Israel hoping to push UNRWA out of Gaza post-war — report

Foreign Ministry document detailing gradual plan to be presented to cabinet in near future

File: United Nations and Red Crescent workers prepare the aid for distribution to Palestinians at UNRWA warehouse in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza Strip, October 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Eslaiah)
File: United Nations and Red Crescent workers prepare the aid for distribution to Palestinians at UNRWA warehouse in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza Strip, October 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Eslaiah)

Israel is hoping to push the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, out of the Gaza Strip post-war, Channel 12 reported, citing a high-level, classified Foreign Ministry report.

According to the report, the document recommends three stages to the move. The first involves a comprehensive report on alleged UNRWA cooperation with Hamas, which rules Gaza, and the entanglement of the UN body that provides welfare and humanitarian services for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars and their descendants, with the terror group.

The next stage would see reduced UNRWA operations in the Palestinian enclave, amid a search for a different organization to provide education and welfare services. In the third stage, according to the report, all of UNRWA’s duties would be transferred to the body governing Gaza following the war.

For the time being, UNRWA has the infrastructure in place to provide the necessary and crucial aid to Gaza during the ongoing fighting and Israel has no interest in changing this currently, according to the report. It added that the US views UNRWA “as a positive player in the humanitarian efforts in the Strip” and said Israel must navigate the issue carefully and gradually while planning for the day after the war.

The document will be presented to the cabinet in the near future, the TV report said Thursday.

Israel has long accused UNRWA of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by extending refugee status to millions of descendants of Palestinians who fled or were forced out of homes in today’s Israel at the time of the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, rather than limiting such a status only to the original refugees, as is the norm with most refugee populations worldwide.

People walk in the playground of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) school in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, converted into a shelter for internally displaced Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war, October 25, 2023. (Mahmud HAMS / AFP)

Israel and other groups have also long argued that UNRWA school materials glorify terrorism and anti-Israel incitement.

One report last month by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) organization found that some UNRWA staff in Gaza expressed praise for the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists launched a murderous invasion, killing 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and taking some 240 hostages of all ages.

That report highlighted comments by 14 UNRWA members, and examines the participation of UNRWA school graduates in terror attacks against Israeli civilians as well as the presence of antisemitic and jihadist content in textbooks used in UNRWA schools.

The former commissioner-general of UNRWA, Pierre Krahenbuhl, resigned in 2019 amid an internal probe into alleged mismanagement and ethical abuses at the organization. He led the organization from 2014, and the Foreign Ministry charged that under Krahenbuhl, UNRWA became more politicized.

Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), attends a ceremony to mark the start of the school year at a UNRWA school in Palestinian refugee camp Al-Wehdat, in Amman, Jordan, September 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

The preliminary findings of the inquiry into UNRWA found “credible and corroborated” allegations of serious ethical abuses, but revealed no “fraud or misappropriation of operational funds” by Krahenbuhl, the UN said at the time.

After resigning, Krahenbuhl himself described an atmosphere of “hyperpolarization” around the agency.

UNRWA at the time was facing attacks by the administration of former US president Donald Trump, which along with Israel accused it of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2018, Washington decided to suspend, then stop entirely its contribution to the agency’s budget, depriving it of its largest donor and sparking a funding crunch.

US President Joe Biden’s administration later fully restored the country’s support.

Last week, the Red Cross appointed Krahenbuhl as its next director-general. Krahenbuhl, 57, has spent 25 years in prominent roles at the ICRC and is currently serving as secretary-general to the ICRC assembly.

The ICRC is also facing pressure over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in particular its response to the war raging in Gaza. Israel has accused the agency of failing to do anything to ensure the safety of hostages held by Hamas, including refusing to even attempt to deliver medicines handed over by family members, while it agreed to work with Hamas to transport freed hostages during the exchange deal, leading one family member of a hostage to deride the ICRC as a glorified Uber service.

On Friday, UNRWA said an aid convoy came under fire by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip without causing any casualties.

According to UNRWA’s director in Gaza, Thomas White, the UN aid convoy was returning from northern Gaza on a route designated for humanitarian aid when it came under fire.

The IDF said it is looking into the reports.

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