IN THE MEDIA

Backing UNRWA will not bring Middle East peace

Mar 20, 2024 | Colin Rubenstein

UNRWA's Gaza headquarters (Image: Shutterstock)
UNRWA's Gaza headquarters (Image: Shutterstock)

An edited version of this article appeared in the Daily Telegraph and Adelaide Advertiser  – 20 March 2024

 

The Australian Government’s decision on Friday to restore funding to the UN’s Palestinian Refugee Agency UNRWA was a serious error, given the mounting evidence of UNRWA’s strong complicity with Hamas – the terrorist entity that has ruled the Gazan territory since 2007 and orchestrated the October 7 massacre.

Given recent revelations, Australia should not be reverting to our long-standing, lazy tradition of handing over tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to UNRWA annually with no strings attached.

It is a fundamentally problematic organisation that undermines Australia’s long-standing bipartisan policy goal of seeking to further a negotiated two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Almost from its inception in 1949, it has been hijacked to serve the interests of an ongoing battle against the very existence of the State of Israel and played a spoiling role that discourages resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians through two states for two peoples.

It is a refugee organisation that has developed and applied a unique set of conditions and policies applicable only to Palestinians. These conditions include defining a refugee as anyone who had lived in Mandate Palestine for as little as 2 years before the State of Israel was established and then declaring anyone with refugee status can pass that status on to all descendants in perpetuity, even if they obtain citizenship of another country. This is the reason the number of Palestinian “refugees” has exploded from about 700,000 in 1948 to almost 6 million today.

More importantly, UNRWA’s mandate never included resettling the refugees or helping them build new lives in new homes. Instead, it provides them with services until a solution to their plight can be found, thus deliberately keeping five generations of Palestinian refugees in a never-ending state of uncertainty and rootlessness.

This is in complete contrast to the UN agencies that serve every other refugee group on Earth. These all help people in whatever way best serves their needs, rather than keeping them permanently in a difficult situation, apparently to make a political point.

UNRWA may officially be an instrument of the United Nations, but in practice, it is a Palestinian organisation run by Palestinians, with only a few dozen foreigners amidst its 30,000 employees. It thus has an unofficial agenda of teaching its Palestinian clients the fantasy that one day Israel will be gone, and they will “return” to the land their ancestors fled.

This is completely incompatible with the stated two-state goal of much of the international community, including the Australian Government.

More recently, the October 7 massacre exposed dramatically the organisation’s complicity with Hamas. UNRWA employs terrorists, incites violence, educates young people toward hatred and intolerance, and cooperates willingly with Hamas. Israel has alleged that 10% of its 13000 Gaza staff are members of terror groups, while at least half have a close family connection to Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Israel has released seemingly irrefutable evidence that at least 12 employees were directly involved in the October 7 massacres.

In addition, Israeli forces discovered a massive Hamas Data Centre directly underneath UNRWA’s main headquarters in Gaza. UNRWA rather unconvincingly claimed no knowledge of this, even though the Data Centre was plugged directly into UNRWA’s electricity supply!

This evidence led to many countries, including Australia, correctly deciding to stop funding UNRWA in January pending a thorough investigation – and that investigation has not yet been completed.

However, UNRWA along with the UN, mounted a successful public relations campaign demanding the funding resume, and warning of a “catastrophic” humanitarian situation, including famine and “mass starvation”  in Gaza. They insisted that only UNRWA could deliver the much-needed aid.

But while aid is essential, it simply isn’t true that UNRWA alone can manage it effectively. Israeli intelligence estimates that around 60% of that aid is being stolen by Hamas anyway, meaning UNRWA’s recent deliveries of aid have hardly been effective or efficient.

Israel and the US have already started working with alternative groups such as the UN World Food Program to deliver aid. The UN has many mechanisms, including rapid response programs, to deliver aid to large numbers of people in catastrophic situations in areas far larger than Gaza, including the above-mentioned World Food Program, UNICEF (to which Australia has just also announced an additional $4 million in aid for urgent services in Gaza), the Food and Agriculture Organisation as well as others. They have operated successfully in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Sudan and more.

Given there are clear aid delivery alternatives, as well as UNRWA’s documented collusion with terrorists, the Australian Government’s decision makes little sense. By restoring funding, it will be undermining its own primary foreign policy goal in the Middle East, namely encouraging a negotiated resolution involving two states living in peace.

If Australia truly believes in that policy, then it needs to understand that dismantling UNRWA and its weaponisation of the refugees, generation after generation, is an essential precondition for achieving that aim. Its responsibilities for assisting refugees can be achieved by other agencies if they are given the same funding. We need to look at the overwhelming evidence and recognise that UNRWA is serving as a serious obstacle to peace and thus harming both Israelis and Palestinians.

Dr Colin Rubenstein is Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

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