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Ending UNRWA Could Speed Up a Humanitarian Solution & Help Dismantle Hamas

POLICY PAPER


The UN’s Palestinian Refugee Agency, UNRWA, is facing a significant crisis after numerous countries decided to cease funding due to revelations of Hamas's substantial influence over it. The distressing images from Gaza heightened concerns of a severe humanitarian crisis. This confluence of humanitarian concerns and the funding shortfall for UNRWA could precipitate a dire situation at Israel's doorstep.


How do we navigate this predicament? This document posits that dissolving UNRWA and even the proceedings in the Hague against Israel, could potentially create the circumstances to exert effective pressure on Egypt to temporarily host refugees within its borders. Such an approach could represent humanitarian relief while furthering Israel's objectives in the conflict.

 


The Issue

 

A recent WSJ article shed light on the extent of Hamas's control over UNRWA, leading several countries, including the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, Finland, Romania, and the EU, to withdraw their financial support for the agency.


This abrupt withdrawal poses a dilemma for Israel, given UNRWA's spokesperson's prediction that the agency's funds will deplete within a month. Despite not viewing itself as accountable for Gaza, Israel has a vested interest in averting a humanitarian disaster.


In practice, the Israeli government continues to engage with UNRWA. Although the Knesset's foreign affairs committee recently addressed this matter, there appears to be no comprehensive governmental discussion on it. Moreover, during a recent congressional hearing, an American expert highlighted Israel's advocacy for UNRWA's indispensability.


Gaza
A picture from a video on the Telegram channel الجرمق (1/24) in which a Palestinian claims, "It wasn't the Jews who imposed a siege on us," but rather Egypt.

In practice, the Israeli government continues to engage with UNRWA. Although the Knesset's foreign affairs committee recently addressed this matter, there appears to be no comprehensive governmental discussion on it. Moreover, during a recent congressional hearing, an American expert highlighted Israel's advocacy for UNRWA's indispensability.


Currently, approximately 2 million Palestinians find themselves in a perilous conflict zone with scant infrastructure. While the Russian invasion led to a massive influx of Ukrainian refugees into Europe, only a limited number of Palestinians have been permitted to enter Egypt.

 

Hamas and Egypt share an interest in preventing Palestinian refugees from escaping to Sinai. Hamas, recognized as a terrorist organization with de facto governing authority, does not see itself accountable to its constituents, potentially seeing a humanitarian crisis as a means to conclude the conflict without Israeli gains. Hamas members have also diverted humanitarian aid and fuel for their combatants' use. Egypt, for its part, is concerned that refugees arriving might not return to Gaza, prompting it to fortify its border.

 

The international community, viewing the displacement issue through a political lens instead of humanitarian ones, has not pressured Egypt to open its borders.



Dissolving UNRWA is in Israel's interest

 

Long-term, dissolving UNRWA aligns with the conflict's objectives and is crucial for Gaza's de-radicalization. This stance is supported by several factors:

 

  • Hamas's takeover of UNRWA: WSJ article reveals that 10% of UNRWA staff engaged in terrorist activities, 12 staff members even participated in the October 7 pogrom itself. In addition, the discovery of tunnels and armaments within UNRWA facilities suggests that the agency's management was likely aware of these activities.

  • UNRWA's perpetuation of refugee status: UNRWA's distinct 'refugee' definition uniquely allows refugee status to be inherited, , Unlike the UN Refugee Agency, which seeks to resettle refugees within a few years. Due to this skewed definition Palestinian refugees maintaining citizenship in their new countries continue to hold UNRWA's refugee status.

  • Incitement in UNRWA schools: There are allegations of education for terror, anti-Israel incitement, and severe anti-Semitism within UNRWA's internationally funded education system.



Advantages of dissolving UNRWA


  • Dismantling UNRWA would merge the governance and accountability in Gaza post-conflict. Abu-Marzouk, in an October interview, stated, "75% of Gaza's populace are refugees, hence under UN care." Essentially, UNRWA's role allowed Hamas, to adhere to its murderous ideology instead of serving its citizens and prepare for the October 7th assault.

  • Dismantling UNRWA: Resolving the Refugee Issue? Among the almost six million refugees registered by UNRWA, hundreds of thousands have departed the camps and migrated elsewhere, yet they continue to be counted as refugees by the agency. The dissolution of UNRWA would eliminate its distinct definition of Palestinian refugees in Gaza and other Middle Eastern countries where it operates and their numbers would significantly decrease. In other words, the idea of the  “Right of Return” will be put off the table.



The Israeli Dilemma


Israel faces a quandary, having previously preferred the status quo with UNRWA over substantial changes. With two million Palestinians now displaced, Israel is concerned about the absence of a channel for aid delivery.


Strategically, Israel has a unique opportunity to dissolve UNRWA, potentially transforming the conflict's dynamics and addressing a key structural obstacle. However, the lack of alternative humanitarian solutions could precipitate a severe crisis, likely placing blame on Israel.

 

Therefore, Israel should have a few working assumptions:


  • Hamas will come out victorious if a ceasefire is reached due to humanitarian crises. The implications of this for Israel are existential (We wrote about this here).

  • The Palestinian Authority's unables to replace UNRWA: given the current political climate and the PA's reluctance to be seen as collaborating with Israel against Hamas. Additionally, the prevailing political landscape in Israel may not support the approval of such an alternative. While a revitalized PA could offer a long-term resolution, it remains inapplicable to the current crisis.

  • Introducing other aid organizations is very complex, and would anyhow not solve the issue of millions maintained in a conflict zone.


Recommendation: Towards Egyptian Involvement


While the ICJ in The Hague contemplates genocide allegations against Israel, there's a conspicuous absence of international pressure on Egypt to admit Palestinian refugees temporarily. This step could offer immediate humanitarian relief, and will also allow Israel to continue its military campaign without hurting uninvolved civilians.


The global community has yet to challenge Egypt's closed-border stance effectively. The international community is ensnared in the same mindset as Egypt, treating the issue of Palestinian displacement primarily as a political concern rather than a humanitarian one.


  • In response to the proceedings in The Hague, Israel must demand the international community's active involvement in resolving Gaza's humanitarian crisis.

  • Israel must “lead from behind” an international effort to facilitate refugee transfer to Egypt , ensuring voluntary evacuation and providing international assurances for their eventual return to Gaza.

  • If Egypt maintains its refusal, despite the logistical difficulties, it can be done through other host countries.

  • Israeli politicians need to curb their unconstructive statements about the future of Gaza, as divisive statements can influence the international perception of the Palestinian displacement as more of a political issue than a humanitarian one


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