We must not fund UNRWA

People hold Israeli national flags and display their lit mobile phones during a rally in support of the people of Israel
People hold Israeli national flags and display their lit mobile phones during a rally in support of the people of Israel

Soon after reports emerged that a number of staff at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) were accused of taking part in the October 7 attack, Britain – along with many other Western nations – rightly suspended payments to the body. Senior Tory MPs are now urging the Foreign Secretary not to restore UK funding to the agency, arguing it would be a “disgrace” to do so.

They are right. The accusations of participation were not a bolt from the blue. The links between Hamas and the UNRWA are deep and well documented. Even in this current conflict, UNRWA has quoted Hamas figures on Palestinian casualties without caveat. In February, the Israel Defense Forces said it had found a terrorist data centre running partly under the agency’s headquarters. Israel’s defence minister has said that more than 1,400 of UNRWA’s 13,000 workers in Gaza are members of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

But the problem with the agency goes deeper. It is becoming an insurmountable barrier to a peaceful solution. The 706 schools UNRWA operates have frequently fuelled an ideology defined by the rejection of Israel and helped radicalise generations of young Palestinians. A recent report compiled by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education uncovered geography textbooks with no mention of Israel, showing “Palestine” in its place. An Islamic studies book describes the goals of jihad as “terrorising the enemy” and “achieving martyrdom”.

For too long, naive foreign donors have supported UNRWA despite it actively working against the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians. The agency’s very existence, 75 years after it was created to provide temporary relief, maintains the corrupting idea that refugee status is hereditary. Anyone who was once or is descended from a Palestinian refugee is a refugee forever, unlike refugees of any other nationality, who lose that status once they become citizens of another country. This implies that every Palestinian has a “right to return” and reside in Israel.

So long as UNRWA exists, therefore, a two-state solution is impossible. It is no longer just a humanitarian agency, but a political tool used to threaten Israel’s security. The West must replace UNRWA with another body which can provide the relief it was designed to. Lord Cameron should listen to his colleagues.

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