The United Nations has begun exploring alternatives to the mandate of UNRWA, the relief agency it created in 1949 to specifically cater to Palestinian refugees.

The latest steps come against the backdrop of allegations that the agency’s actions are tainted by corruption. UNRWA directors have been accused of abusing authority for their personal gain and suppressing legitimate dissent “to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”

The Trump administration has been pushing for reforms in UNRWA and has even sanctioned the agency over its failed financial practices, withholding over $100 million in funding.

For years Israel has accused UNRWA of being grossly one-sided in favor of the Palestinians, while UNRWA-sponsored schools for Palestinian children have also come under criticism for using textbooks that blatantly incite against and demonize Israel.

Israel Hayom has learned, meanwhile, that the office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has asked pro-Israel non-governmental organizations to submit proposals for UNRWA operations.

One of the NGO’s approached by Guterres’ office is the Center for Near East Policy Research – headed by journalist David Bedein – which has long-been been a vocal critic of UNRWA. Decades ago, Bedein was among the first to shine a light the severe deficiencies within UNRWA’s operations and is a respected voice on the subject.

Guterres initially met personally with Bedein and his associate, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Director of Global Social Action Agenda of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Cooper is a leading voice in the fight against anti-Semitism, and has also been seeking reforms in UNRWA for years. Following their meeting, the UN chief tasked one of his advisers with continuing to hold consultations with Bedein and Cooper.

“I’m not against UNRWA, and not against the Palestinians,” Bedein told Israel Hayom.

“I approached this issue because in my training I’m a social worker and I wanted to help rehabilitate the refugees. But from the moment I discovered that UNRWA adopted the principles of the Palestinian Liberation Organization – which aspires to destroy the State of Israel, and not the values of the UN, which aspires to resolve conflicts and strive for peace – I understood that the refugees cannot be rehabilitated in a professional manner.

“Therefore, the extension of UNRWA’s mandate, which is planned for the near future, needs to be conditioned on transparency and a fundamental change of [UNRWA’s] educational system,” said Bedein.

Cooper added that he was particularly incredulous over Germany and Japan turning a blind eye to the issue.

“These two countries decided to insert themselves… and supplement the budget and donations the American administration stopped paying. Even if I disagree I can understand it. What I can’t understand, however, is why these countries agree to donate tens of millions of dollars without oversight and no transparency?! I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Cooper said.

Increasing oversight

The sides have thus far held four meetings on the matter, with another one scheduled for mid-November.

In the meetings, Cooper, Bedein and other researchers presented Guterres’ representative with their findings into UNRWA’s severe deficiencies. They put an emphasis on the rampant incitement against Israel and Jews in UNRWA-run schools in east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon.

The UN official was also shown the stark difference between the mandate given to UNRWA by the UN, and the mandate it has given to The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency, which handles all the other refugees in the world. For example, the UNHCR is required to rehabilitate the refugees under its purview, while UNRWA perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees.

Similarly, the Palestinians are the only ones permitted to hand down their refugee status from generation to generation in perpetuity, while others across the globe lose their refugee status after a generation or two. As a consequence, the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who fled Israel during the 1948 War of Independence have since ballooned to nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees – a phenomenon without parallel in the world.

The most urgent step required to properly manage UNRWA, Bedein and Cooper told the UN official, is to increase oversight and transparency over the agency, as donor countries are also in the dark over how their money is spent.  The UN official requested more detailed proposals and the sides agreed that the alternatives would be presented at the fifth meeting in around a week and a half.

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