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March 15, 2018 4:57 pm

UN Watchdog: Aid Cuts Should Be ‘Part of a Focused US Strategy to Reform and Ultimately Dismantle UNRWA’

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Palestinian UNRWA employees march in a Gaza City protest against the recent US decision to cut aid to the organization, Jan. 29, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Mohammed Salem.

The head of a prominent UN monitoring group expressed hope on Thursday that recent US cuts to the global body’s Palestinian refugee agency were “part of a focused US strategy to reform and ultimately dismantle UNRWA.”

Hillel Neuer — head of the Geneva-based NGO UN Watch — told The Algemeiner, “It’s high time for the international community to stop being complicit with the destructive practices of UNRWA, which harms Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

On Thursday, 90 countries met in Rome hoping to make up a $65 million shortfall created by US funding cuts to the organization. This amounts to 30 percent of the agency’s total budget.

UNRWA was established to provide temporary relief to refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. However, it has developed into a permanent welfare system that now serves five million Palestinians.

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It remains controversial for several reasons, among them the fact that it considers all descendents of the 1948 refugees to be refugees as well. This policy is unique in the world and applies to no other group of refugees.

Concerns have also been raised about UNRWA employees’ ties to terrorism, the use of its facilities for terrorist purposes, and anti-Israel incitement in its media and educational activities.

This year, the US chose to cut its donations to UNRWA in half. According to Foreign Policy, this was done in retaliation for the UN General Assembly’s condemnation of President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, apparently at the urging of America’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness was quoted saying, “UNRWA has received $60 million from the US and currently has no indications that it is going to receive any more. So as things stand right now, and for UNRWA’s planning purposes, the agency is assuming that there will be a reduction this year in the US funding stream of over $300 million.”

Gunness did not respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.

Despite prodigious lobbying by UNRWA, no countries have made significant efforts to alleviate its financial crisis.

Neuer said, “UNRWA’s aim is not to resettle refugees or solve problems but rather to perpetuate them, using Palestinians as pawns in an attempt to sustain a political grievance against Israel. It’s the only UN organization with a humanitarian mandate that engages in overt and often aggressive political advocacy, headed by its notoriously pro-Hamas spokesman Chris Gunness.”

Neuer pointed to considerable evidence of the agency’s political bias, saying, “Despite its claim to neutrality, if you see their regular social media posts on Twitter and Facebook, it’s clear that UNRWA has become the largest and most energetic anti-Israel agency in the entire United Nations, which already has quite a few.”

“As an example of the agency’s vitriol, it suffices to see what UNRWA teachers post on Facebook,” he continued. “UN Watch research has exposed dozens and dozens of UNRWA teachers and staffers celebrating the terrorist kidnapping of Israeli teenagers, cheering rockets being fired at Israeli civilian centers, endorsing various forms of violence, erasing Israel from the map, praising Hitler and posting his photo, and posting overtly antisemitic videos, caricatures, and statements.”

The response from UNRWA to these problems, Neuer said, has been simply to deny that they exist.

“I trust,” he stated, “that Ambassador Haley will ensure that the cuts are part of a focused US strategy to reform and ultimately dismantle UNRWA.”

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