstrate to what extent the findings from the internal report of the UNRWA ethics committee are correct.”
A US State Department official concurred, emphasizing that UNRWA is beyond repair: “The U.S. views on UNRWA are clear. As we have said, the fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years – tied to UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially expanding community of beneficiaries – are simply unsustainable and the organization has been in crisis mode for many years. The United States will not commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation.”
A spokesman for the German Federal Foreign Office declared that although they support the renewal of the UNRWA mandate in its existing form, they still have “been in active dialogue with UNRWA on issues such as organizational, budgetary and policy reform and standards of service. This also includes an active dialogue regarding school curricula as well as possible suspicions of non-compliance with UN values by individual UNRWA staff members. In cases of non-compliance, Germany calls for clarification and appropriate measures within the UN rules and regulations.”
However, other UNRWA donor nations seemed less bothered by the allegations against UNRWA. The Danish Foreign Ministry declared, “The EU and its member states are proud to support UNRWA’s work in providing essential services to Palestine refugees, which should be seen as an inseparable part of our effort to reach a negotiated two-state solution and a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The EU and its member states are collectively the largest contributors to UNRWA.” The Danish Foreign Ministry denied any allegations of corruption: “UNRWA has rigorous processes and mechanisms in place for the implementation and enforcement of its rules, regulations and policies relating to UN neutrality.”
While the Danish Foreign Ministry and UNRWA’s denial of the issues at hand is apparent, America’s isolationist approach will do nothing more than lead to other non-democratic forces taking over UNRWA, which will only exasperate the issues at hand. Since UNRWA’s mandate renewal depends upon a UN General Assembly resolution, it is not realistic that UNRWA will simply disappear because that is what US President Donald Trump wants. Therefore, it would be much more effective for pro-democratic nations like the US to utilize their donations to UNRWA in order to ensure that the corruption, sexual abuse, ethical misconduct and war curriculum within the international humanitarian organization comes to an end. If donor nations apply enough pressure, this is within the realm of the possible. However, it simply won’t happen if America continues to promote an isolationist foreign policy.