Last week, the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) announced that twelve of its 13,000 staff in Gaza allegedly took part in the October 7 Hamas attack. That statement was made on the basis of an Israeli investigation. Nine suspected employees have now been fired and are facing criminal charges, two others appear to be dead and another person is wanted.
The rapid response of UNRWA and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres could not prevent almost twenty Western countries from announcing that they were freezing their support to UNRWA, among them the United States and Germany, which together account for half of the total budget of UNRWA more than 1 billion dollars.
UNRWA is the pivotal organization for distributing humanitarian aid to 2.2 million Gazans in need. The fact that the organization does not have financial reserves raises concerns that reclamation will have an immediate impact on the people of Gaza. Guterres warned of “catastrophic consequences”.
That seems to explain why the Biden administration is now specifying and weakening its position on UNRWA. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains that 99 percent of the aid to UNRWA – $121 million – has already been disbursed and that only a remaining amount of $300,000 has been temporarily frozen. Furthermore, the intention is that “this matter will be resolved quickly”.
It now says that the remaining US funds for UNRWA will only be transferred after the publication of the results of the ongoing UN investigation. The fact that the State Department is suddenly expressing itself so cautiously may also have to do with the criticism that President Biden received from the pro-Palestinian left wing of the Democrats. A number of his members of Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have lashed out at Biden in recent days. “Blocking aid to 2.2 million Palestinians because of serious accusations against twelve of the 13,000 UN staff is unacceptable.”
But even the Israeli government is not asking to block UNRWA aid. This is evident, among other things, from an article by the pro-government party Jerusalem Post in which a “high-ranking government source” states that although Israel has a lot of criticism of UNRWA, it is currently too dangerous to hinder the UN organization’s humanitarian aid. A position that may have to do with the fact that Israel, as an occupying power, is obliged under international law to guarantee aid to distressed Palestinians. “If UNRWA is no longer able to operate, it could cause a humanitarian catastrophe that will force the Israeli army to stop fighting against Hamas.”
Waiting for evidence
In the meantime, the question arises whether the donor countries that stopped their aid to UNRWA had sufficient reliable information. Even the spokesperson for UN Secretary General Guterres said that his boss does not have the Israeli investigation file.
According to Brussels-based research NGO The European Middle East Project, the European countries that froze their funds also do not have the Israeli evidence. Director Martin Konecny: “They made their weighty decision to block UNRWA funds based on media articles and because other countries were doing the same.”
The Belgian government, which did not suspend support, is also still waiting for Israeli information. “We expect evidence from Israeli security services to be shared with the UN and other donors. Briefings and meetings with UN representatives show that this has not yet happened,” says Minister of Development Cooperation Caroline Gennez (Vooruit).