The Trump administration recently announced that it will “reassess” American aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). That’s the agency charged with overseeing Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948 and, of equal importance, their descendants. The United States will now voluntarily contribute to the agency only $60 million rather than the expected contribution of $360 million, with all subsequent funding subject to further consideration.
This reassessment, and scaling back of aid, has the agency’s leaders worried. As well they might be. The UNRWA’s press release following the announcement called for a campaign to “#FundUNRWA,” requesting contributions from nations and “people of goodwill.” “Now more than ever,” the announcement read, “the refugees need your support.” Belgium pledged $23 million over a three-year period. Iceland pledged $1 million over four years. Kuwait upped its funding by $900,000. At the Arab League’s meeting two weeks ago in Cairo, guest Pierre Krahenbuhl, UNRWA’s chief bureaucrat, asked the league to help fund the agency, although it’s not yet clear if the league will agree to the request.
While we’re glad to discover that other nations are capable of generosity to UNRWA, what has never been clear to us is why the agency exists. The U.N. agency responsible for refugees is the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, but Palestinian refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence have their own. Since almost the moment the UNRWA was created in 1949, the agency has effectively worsened the plight of Palestinian refugees by labeling them—and their descendents—as refugees in perpetuity. Refugee status, as Israeli politician Einat Wilf puts it, is for Palestinians a “hereditary trait.”
Today’s Palestinian refugee population from the ’48 war should number, at most, around 10,000. Thanks to the UNRWA’s policy of defining Palestinians, there are now nearly five million “refugees.”
And UNRWA is hardly the “relief” and “education” organization portrayed in Western and Arab media. During Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas, its hospitals and schools were commonly used to stockpile Hamas weapons and explosives. The agency “strongly condemned” the use of its hospitals and schools in this way, but these condemnations somehow didn’t stop the practice. In the past two years, moreover, illegally built tunnels have been found beneath UNRWA schools in Gaza. By propping up the UNRWA, the United States was helping to fund anti-Israel terrorism while at the same time helping to fund Israel’s defense against that terrorism.
The Trump administration has been fiercely criticized for pulling back money from a “relief and works” agency, but we’re guessing U.S. taxpayers will have no trouble with the new policy.
This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard