The past month has been a difficult one for the United Nations Relief and Works
Agency for the Palestinians (UNRWA). First Palestinians in Hamas-controlled Gaza
held mass protests against the agency’s attempt to change its name to the United
Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees. Conspiracy theories claimed the name
change was part of a secret plan to end the Palestinians’ refugee status so as
to block their demand to “return” to Israel.
UNRWA officials explained
repeatedly to the public and to Hamas terror masters that this was not the case.
The agency’s devotion to the cause of “return” remained unchanged. The name
change was just a bid to streamline their website to mark the agency’s 60th
But to no avail. Within days, the name change was
But that didn’t end UNRWA’s problems. Last week, demonstrators
returned to protest against the agency, this time for its cutbacks in benefits.
Protesters blocked the entrance to UNRWA’s offices and generally frightened its
In response to the protests, UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness
gave an interview to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency. His clear goal was to
shift the blame away from UNRWA for the unpopular policies. First Gunness
criticized UNRWA’s donor countries. They have not answered UNRWA’s call for
hundreds of millions of extra aid dollars to UNRWA – whose annual budget is in
excess of $1 billion.
Then Gunness shifted the blame to UNRWA’s favorite
Israel, he claimed, is responsible for all of Gaza’s
economic woes because of its lawful maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled
territory’s coastline. Gunness ignored the fact that despite that lawful
blockade, which he falsely labeled “a clear breach of international law,” Gaza
has experienced overall economic growth in recent years. Its markets are full.
It suffers no blockade-induced shortages in basic goods.
As he put it,
“From UNRWA’s point of view, it would be better for those states and
organizations with the power to bring the necessary pressures to bear [on
Israel] to end the collective punishment rather than pay UNRWA to deal with its
THE PALESTINIAN protests against UNRWA demonstrate
very clearly that from the Palestinians’ perspective, UNRWA’s job is to give
them cash handouts in order to enable them to continue waging their war for
Israel’s destruction. And as UNRWA’s quick capitulation to their protests
against its name change, and its bid to blame their purported suffering on
Israel make clear, UNRWA shares their perspective on what its role is in
This state of affairs is not new. And in large part,
it is UNRWA’s consistent support for the Palestinian war against Israel that
informed the US House Foreign Relations Committee’s welcome decision last week
to cut US foreign assistance to international organizations – including the UN –
by 25 percent.
The US is UNRWA’s largest donor. Its contributions to the
agency have doubled since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007. In 2009, the US
contributed $268 million in US taxpayer funds to the agency. The amount
accounted for 27% of UNRWA’s total budget.
UNRWA, with its role of UN
enabler for the Palestinian war against Israel, was not the only target of the
committee’s foreign aid budget bill. Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority,
Yemen and Pakistan are also targeted.
The Foreign Relations Committee
bill prohibits further security assistance to Egypt until after the president
certifies that it is not directly or indirectly controlled by a terrorist
organization; is fully implementing its peace treaty with Israel; and is
actively destroying smuggling tunnels along its border with Israel.
bill likewise prohibits further security assistance to Lebanon until the
president certifies that no members of Hezbollah hold positions in any
governmental agency or outlet.
Finally it prohibits security assistance
to the PA until the president certifies that no member of Hamas holds any policy
position in any governmental office or outlet; that the PA is dismantling
extremist infrastructure in Gaza and Judea and Samaria; that the PA has halted
anti-Israel incitement; and that the PA recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a
As committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told The
Jerusalem Post last week, “Basically, if Hamas, Hezbollah, other foreign
terrorist organizations or violent extremist groups hold policy positions in
their respective governments, they are not to receive US assistance.”
bill is a clear demonstration of the depth of support for Israel among members
of the House of Representatives.
It is also a clear demonstration of the
depth of concern House members harbor regarding Obama’s policies towards Israel
and the wider Middle East.
SINCE TAKING office, Obama has refused to
accept the positions put forward by his predecessor George W. Bush regarding
Israel’s final borders and the Palestinian demand to overrun Israel with
Those positions were codified in Bush’s 2004
letter to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon.
Bush’s letter stated that the
US would not support an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines; would
not support the uprooting of all the Israeli communities built outside those
lines; and rejected the Palestinian demand for the so-called “right of return”
of millions of foreign born, UNRWA-supported Arabs to Israel.
bill codifies Bush’s letter as US law. It also requires the State Department to
report to Congress on steps it is taking to fight the delegitimization campaign
against Israel. It ends the presidential waiver for moving the US embassy to
Jerusalem in 2014. It requires the State Department to list Jerusalem as part of
Israel on official US documents.
The House bill has a long road to travel
before it becomes US law. Chances that it will pass as written are slight, and
not merely because Obama would likely veto it if it came to his desk.
first obstacle it faces is in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The Senate Foreign
Relations Committee is led by Senator John Kerry. Kerry is no friend of
Israel’s. And he is a passionate supporter of Syrian dictator Bashar
He visited Hamas-controlled Gaza in February 2009.
current position, Kerry has served as a surrogate for Obama on Middle East
issues. As early as March 2009, Kerry was calling for Israel to transfer control
over Gaza’s international borders to Hamas terrorists. He was also demanding
that Israel bar Jews from building in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Kerry has
been an outspoken opponent of action against Iran’s illicit nuclear
He has acted as an apologist for Assad’s illicit nuclear
proliferation. He has also been a friendly visitor to Hezbollah/Iran-controlled
Given Kerry’s positions, there is no chance that he will approve
the House’s bill.
But in opposing the bill, Kerry and his fellow
Democrats will reportedly be ably assisted by Israel. Last week, the Post
reported that the Democrats justify maintaining US support for the PA by arguing
that they are simply doing the bidding of the Israeli government.
speaking to the Post, an Israeli official said, “We are interested in the
Palestinian Authority maintaining law and order, and strengthening their
security forces and prospering. If there’s no change with Hamas and Fatah [in
terms of Hamas participation in a unity government], there’s no reason to change
the current situation.”
Other media reports have claimed that the IDF
General Staff opposes ending US assistance to the PA.
Moreover, in the
past, Israeli leaders – first and foremost former foreign minister Tzipi Livni –
have been outspoken supporters of US financial assistance to
Indeed, members of Congress note that if it weren’t for Israeli
objections, they would have ended US financial support for UNRWA years
It is hard to see what Israeli interest is served by these
positions. And it is even more difficult to understand how it serves the
country’s interest to use any of its leverage in the US Congress to lobby for
the Palestinians or UNRWA.
To a large degree, these positions are the
consequence of the failure and basic irrelevance of Israel’s public
Controlled by the political Left, the public debate in Israel
has never allowed the basic assumptions of the failed Oslo peace process with
the PLO to be questioned.
Among other things, those assumptions include
the view that for Israel to garner international support, it needs to be
perceived as pro-peace by the international community.
And that assumed
requirement has made it necessary for Israeli diplomats and policymakers to
cleave to the discredited position that the Palestinians are interested in peace
and should therefore be supported by the US specifically and by the
international community generally.
In 1993, the embassy in Washington
began lobbying Congress to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance
to the PA. And because the ideological and policy assumptions of the Oslo
process have never been scrutinized despite the policy’s abject failure,
apparently, this remains the underlying policy assumption of the Foreign
Ministry in its dealings with foreign governments, including the US
The IDF’s support for the PA is not an indication of the PA’s
strategic value to Israel. Rather it is reflective of the army’s confusion about
US-trained and -financed PA security forces took lead roles in
the Palestinian terror war against Israel from 2000 to 2004. IDF field
commanders have no confidence that the new Palestinian US-trained forces
deployed in Judea and Samaria will stand with Israel against their terrorist
brethren in a future conflict. Indeed, several have expressed confidence that in
a future conflict, these UStrained forces will again lead the fighting against
The IDF is likely defending US funding to these enemy forces
because its commanders fear that if the PA collapses due to a lack of US
funding, the IDF will be called on to perform its law and order functions. But
again, this view is in large part the consequence of the absence of an informed
public debate about Israel’s policy option in light of the failure of the Oslo
If the PA collapses, the option of reverting to Israel’s
military rule of the areas is not Israel’s only option. Israel can also apply
Israeli law to Judea and Samaria. The police can take up the law and order
functions carried out by the PA today. And the IDF can concentrate on war
The fact of the matter is that contrary to what the anti-
Semites claim, Israel does not control the US Congress.
And what Israel
says has limited impact on lawmakers.
Democrats who cite official Israeli
support for aid to the Palestinians as the justification for their support of
such aid are quick to ignore Israel’s positions when it comes to moving the US
embassy to Jerusalem and supporting Jewish property rights in Jerusalem, Judea
But Israel does have some leverage on Capitol Hill. And it
should be using all of it to build support for attacking Iran’s nuclear
installations and defending and strengthening Israel’s ability and sovereign
right to defend itself.
Israel certainly should not be expending any of
its limited influence to maintain US support for the Palestinians or