The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East needs to disappear, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, amid reports that Israel really does not want the US to stop funding the organization.“I fully agree with President [Donald] Trump’s strong criticism of UNRWA,” Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. He was referring to the US president’s tweet last week threatening to cut aid to the Palestinians, including to UNRWA, if the Palestinians do not return to the negotiation table.“UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the problem of the Palestinian refugees,” he said. “It also perpetuates the narrative of the so-called ‘right of return’ with the aim of eliminating the State of Israel, and therefore UNRWA must disappear.”Netanyahu said UNRWA was set up separately for Palestinian refugees 70 years ago, while another body – the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – deals with the rest of the world’s refugees.
As a result, he said, UNRWA is dealing with the great-grandchildren of refugees, and in another 70 years they will be dealing with great-great-grandchildren of refugees. “This absurdity has to stop,” he declared.“I made a simple suggestion, that the funds for UNRWA should be gradually transferred to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with clear criteria for supporting real refugees, rather than fictitious refugees, which is what is happening today under UNRWA,” he said.Netanyahu said he relayed this position to the US, and that this is the way to terminate UNRWA while dealing with the genuine Palestinian refugees, and not their descendants.In the wake of the furious Palestinian reaction to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and their declaration that the US is no longer an “honest broker” in the peace process, the Trump administration is debating whether to reduce funding to the Palestinian Authority and to UNRWA.An internal Foreign Ministry report last week argued that cutting funds to UNRWA “may worsen the humanitarian situation and lead to catastrophe, especially in Gaza,” adding that the burden of providing the services UNRWA currently provides will be placed on Israel.UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness issued a statement in response to Netanyahu’s comments, saying the organization’s mandate “is set by the UN General Assembly whose members give wide and strong support to the agency’s humanitarian and human development mission, while paying tribute to our indispensable contribution to peace and security, working with some of the most marginalized communities in the Middle East.”According to the statement, “What perpetuates the refugee crisis is the failure of the parties to deal with the issue. This needs to be resolved by the parties to the conflict in the context of peace talks, based on UN resolutions and international law, and requires the active engagement by the international community. UNRWA is mandated by the General Assembly to continue with its services until a just and lasting solution is found for the Palestine refugees.”
Netanyahu calls for dismantling of UNRWA (credit: REUTERS)