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July 1, 2018 6:51 pm

Is America Finally Ending Funding for Palestinian Terrorism?

avatar by Emily Benedek


Palestinian students raise their hands in a school run by UNRWA. Photo: UN / Shareef Sarhan.

A curious item appeared last month on the Facebook page of the Palestinian Ministry of Education.

“The UNRWA Director in Jerusalem, Scott Anderson … confirmed that the Palestinian curriculum was completely devoid of any incitement, stressing that such curricula were devoted to students, the love of science, life and creativity…” (Google translation)

UNRWA is the UN agency charged with providing health services, education, and other aid to Palestinian refugees who were driven out of conflict areas when neighboring Arab states tried to destroy Israel during the 1948 War of Independence.

The Facebook post came at a charged moment, amid mounting international criticism of Palestinian Authority (PA) textbooks used to teach Palestinian school children in the West Bank and Gaza.

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According to two recent studies, the PA curriculum incites hatred and violence against Jews and Israel, and fails to follow UNESCO standards of teaching peace and tolerance, and respect for the other. The studies have prompted the EU to pass legislation that restricts funds to schools whose lessons do not comply with UNESCO standards, and led the UK to state it was “very concerned” and would study the matter further. At the same time, the US has now withheld $65 million in payments to UNRWA, citing the need for unspecified reforms.

In this context, is it possible that UNRWA’s Director of West Bank operations could have made such a statement?

When asked in an e-mail, Anderson replied that he was departing for a “short leave,” and would refer the question to an UNRWA spokesperson.

After five days, an UNRWA spokesperson replied.

“The quote appears to be inaccurate,” the official said. “To begin with, UNRWA only teaches grades one to nine not up to grade 12 so it is most unlikely Scott would have made such a sweeping statement. The language is also not the kind of language he uses (the UN has a style guide and Scott is adept at adhering to it) and finally the text has very obvious signs of PA spin on the issue of education.”

Why on earth would the PA put words into the mouth of a high-level director of an agency that the Palestinian people depend on for millions of dollars in aid every year?

“For the PA to go to such lengths as to construct a quote from a senior UNRWA official,” suggests Marcus Sheff, CEO of IMPACT-se, one of the research organizations that has studied the PA curriculum, “shows what an important part of the PA strategy this curriculum is — and the lengths that they will go to in order to protect and maintain it. They are trying to defend the indefensible.”

That curriculum, Sheff says, is designed to keep Palestinian children “in a permanent state of agitated readiness for martyrdom.”

The curriculum for 2017-2018 has ramped up its radicalism, and revives pan-Islamic and anti-Western indoctrination, including Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood themes. An IMPACT-se report claims that the PA curriculum places increased emphasis on the importance of war and jihad, and features “a dramatic rise in the presentation of the return of Palestinians into Israel proper.”

According to a UN spokesperson, “UNRWA reviews all the PA text books we use in our schools to make sure they accord with UN values. We apply three criteria 1) gender balance, 2) age appropriateness and 3) political neutrality and where we find problematic materials, we produce enriched classroom materials for our teachers to use. We have found less than three per cent of the materials to be problematic.” The spokesperson explained that corrective UNRWA material is taught to the students by their teachers after the introduction of objectionable material.

But trouble at both the PA and UNRWA may run deeper. Both the Trump administration and the US Congress are pressing for fundamental changes. On Monday, i24 News reported that the US had suspended all aid to the PA. The Israeli news agency quoted a Senate Foreign Relations Committee aide who said, “Our understanding is that US funding to the West Bank and Gaza is on hold pending an administration review.”

If accurate, this temporary withholding of funds is best understood in the context of increased administration and Congressional scrutiny prior to the expected introduction of President Trump’s peace deal, says a Congressional staffer.

It has now been six months since President Trump withheld $65 million from the UNRWA budget, creating critical shortages in the agency’s ability to provide health care, employment, and other services to Palestinians. UNRWA has launched a major new fundraising campaign, receiving new pledges from the UK, Belgium, and Ireland — but it has not been able to fill the large gap made from the withholding of US money.

Support for both UNRWA and the PA has also faced formidable head winds in the US Congress. In March, in a rider to the omnibus $1.3 trillion spending bill, Congress passed the Taylor Force Act, which cuts off certain tranches of aid to the PA until it ends stipends to convicted terrorists and the families of slain attackers — although it’s up to the Trump administration to follow through on this directive. The act was named for American graduate student Taylor Force, who was killed in a terror attack in Tel Aviv in 2016. The PA has allocated some $350 million for such terror payments in its 2018 budget, according to Palestinian Media Watch.

Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) said that, “Passing the Taylor Force Act was monumental because it demonstrated that America will not continue to send hard-earned tax dollars to an entity that financially rewards and incentivizes terrorism against innocents. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been discussed for over 70 years, and until we were able to send the Palestinians a message that we will not move forward until this issue is addressed, we could not have an honest conversation about what a future peace deal will look like.”

President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to stop these payments, which he refers to as “social responsibility.”

On June 7, a bipartisan bill, HR 6034, “Palestinian Authority Educational Curriculum Transparency Act” was introduced in the House by David Young (R-IA). The proposed bill requires the State Department to conduct its own study of PA educational material, every year for 10 years. Under the proposed legislation, the Secretary of State is directed to determine “whether all content and passages encouraging violence or intolerance toward other nations or ethnic groups has been removed,” and to include “a detailed explanation of the reasons for reaching such determination.” The State Department must also determine whether US  assistance has been used directly or indirectly, “to fund the dissemination of such curriculum by the Palestinian Authority or UNRWA.” Any such report would be required to be made public on the State Department’s web site, addressing earlier Congressional criticism of the State Department for classifying a GAO report on the PA’s hate-filled curriculum.

Similarly, language was recently inserted into the latest House Appropriations bill that prohibits further funding of UNRWA until the Secretary of State can “ensure” that UNRWA does not hire staff members who are members of Hamas or other terror organizations. (UNRWA schools were used to store munitions during the 2014 war with Israel, and have been accused of having many Hamas members on the payroll.)

More critically, the Appropriations language also requires the Secretary of State to produce a report on the definition of Palestinian refugees used by UNRWA, and how that definition compares with that used by UNHCR (the UN refugee agency that cares for the world’s 65 million other refugees aside from the Palestinians), other UN agencies, and the United States government.

UNRWA counts millions of Palestinians as “refugees” because the agency considers all descendants — including adopted children — of the original refugees to be refugees themselves. No other refugee agency except UNRWA is known to include the descendants of refugees in its definition.

Under the proposed language, the Secretary of State is also required to determine whether UNRWA’s unique definition, which causes refugees to be added to the rolls generation by generation ad infinitum, “furthers the prospects for lasting peace in the region and the sustainability of UNRWA’s operations.”

The number and definition of Palestinian refugees constitutes a central obstacle to Middle East peace efforts, and a significant sticking point in reforming UNRWA. The agency was created in 1950 to provide services to those “whose normal place of residence was Mandatory Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab–Israeli conflict.”

Over the years, however, the General Assembly expanded its definition of Palestinian refugees to include descendants of the original Palestinians displaced by the 1967 War, Palestinians who are now citizens of other countries, as well as those living in the West Bank and Gaza — a possible future Palestinian state. It is generally believed the number of original refugees is now about 30,000, while UNRWA rolls have swelled to over 5 million. (Since 2015, the US State Department has classified its own calculations of the number of refugees.)

This is the point where PA politics meet UNRWA bureaucracy.

By teaching the “right of return” in its schools, UNRWA endorses the PA demand that in addition to being granted its own state in the West Bank and Gaza, that all refugees — more than five million  — should be allowed to return to the homes their grandparents and great-grandparents left in 1948. Israel argues that such a population transfer into a country of six million Jews would obliterate its Jewish character.

According to Richard Goldberg, a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “The first matter that must be accurately determined is the real number of refugees. To the remainder, who live in the West Bank and Gaza, or have been settled in other countries, America should say: ‘You are not refugees. You are poor people who have been subjugated by your own leaders, who have been kept stateless and poverty stricken for the maintenance of their own power. You deserve better. We can help you get a better life, but it will never be via some fantasy of your conquering modern-day Israel. If you want help for your children to have a better life, you’re going to have to tell your leadership that [this] is what you want.’”

He further notes the following irony: “The Arab states created UNRWA as a political weapon in their war to destroy the state of Israel almost 70 years ago. But now, two of those Arab states have peace treaties with Israel and a few more consider Israel as a strategic partner rather than an enemy. Yet still, 70 years later, these Arab states are held hostage by their own creation.”

Indeed, a month after the US Congress passed the Taylor Force Act, the “State of Palestine” participated in a “ministerial conference against terror funding, which was held in the French capital Paris under the headline No Money for Terrorism,” according to the official PA news agency WAFA.

That’s right. The PA — which pays monthly salaries to jailed and dead terrorists (through their families) — participated in an international conference aimed at stopping terror financing. The international community must end its unwitting financing of terror — and the UNRWA charade — once and for all.

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