Israel asks countries to defund Palestinians one day, then the opposite the next day - analysis

The material issue is that Hamas has repeatedly used UNRWA facilities to launch rockets at Israel, and teaches antisemitism and anti-Israel incitement in its schools.

 Israeli and Palestinian demonstrators demonstrate against the cutting of water supply for Palestinians villages, in the southern area of the West bank town of Hebron, on October 2, 2021.  (photo credit: WISAM HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90)
Israeli and Palestinian demonstrators demonstrate against the cutting of water supply for Palestinians villages, in the southern area of the West bank town of Hebron, on October 2, 2021.
(photo credit: WISAM HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90)

On Tuesday, Israel’s UN ambassador told world donors to the Palestinian cause that they’re part of the problem; but then on Wednesday, Israel’s Regional Cooperation minister plans to tell donor countries to increase their contributions to the Palestinians.

So which is it?

Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan’s remarks on Tuesday were against UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, as its international fundraising conference began in Brussels; Minister Esawi Frej is expected to make his appeal at the donor meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee – which gives directly to the Palestinian Authority – the next day in Oslo.

“In its current structure today, UNRWA is part of the problem and only foments and perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Erdan said in a statement. “Every country that will contribute funds to UNRWA before the agency will undergo a fundamental reform and stop its incitement against Israel and identification with Hamas will only make the situation worse.”

Israel’s problems with UNRWA are myriad. The core issue is that UNRWA perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem by imparting that status on the descendants of the 1948 War of Independence, defining “refugee” differently for Palestinians than it does in any other conflict in the world.

A Palestinian teacher conducts a class for students in an UNRWA-run school that reopened after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions were eased, at al-Fari'ah refugee camp, in the West Bank April 12, 2021.  (credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA/ REUTERS)A Palestinian teacher conducts a class for students in an UNRWA-run school that reopened after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions were eased, at al-Fari'ah refugee camp, in the West Bank April 12, 2021. (credit: RANEEN SAWAFTA/ REUTERS)

The material issue is that Hamas has repeatedly used UNRWA facilities to launch rockets at Israel, and teaches antisemitism and anti-Israel incitement in its schools, among other ills. Earlier this year, UN security blocked Erdan from showing a Facebook post by an UNRWA teacher glorifying Hitler.

UNRWA has said that it is in dire need of more funds. In a recent meeting with UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, Erdan recounted over the phone on Tuesday, he challenged the assertion that the organization is going bankrupt, pointing out that the US is donating $325 million. Lazzarini responded that while that is true, Arab states’ donations have dropped. For example, the United Arab Emirates stopped contributing to UNRWA, after having given $50 million, the ambassador said.

“I told Lazzarini that he should ask himself why Arab countries stopped donating, and realize he’s not the solution; he’s the problem,” Erdan said. “He’s helping the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, the enemies of peace. He didn’t have an answer.”

In the statement Erdan released, he said Israel “supports giving humanitarian aid to Palestinians who need it, but UNRWA turned into a body serving the Palestinians’ delusional demand to ‘return.’”

Frej’s planned appeal to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee seems to be in line with Erdan’s statement. He plans to ask donor countries to restore payments and invest in water and health projects.

Donations to the Palestinians dropped by 85% over the last 13 years, and economic instability has plagued the PA for much of that time. The situation not only hurts Palestinians, but it impacts Israel: the PA’s inability to pay teachers, for example, triggered a wave of violence against Israelis in 2016. And the PA currently has a $1.36 billion deficit that may render it unable to pay civil servants in the West Bank.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority, like UNRWA, teaches antisemitism and incitement to terrorism in its schools.

Even worse is their “pay-for-slay,” the PA’s monthly payments to terrorists in prison and the families of terrorists killed in the act. The stipend rises with the terrorists’ prison sentences – they get paid more if they kill, rather than maim, their victims.

The PA claims this is a welfare program, but the terrorists and their families receive stipends well above the average in the West Bank. “The program is clearly not targeted to the poorest households,” the World Bank has said. “The level of resources devoted to the Fund for Martyrs and the Injured does not seem justified from a welfare or fiscal perspective.”

Israel has a law on the books that requires the government to deduct the amount the PA pays terrorists from the taxes and tariffs Jerusalem collects for Ramallah. One of the MKs who drafted that law is currently a member of the same government as Frej – Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern.

“For those who seek and are optimistic about the chances for peace, this incentivization to kill, murder and maim is a primary obstacle,” Stern wrote of the pay-for-slay program in The Jerusalem Post in 2018. “It motivates Palestinians to have greater financial security by killing Israelis, egged on by their leaders, and it demonstrates to many Israelis that the Palestinians have no interest in peace and will instead continue the war against them.”

Stern’s bill was meant to be the Israeli counterpart of the US’s 2018 Taylor Force Act, which Israel strongly supported, that stopped US donations to the PA as long as they continue “pay-for-slay.”

A senior diplomatic source admitted that there’s a contradiction in the policies: “We want the PA to stop paying terrorists, on the one hand, but we’re encouraging people to pay them. How can Israel support Taylor Force but tell countries to donate to the PA?”

The source pointed out that Israel is only encouraging donations to civil projects. But money is fungible – those donations just free up other funds that go to the “martyrs.”

The diplomatic source gave one explanation, which is that Israel prefers that the money go to the PA over UNRWA.

“If UNRWA runs out of money, [donor states] won’t give their donations to Hamas,” he said.

Still, the dissonance is strong here: Israel supported the US stopping donations to the PA over pay-for-slay, and deducts funds from the PA for the same reason – moves that members of this government supported – but is also asking other countries to fund the PA. Israel opposes donations to UNRWA because it supports terrorism and promotes a narrative it views as counterproductive to peace, but is asking governments to contribute to the PA, which supports terrorism and the exact same narrative.