An end to UNRWA? Palestinians decry changes floated by UN

As Palestinians cry foul over suggested changes in aid distribution, prominent Arab affairs expert tells World Israel News that shuttering UNRWA is long overdue.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Palestinian officials and activists are expressing their vehement objection to potential changes to UNRWA, the UN’s aid organization for Palestinians, with some saying the shifts represent a move towards dismantling the entity.

UNRWA was founded in 1949 and is the only UN agency dedicated to helping a specific group of people, and was ostensibly created to help those displaced by the establishment of the state of Israel with their material and economic needs.

Critics have said that UNRWA is guilty of dragging out the conflict by applying refugee status to third and fourth generation Palestinians — a phenomenon that’s unparalleled anywhere else in the modern world. This enables Arab countries surrounding Israel to avoid awarding citizenship and rights to Palestinians who have been present in their lands for upwards of seven decades.

The UN agency has also been slammed by the international community for employing people linked to terror and violent Islamic extremism. The Israeli government has repeatedly blasted UNRWA for teaching anti-Israel and antisemitic material in its schools.

In late April, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini announced that some of the aid organization’s services may be delegated to other UN agencies.

Lazzarini attributed the potential changes to budgetary concerns, but Palestinian leaders were quick to claim that the potential reforms are part of a plot to dissolve the agency.

The floated changes are “an attempt to dismantle UNRWA as a prelude to ending its work,” Mohammad al-Madhoun, a senior official in the Hamas terror group, told AFP.

Muhammed Shehada, chief of programs at the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, said that UNRWA is “not just about the delivery of services,” and that its symbolic value is incredibly important.

“As long as UNRWA is there, it’s a reminder that the international community has a responsibility to solve the issue of Palestinian refugees,” he told AFP.

Dr. Edy Cohen

Dr. Edy Cohen (Screenshot)

But Dr. Edy Cohen, a prominent Arab affairs commentator and professor at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center, told World Israel News that dismantling UNRWA is long overdue.

“UNRWA should have been shuttered a long time ago,” he said. “The problem is that [its administrators] have salaries, they have careers, there are managers…they aren’t actually supporting the Palestinians, they are supporting [themselves.]

“They want to continue working and getting salary raises. And that’s why for more than 70 years, UNRWA has been throwing money at Palestinians, pointlessly.”

Many countries have recognized the inherent flaws in UNRWA and cut off donations and funding to the organization years ago, he said.

“Trump understood this, [the majority of] Arab countries understood this. Nobody donates to UNRWA except for one or two Arab countries and idiotic Europeans.”

Cohen dismissed the idea that dissolving UNRWA would lead to a humanitarian crisis.

“First off, the number of Palestinians [that UNRWA] reports to serve is inaccurate. There are locals [in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan] who told UNRWA that they are Palestinians” generations ago in order to receive free medical care, financial assistance and material aid, he said.

In fact, Cohen added, the existence of UNRWA has created a “learned helplessness” among Palestinians that prevents them from becoming self-sufficient and cements them as forever dependent upon international aid.

Weekly rations of salt, rice, meat, sugar and more provided by the organization mean that the Palestinians are “accustomed to laziness and unemployment, and receiving money without doing anything.” The Palestinians “of course want this situation to continue in perpetuity,” he said.

The Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland temporarily suspended funding to UNRWA in 2019 due to concerns over mismanagement, corruption, and discrimination among the group’s upper management. Later that year, the nations restored their donations to the organization.