Israel Reportedly Steps up Campaign Against UN Refugee Agency Devoted to Palestinians
Israel is reportedly scaling up its campaign against the politicization of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which exclusively serves Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
According to the Hebrew newspaper Makor Rishon, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely is to meet with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) this week as part of a wider effort to secure the support of American legislators for the overhaul of UNRWA. In January, Cruz and his GOP colleague Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced legislation to end US funding to the UN in protest of the treatment of Israel by the global intergovernmental organization.
Hotovely’s initiative reflects a dramatic shift of opinion among Israeli leaders as to whether UNRWA should persist as a separate agency. While Israel has traditionally argued that UNRWA has been a stabilizing factor by providing health and social services to registered refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — who presently number more than 2 million people — there is now greater awareness of the agency’s role in perpetuating the refugee issue, one expert told The Algemeiner on Friday.
“The egregious part is that this is the only refugee problem in the world that continues to grow,” said Assaf Romirowsky, a fellow at the Middle East Forum think tank who has written widely on UNRWA.
While the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is responsible for all other refugee populations, does not permit refugees to transfer their status to future generations, UNRWA does — which means that the original refugee population of 750,000 in 1947 now numbers more than 5 million.
Romirowsky observed that Israel’s profound doubts about UNRWA are not shared internationally, including by the US. “Remember, the US still committed $300 million to UNRWA this year, and Canada came in with $25 million,” he said. “Over seventy years, the US has given nearly $70 billion to UNRWA.”
Securing a change in UNRWA’s definition of who qualifies as a refugee would be a difficult task, Romirowsky added, given that it underpins the “right of return” demanded by Palestinian leaders — and regarded by most Israelis as code for the elimination of the Jewish state.
At a meeting in Jerusalem in June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley that UNRWA should be dismantled, saying that the agency engaged in “incitement” against the Jewish state.