FRESH AIR

UNRWA is NOT running out of money. Who says so? UNRWA does!

Feb 16, 2024 | Allon Lee

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Despite many scare quotes from UN officials and hysterical commentators, UNRWA, the main UN agency for Palestinians, is not about to run out of money.

Who says so? UNRWA does.

Widespread claims that a funding freeze by the US, Australia and 13 other donor countries will cause UNRWA to run out of money by the end of February – thereby potentially consigning millions of people in Gaza to starve to death – are just plain wrong.

Former long time UNRWA chief spokesperson Chris Gunness typified this view on Feb. 5 when he pointed the finger at donor states which are merely trying to ensure their generous funding is not going to prop up Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.  According to Gunness, any donor which continues withholding money pledged to UNRWA should be “investigated for a move which humanitarian experts say will cause mass starvation.”

But a close examination of information supplied by UNRWA itself, and of statements from its own spokespeople, contradicts such claims, undermines the predicted worst-case scenario, and exposes the cynical tactics of UNRWA and its partisans.

A briefing document on UNRWA’s own website written by Daniel Forti – an expert from the International Crisis Group – says it “could run out of resources,” by the end of this month if the freeze is not lifted, but not that it actually will.

In fact, Forti actually concedes that it is highly unlikely UNRWA will run out of money anytime soon, saying that by “reshuffl[ing] expenditures”, UNRWA can “push the moment when the shortfall hits into April.”

Meaning UNRWA’s cupboard will not be bare in two weeks – it actually has a minimum of six weeks.

This puts a different perspective on UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini’s statement on Feb. 1 that:

“If the funding remains suspended, we will most likely be forced to shut down our operations by end of February not only in Gaza but also across the region.”

Significantly, Forti also reveals that some of the donors – whom he doesn’t name – froze their funding after having carefully calculated that it will cause minimal damage to UNRWA.

As Forti writes: “Some donors have quietly argued that their suspensions will not have a major immediate impact.”

In fact, Forti concedes the amount of money frozen by the US, which is UNRWA’s largest donor and the first country that announced a funding freeze, “will affect only [US] $330,000 of imminent payments.”

That amount is minuscule relative to the total annual funding the US gives UNRWA each year.

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller disclosed this point, somewhat sheepishly, in a press conference on January 30. After noting that it was only US$330,000 that was delayed, he added: “Bear in mind that the US donates between [US] 300 to 400 million dollars a year in funding.”

While Forti claims the funding freeze will affect US$440 million in “near-term funding”, that is not the whole picture either.

As this report from the New York Times on Feb. 5 noted, many of the frozen payments were not due for some time and in the case of the US, its next instalment of US$121 million is only meant to be paid in May – some ten weeks away:

Some of those suspensions will take time to take effect. Countries deliver their donations at intervals throughout the year, and some of the countries were not scheduled to make their payments for several months. For example, the United States had already made the first of its three instalments in January, and the second U.S. payment is not due until May, according to the documents.

It also appears, according to the NY Times report, that the money affected by the funding freeze in February is not US$440 million but only US$60 million, which includes the withheld contributions by Finland, Germany, Japan and Sweden.

The NY Times report goes on to say that there are other potential revenue sources for UNRWA to circumvent the funding freeze: “The agency could bridge the gap by applying for a loan from a centralized U.N. reserve.”

Meanwhile, on Feb. 4, the UK Times reported that “Mr Lazzarini plans to travel to oil-rich Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, in a bid to secure emergency funding.”

Another message on rotation to pressure donors to turn the funding tap back on but which needs querying, is the claim that only UNRWA can oversee aid into Gaza.

Canada didn’t get the memo when it decided to redirect C$40 million in funding away from UNRWA to other aid organisations including World Food Program, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

No one questions that Palestinian civilians in Gaza deserve and need aid, food, shelter and medicines.

But it is also apparent that UNRWA is not at risk of imminent collapse and is seeking to deflect attention away from the ever-growing mountain of evidence that has left its reputation in tatters – while also using the current occasion to get new funding pledges from additional sources, such as the Gulf States, which normally give the agency very little money.

Its culture of continual denial is not doing it any favours.

UNRWA’s professing ignorance in response to the astounding revelation this week that Hamas’ main IT data centre in Gaza not only was directly located beneath the server room in UNRWA’s headquarters, but cables from inside the headquarters were actually supplying it with electricity, is scarcely believable. Likewise, is its refusal to accept that up to ten percent of its 13,000 employees in Gaza are reportedly affiliated with Hamas and other terrorist groups.

UNRWA is clearly not on its last legs and more than a pinch of salt is required when assessing claims made by its staff and its many apologists.

But then anyone who has seen the blatant double standards against Israel and heard the biased double speak emanating from the UN and UNRWA over recent years would already know that.

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