A flurry of statements and articles by Sweden, the New York Times, and Foreign Policy, want us to believe that a U.S. reduction in its $360 million annual funding of UNRWA would bring humanitarian disaster and threaten international peace and stability. But according to a little-known internal audit, the United Nations itself found that UNRWA was particularly vulnerable to “misappropriation, graft and corruption” in its “procurement, partner selection, food and cash distribution, hiring and promotions, and other areas.” The U.N. audit also found that UNRWA’s oversight arrangements were deficient.
The audit expressly criticized the lack of “periodic, unannounced direct inspections of UNRWA shelters and facilities, food distribution centres, schools, and clinics.”
Recent reports of UNRWA filling high level positions with senior Hamas members, such as Suhail al-Hindi, and Hamas terrorist rockets being stored in UNRWA schools, demonstrate that UNRWA’s lack of oversight continues to be a problem.
This might explain the latest scandal over UNRWA being found to have drastically inflated its count of Palesitinian refugees in Lebanon.
While UNRWA puts the number of refugees there at 450,000, a new census by the Lebanese government finds that the actual number is less than half —only 175,000.
The Lebanese census calls into question the accuracy of UNRWA’s refugee count across the region. Donors should demand a thorough audit and overhaul of UNRWA’s refugee rosters.
The U.S. is right to question UNRWA funding for other reasons, too.
Indeed, the majority of UNRWA’s 5 million refugees would not be considered refugees at all under UNHCR standards. Take for example the more than 2 million UNRWA refugees in Jordan most of whom, according to UNRWA, have full Jordanian citizenship. Or the 2.1 million UNRWA refugees in the West Bank and Gaza who enjoy exactly the same rights and privileges as non-refugee Palestinians residing in those areas. Former UNRWA General Counsel James Lindsay sharply criticized UNRWA’s practice of treating these people as refugees.
Significantly, of the original 750,000 Palestine refugees (using UNRWA’s numbers), only about 20,000 remain. The rest of UNRWA’s refugees are descendants of the original refugees, entitled to Palestine refugee status under UNRWA’s special rules (which are not the same as those of UNHCR). Contrast the mushrooming of Palestinian refugees under UNRWA’s policy—backed by Arab host countries (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt)—of keeping the Palestinians in a perpetual state of refugeehood with the fate of the Jewish refugees from that same conflict. Some 850,000 Jews became refugees as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict after they were expelled from Arab countries and Iran, but they were resettled in Israel and the West and are no longer refugees.
It is through UNRWA’s policies of refusing to resettle Palestinian refugees in host countries, extending refugee status to the descendants of the original refugees forever, and it’s active promotion of the refugees’ so-called “right of return,” that UNRWA engages as an active player in the conflict violating its neutrality and, contrary to the purposes of the UN Charter, ensures that the conflict will continue forever.
UNRWA’s Spokesman Chris Gunness reinforced UNRWA’s position on the “right of return” in a 2011 article in which he argued that folding UNRWA into the UNHCR would not eliminate the right of return for Palestinian refugees because they “are entitled to a just and lasting solution to their plight,” and in the absence of such a solution “their status as refugees will remain.”
Consistent with its anti-peace narrative, UNRWA is currently running a major campaign under the hashtag #stillrefugees devoted exclusively to blaming Israel for injustices suffered by Palestinian refugees.
Leading UNRWA scholar Einat Wilf has criticized the West’s funding of UNRWA for these very reasons.
UN Watch has also been a leading critic of UNRWA, particularly the lack of neutrality of its staff in violation of the UN Charter and UN Staff Rules of Conduct. Last year, UN Watch published two reports detailing more than 60 examples of incitement by UNRWA educational staff—one in February 2017 and one in April 2017. UNRWA has ignored the issue by teaching its staff what not to post on social media, instead of refraining from hiring anti-Semitic staff in the first place and training its staff to promote peace rather than conflict.