Israeli Envoy to UN Slams US Decision to Resume Aid to UNRWA Refugee Agency Dedicated to Palestinians

Palestinians pass by the gate of an UNRWA-run school in Nablus in the West Bank, August 13, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Abed Omar Qusini.

Israel’s envoy to the UN on Wednesday reacted angrily to the US State Department’s announcement that it was restoring aid to the Palestinians — including a $150 million sum for a UN agency that is dedicated solely to the descendants of Palestinian refugees and which has been denounced by Israel for propagating antisemitism.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, said in a statement that in conversations with US officials he had made clear his “disappointment and objection” to the renewal of funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) — a body created in 1947 to assist the Arab refugees from Israel’s 1947-48 War of Independence. UNRWA has been maintained in subsequent decades as a body dedicated to the descendants of the original 700,000 refugees, who presently number five million and are served by UNRWA centers in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

“Israel is strongly opposed to the anti-Israel and antisemitic activity happening in UNRWA’s facilities,” Erdan declared. “We believe that this UN agency for so-called ‘refugees’ should not exist in its current format. UNRWA schools regularly use materials that incite against Israel and the twisted definition used by the agency to determine who is a ‘refugee’ only perpetuates the conflict.”

Erdan said that in his recent discussions with the State Department, he had expressed his “disappointment and objection to the decision to renew UNRWA’s funding without first ensuring that certain reforms, including stopping the incitement and removing antisemitic content from its educational curriculum, are carried out.”

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Earlier on Wednesday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that the US was “pleased to announce that, working with Congress, we plan to restart US economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people.”

Blinken explained that this included “$75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million for peacebuilding programs through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and $150 million in humanitarian assistance for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).”

Blinken stressed that the US was “resuming support for UNRWA’s services, including education for over 500,000 Palestinian boys and girls, thereby providing hope and stability in UNRWA’s five fields of operation in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  Funding to UNRWA also provides critical COVID-19 assistance, including healthcare, medicine, and medical supplies, as well as cash and food assistance to families severely impacted by COVID-19.”

He noted as well that US was “deeply committed to ensuring that our partnership with UNRWA promotes neutrality, accountability, and transparency.”

“As with all of our engagements with UN institutions, the United States needs to be at the table to ensure that the reforms advance efficiencies and are in accord with our interests and values,” Blinken argued.

The reversal in the US position brings to an end the previous Trump Administration’s suspension of aid to the Palestinians, first announced in Aug. 2018 amid a deterioration of relations between the White House and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.

In a statement on Wednesday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-TX) and US Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) — ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — said that the resumption of aid to West Bank and Gaza “without concessions” from the PA undermines US interests.

“The PA is spending millions annually to compensate terrorists while the international community pays for the well-being of the Palestinian people,” the statement said. “The Biden Administration should use all available leverage to secure behavior changes from the PA, including ending terror payments. We will continue to scrutinize every proposed program to ensure the administration’s actions are in lockstep with the Taylor Force Act and in compliance with all laws governing assistance to the Palestinians.”

“UNRWA remains in desperate need of fundamental reform. Its waste, fraud, resistance to reform & internal turmoil make it among the most inefficient UN agencies,” said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in response to the news. “The Administration and Congress must press for dramatic changes to negate UNRWA’s harmful impact on Israeli-Palestinian relations and enable the troubled agency to efficiently deliver appropriate services.”

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