Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: The real waste and destructiveness of UNRWA

Aug 29, 2019 | Tzvi Fleischer

UNWRA: Facing allegations of corruption, sexual misconduct, nepotism, waste and poor management
UNWRA: Facing allegations of corruption, sexual misconduct, nepotism, waste and poor management


As readers may be aware, an internal UN report has been leaked accusing the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN body that looks after Palestinian refugees, of corruption, sexual misconduct, nepotism, waste, and poor management among its leadership team. This comes on top of long-standing complaints about the agency, including:

  • Its tolerance of incitement to hatred and violence in its schools and other institutions;
  • Its unique definition of who is a Palestinian refugee that means the number of such refugees will expand forever; 
  • Its political promotion of the legally-baseless Palestinian “right of return”, contradicting the two-state solution and thus damaging any realistic hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace. 

Now, the American blogger “Elder of Ziyon” has called attention to some material from UNRWA’s own website demonstrating how the latter two political stances lead to gross waste by the agency, quite apart from the current scandal.

Basically, “Elder of Ziyon” points to three facts noted on the UNRWA website:

  • UNWRA says it has “started construction on a new health centre in Zohour area within the Jordanian capital Amman. … The actual construction activities started late in July 2019 and the health centre is expected to be functional by August 2020 and will improve access to health care for over 68,000 Palestine refugees in the area.”
  • UNRWA admits “In Jordan, the 2.2 million Palestine refugees who are registered with UNRWA enjoy broad inclusion in social and economic life. The vast majority have Jordanian nationality, with the exception of some 158,000 ‘ex-Gazan’ refugees,” and “[M]ost of the over 2 million Palestine refugees in Jordan have been granted citizenship, and have the same access to health care as other Jordanian citizens.” (Emphasis added.)
  • UNRWA says “In Jordan, our clinics serve more than 1.1 million people, nearly 56 per cent of the registered Palestine refugees in the country.”

What these three facts amount to is this: UNRWA is paying to run, and even currently expanding, a separate and discriminatory health care system in Jordan which is almost completely unnecessary. 

Jordan’s health care system is considered quite good, and some people from other Middle Eastern countries even travel to Jordan for medical treatment. The UNRWA-registered refugees in Jordan – really any Jordanian resident who can trace their ancestry to one or more refugees from the 1948 war – are overwhelmingly (93%) Jordanian citizens and have access to this perfectly good healthcare system. 

Yet UNRWA maintains its own separate system which caters only to those it defines as refugees, excluding all other Jordanians, and is even expanding that system. 

Meanwhile, UNRWA is going around the world asking for emergency funds to continue its welfare operations in the face of recent cuts in aid, especially from the US, previously the agency’s largest donor. 

So why does the badly financially strapped UNRWA maintain this unnecessary health care system in Jordan? Basically, it’s because UNRWA’s original aid mission has been completely politicised, and become wedded to the Palestinian demand for a “right of return.” 

To preserve the “right of return”, UNRWA insists that no Palestinian refugee or their descendants can ever cease to be a refugee – until that mythical day when they all return to their original ancestral homes inside Israel. Thus, Jordanian citizens must remain refugees in their eyes, in blatant contravention of any reasonable definition of a refugee – that is, someone who cannot live in his country of citizenship due to persecution or violence. 

And to emphasise that Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship remain refugees with a “right of return” to Israel, UNRWA insists on providing services to them they don’t really need. 

Donors to UNRWA, including Australia, are now reconsidering their support for the organisation in the wake of the new corruption allegations. But they should also be demanding reforms that mean the organisation allocates funding and services to Palestinians according to genuine need, not in obviously wasteful ways serving a politicised agenda. 

Without such reforms, donors to UNRWA are complicit in this gross waste of funding, largely from Western taxpayers, in order to serve a political agenda completely inimical to support for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state resolution. 

Palestinians more open than leadership on Trump peace plan

This column has long taken an interest in polling of Palestinians that contradict conventional wisdom and expectations in terms of what ordinary Palestinian want and believe. Here’s a new one. 

Both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas have been adamantly opposed to the Trump Administration’s “Deal of the Century” plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, rejecting it and campaigning against it without even seeing the yet to be released details. Yet their own constituents are more open to the plan, according to a new poll. 

A poll by the Palestine Centre for Public Opinion, taken June 27-July 19, found that only 33% of West Bank residents and 34% of Gazans agreed with PA/Hamas stance of “reject[ing] the plan now.” A majority of Gazans (55%) and a plurality of West Bank residents (44%) said either that “the PA should not reject the plan, so Israel won’t be able to take advantage” or that “the PA should look at the plan when it is officially released, before taking any position on it.”

Another positive for US peacemaking efforts was that 61% of West Bank respondents and an amazing 86% of Gazans said that “Arab states should take a more active role in Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking, offering both sides incentive to take more moderate positions.” Such Arab involvement is a key element of the Trump Administration’s approach to peacemaking. 


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