TEL AVIV – Israel is reportedly stepping up the pressure on American legislators to see the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which caters exclusively to Palestinian refugees and their descendants, absorbed into the UN agency that caters to the rest of the world’s 65 million refugees.
The Hebrew-language Makor Rishon newspaper reported that Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely is scheduled to meet with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) this week to discuss the option of dissolving UNRWA. In January, Cruz and Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced legislation that would defund the UN in protest over the Security Council’s passage of UN Resolution 2334, which deemed Israeli construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem “illegal.”
The campaign to overhaul UNRWA reflects a change in attitude among Israeli leaders, who now believe that the agency must be taken to task for its role in perpetuating the refugee problem.
“The egregious part is that this is the only refugee problem in the world that continues to grow,” Assaf Romirowsky, a fellow at the Middle East Forum think tank, told the Algemeiner.
Palestinians categorized as refugees are the only refugees in the world who are able to pass their status on to their descendants – even if they are citizens of another country. This means that the original half million refugees now number five million. In addition, they are the only refugee group in the world to have a UN agency dedicated solely to them, with the rest of the world’s 65 million refugees coming under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Romirowsky added that the international community – including the U.S. – largely views the agency in a positive light. “Remember, the U.S. still committed $300 million to UNRWA this year, and Canada came in with $25 million,” he said. “Over 70 years, the U.S. has given nearly $70 billion to UNRWA.”
He added that any change to UNRWA’s definition of a Palestinian refugee would prove a challenging undertaking since the “right of return” to Israel is one of the chief demands of Palestinian leadership – and one that Israel says would effectively wipe out the Jewish state.
Israel has called for UNRWA to be absorbed by the UNHCR after UNRWA discovered that underground terror tunnels built by Hamas were being dug beneath its schools in Gaza.
UNRWA has come under fire on many occasions both for spreading anti-Semitic hate in its schools and for employing members of terror organizations and supporters of terror. In February, UN Watch released an 130-page report exposing 40 UNRWA school employees in Gaza and elsewhere who engaged in incitement to terror against Israelis and expressed “anti-Semitism, including by posting Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler.”
That month the agency also announced the suspension of an UNRWA employee suspected of having been elected a Hamas leader.
The UN itself released a report in 2015 that found Palestinian terror groups used three empty UN-run schools in Gaza as a weapons cache. Moreover, it said that in at least two cases terrorists “probably” fired rockets at Israel from the schools during the 50-day summer conflict in 2014 between Israel and Hamas.
In June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Ambassador Haley that it was high time to “dismantle UNRWA and have its parts be integrated into the UN High Commission for Refugees,” accusing the agency of “incitement.”