What Biden is wrong about UNRWA
In a recent online seminar for Americans for Peace Now (APN), the new American ambassador to Israel, Thomas Nides, presented his vision for the Middle East. Among the topics he discussed was the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, better known as UNRWA. He said he did not believe giving money to UNRWA harmed Israel’s security.
Nides’ statement reflects his long-standing agenda. In 2012, it was Nides who sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, arguing against legislation that sought to distinguish between Palestinian Arabs displaced in 1948 and their descendants, who are also considered refugees. This essential distinction would reduce the number of registered refugees from the impossible number of 5 million to just 30,000. part of the Palestinians and our allies in the region, especially Jordan”.
In a way, Nides was right: telling the truth about Palestinian Arab refugees has consequences. In May 2021, when Israel waged its last war against Hamas in Gaza, Matthias Schmale, then UNRWA’s director of operations for the Gaza Strip, became persona non grata and was banned from returning to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Schmale’s crime was telling Channel 12 from Israel that the Israeli attacks on Hamas installations were precise: “I am not a military expert but I would not dispute that. I also feel like there is a huge sophistication in the way the Israeli military has struck over the past 11 days. Schmale also denied that there were shortages of food and medical supplies in Gaza.
Despite say that “So yes, they did not hit, with few exceptions, civilian targets, but the viciousness and ferocity of the strikes were strongly felt,” Schmale’s remarks sparked outrage among Palestinian factions, including the Hamas, which said its “comments are a complete bias in favor of the Zionists, including an attempt to exonerate the occupation from killing 254 Palestinians, over 40% of them children, women and the elderly. Other Palestinian factions were quick to argue that Schmale was “a major reason for the suffering of thousands of Palestinian refugees and UNRWA workers in the Gaza Strip”.
Even the Obama administration has acknowledged that the 2014 Gaza war generated bad publicity for UNRWA. US lawmakers have demanded investigations into how Hamas weapons ended up in UNRWA schools. For the State Department, the matter is urgent, especially since section 301(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (amended) stipulate that
No United States contribution will be made to [UNRWA] except on condition that [UNRWA] take all possible steps to ensure that no part of the United States contribution will be used to provide assistance to a refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestine Liberation Army or any other guerrilla type organization or which has engaged in any act of terrorism.
As if there was any doubt about the Biden administration’s commitment to UNRWA, the United States already renewed its financial commitment to UNRWA when the United States Office of Population, Refugees and Migration State Department said on Twitter that UNRWA money will “provide education, health care and emergency relief to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children and families in a time of need”. The State Department even went so far as to hire Elizabeth Campbellformer UNRWA Washington lobbyist who helped spread hate education via UNRWA textbooks.
Washington has backed UNRWA for decades largely because it does not want the Palestinian issue to threaten other political imperatives. During the Cold War, these were defined as containing communism through various security arrangements and maintaining the flow of energy resources from oil-producing Arab states. American diplomatic efforts to establish a Palestinian state began in the post-Cold War context of unchallenged American power and growing regional hegemonies. But the energies were directed through the Oslo process and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, an entity that deliberately failed to create stable foundations for a Functional state.
Nides, Campbell and others are representative of the Biden administration’s animosity toward Israel. Biden follows the Obama administration’s playbook of “tough love” vis-a-vis Israel, rushing to embrace Iran and a perilous nuclear deal that has terrified Arabs and Israelis. Support for Palestinian causes like UNRWA, as well as Nides’ hysteria over Israeli construction in the West Bank, are humiliations hurled at the dwindling number of ideologues who think the world revolves around Palestine.
But the one place where Palestine increasingly matters is in American politics, where the issue has been taken up by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. It is unclear how the promotion of Palestinian ideology – which claims that they have the right to return to places once occupied by parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who are now in Israel, and in the process of transforming Israel into a Jewish minority state – serves American policy. , much less the cause of peace. Pumping more money into UNRWA is a bad thing because it is an inexplicable black hole. Ultimately, American taxpayers’ money would be better spent promoting independent civic organizations and private sector growth.
Asaf Romirowsky is Executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA).