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The current debate over cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority is a classic case of good news and bad news coming together in the same package.
The good news is that the United States appears to be holding firm on its refusal to keep money flowing to the PA once the recently elected Hamas terrorists are in charge.
Though many thought Washington would quickly fold on this issue, the administration is sticking to its hard line against sending a cent to Hamas. And Congress is poised to enact aid restrictions that may act as a break on any State Department impulse to weaken on the issue.
But along with this comes the bad news. The US and the European Union (which is also considering an aid cutoff to the PA) will be diverting a lot of the money that supported the PA kleptocracy to humanitarian aid. That way, it is reasoned, innocent Palestinians won't be forced to suffer from the crimes of their new masters.
That rationale sounds compassionate and logical. The only problem is that the humanitarian group that will receive the lion's share of the aid is one of the most thoroughly politicized and terrorist-infiltrated organizations in the world: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
FOR 56 years, UNRWA has been the symbol of the world's double standard about the war on Israel by the Arab world. While the United Nations deals with the rest of the world's refugees with a single agency - the UN High Commission for Refugees - the Palestinian refugees have their very own agency, UNRWA, with a particular mission.
Unfortunately, unlike virtually every other refugee aid group (including those that dealt with the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled Arab lands in the aftermath of Israel's independence), UNRWA's primary mission has never been to help the Palestinians deal with the reality of the post-1948 world. Resettling the Palestinians wasn't the point. UNRWA exists to keep the Palestinians alive exactly where they are, so they can serve as justification for continued conflict with Israel. As detailed in a new Jewish Telegraphic Agency series of reports on the topic, UNRWA's record is one of complicity not only with the political ends of the Palestinian movement, but with its violent tactics.
MANY OF UNRWA's employees are members not only of mainstream Palestinian terror factions such as Fatah, but of the Islamist Hamas group as well. UNRWA suffered a major embarrassment when its former director, the Norwegian bureaucrat Peter Hansen, admitted as much two years ago, saying it was no big deal. Indeed, in the recent Palestinian election, a number of UNRWA workers were Hamas parliamentary candidates.
Of course, why should Hansen - who helped spread the lie that Israeli forces had committed a massacre of civilians in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002 - worry about terrorist infiltration?
The man misled not only about the casualties of Jenin, in which Hamas and Fatah gunmen fought pitched battles against Israelis who were seeking to destroy terror bases after Palestinian suicide bombings, but also told tales about the fact that this and other UNRWA camps were, in fact, long-standing UN-subsidized strongholds of Palestinian terror groups.
Hansen and UNRWA have used the prestige of their "humanitarian" perch to routinely bash Israel for its attacks on the camps, but almost never mention the fact that Israel is reacting to Palestinian terror. But again, this is because the UN has always turned a blind eye to the fact that the camps under its jurisdiction were the places where terrorist atrocities are planned and launched.
UNRWA employees have used its facilities to shield terrorists from Israel, and even used its ambulances to transport both the killers and the weapons. Hamas also operates its new television station from the relative safety of a mosque in the UNRWA Jabalya camp.
And if nothing else serves to alert the world to the reality of the UNRWA camps, the steady toll of Palestinian casualties from "work accidents" - mishaps with explosives during the manufacture of terrorist bombs - at these places ought to pierce the illusions of even the most gullible foreign observers.
WHAT SHOULD the United States do about this? Let's start with the fact that the plentiful cash that flows from the United States Treasury to UNRWA (30 percent of the agency's $400 million budget comes courtesy of American taxpayers) is actually a violation of US law. The US Foreign Assistance Act requires UNRWA to assure that American money does not go to terrorists. That is an assurance that UNRWA cannot credibly give.
Superficial reforms of the group won't work. Given the almost complete infiltration of UNRWA's bureaucracy by terrorist supporters, nothing short of a complete overhaul will do.
Can the plug be pulled on UNRWA? Given the current pressure on the Bush administration to mend fences with the Arab world, it's unlikely. But if this cause gets a bipartisan push from Congress, it might help the White House focus on the way the agency is spending our money on reinforcing terrorist strongholds. Congress must follow up its legislation on aid to the PA with further hearings and action to halt subsidies to UNRWA.
Sadly, it may take another Palestinian terror offensive - in which UNRWA camps will again serve as bases for suicide bombings, shootings and rocket attacks on Israeli civilians - to remind the world of the "humanitarian" fraud it's been subsidizing. Even then, the Palestinian propaganda machine, of which UNRWA is an integral part, will do its utmost to prevent the truth from being heard.
But Americans have no excuse for continuing to be complicit in this deception. We - the funders of this half-century-old UN fiasco - must face up to the fact that this monster must be decapitated, and then rebuilt as a genuine humanitarian group.
That may seem like an impossible task. But if the pain and grief that UNRWA helps inflict on the region is to be stopped, both the White House and Congress must stop buying into the myth of UNRWA's lies.
The writer is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. firstname.lastname@example.org
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