TEL AVIV – A senior Palestinian official baselessly accused Israel and the U.S. of a joint conspiracy to “bring down” the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, which included leaking an internal United Nations ethics report alleging corruption, sexual misconduct and mismanagement at the highest levels of the agency.
The head of the PLO’s Department of Refugee Affairs Ahmed Abu Houli claimed the leak was part of a conspiracy to ensure that donor countries stop funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), according to a report in the Beirut-based news site Paltoday, citing a radio interview with Houli.
Next month, the UN is slated to vote to extend UNRWA’s mandate for three more years.
“The leaking of the UN investigative report before reaching the final decision is an open attempt to weaken UNRWA and keep donors from supporting and influencing the voting process for renewal,” Houli said without offering any evidence to back his charge.
“The US and Israeli campaign targeting UNRWA, which includes leaking the report, is part of [their joint] efforts to end UNRWA,” he said, adding that the U.S. is pressuring other donor countries to withdraw funding.
In the wake of the leaked report, Switzerland and the Netherlands announced that they were suspending payments to UNRWA pending a full investigation.
Senior officials at UNRWA, which faces a financial crisis after President Donald Trump’s decision to cut the U.S.’s $360 million contribution last year, are charged with “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives,” according to the report, which was obtained by AFP.
Houli added that the PLO’s executive committee, of which he is a member, would formulate a plan to “thwart” the U.S.’s attempts to block UNRWA’s funding.
The UN has said it is cooperating fully with an internal investigation into the report, but added that it cannot comment in detail because the probe is ongoing, AFP reported.
The report describes “credible and corroborated” allegations of grievous ethical abuses, including the involvement of UNRWA’s top official, Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl.
Krahenbuhl said in a statement to AFP that “if the current investigation — once it is completed — were to present findings that require corrective measures or other management actions, we will not hesitate to take them.”
Krahenbuhl himself made frequent trips to Gulf states, despite the financial crisis facing the agency.
One senior official named in the report stepped down from his post due to “inappropriate behavior” linked to the investigation, UNRWA said, while another resigned over what the agency called “personal reasons.”
When pressed by AFP, the UN agency said in its defense: “Over the past 18 months, UNRWA has faced immense financial and political pressure, but its entire staff body has steered it, serving 5.4 million Palestine refugees through the most unprecedented financial crisis in its near 70 years of history.”
US special Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt tweeted his concern.
“We’re extremely concerned about UNRWA allegations,” Greenblatt said. “We urge a full & transparent investigation by the UN.”
He added: “UNRWA’s model is broken/unsustainable & based on an endless expanding # of beneficiaries. Palestinians residing in refugee camps deserve much better.”
UNRWA provides schooling, medical care and other services to millions of Palestinians deemed by the UN to be “refugees,” as well as to their descendants in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza.
UNRWA employs around 30,000 people, mostly Palestinians.
Until last year when it cut funding, the U.S. was the single largest donor to the Palestinians and UNRWA in history.
Israel is deeply critical of UNRWA, charging that the organization harbors terrorists and perpetuates the Palestinian “refugee” problem indefinitely, thus blocking a potential resolution to the conflict. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that the funds for Palestinian “refugees” be rerouted through another UN body such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which deals with the rest of the world’s refugees.
The definition of a Palestinian “refugee” and their actual numbers have long been the subject of debate.
UNRWA has also come under fire on many occasions both for spreading antisemitic hate in its schools and employing members of terror organizations and supporters of terror. Breitbart News previously exposed an UNRWA summer program that was indoctrinating Palestinian children to hate Jews.
Last year, UN Watch released a 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.