The Biden administration’s decision to resume financial assistance to the Palestinians is a sound humanitarian move. It is important for America to reaffirm its commitment to helping those in need, and much of the Palestinian population clearly qualifies. What’s more, American aid has been used to help encourage the normalization of relationships between Arab countries and Israel. So Palestinian humanitarian support makes even more sense — particularly if it is used strategically, to help encourage parallel diplomatic efforts directed toward some form of peaceful co-existence.
Unfortunately, the Biden team appears so anxious to move forward with the effort that it missed some steps in the process. It announced a significant initiative with a large price tag, but has not explained the details of the undertaking, and has ignored some seriously complicating factors.
The administration began this process two weeks ago, when it announced a grant of $15 million in coronavirus assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. It then added $75 million in assistance for infrastructure, health and civil society groups, and an additional $40 million for law enforcement and security costs. Then, dwarfing them all, came the announcement last week of another $150 million in humanitarian assistance for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency that serves Palestinian refugees and their descendants. It is that last piece that gives us pause. The grant to UNRWA without meaningful conditions and controls is ill advised.
For decades, UNRWA has been careless, corrupt and deeply involved in an array of anti-Israel activities. The Trump administration withdrew support for UNRWA precisely because of those concerns. Since then, nothing about UNRWA has changed. As such, pouring $150 million U.S. tax dollars into a relief plan through a corrupt and wholly unaccountable international agency makes little sense.
There has to be a better way. It may take a little more time and a lot more effort, but an alternative approach could help assure that U.S. humanitarian funding is directed faithfully and honestly to those it seeks to assist, rather than through a UNRWA structure that is severely compromised, of limited effectiveness and whose agenda is inconsistent with our principles and concerns.
The West Bank and Gaza are very small territories. It is not difficult to determine which existing social service and community agencies within their borders are providing effective direct services that address poverty, hunger, health concerns and meaningful education needs, while not promoting the corrupt and morally compromised political agenda of UNWRA, and are not tied to the hateful goals of Hamas.
We are proud of the administration’s effort to provide needed assistance to the Palestinian people. But we oppose providing those funds through the dirty funnel of UNRWA. At least until UNRWA cleans up its act, the administration should take the time to do this right, without the UNWRA overlay. Such a focused effort will be more helpful to Palestinians in need, and could help promote efforts toward a peaceful resolution with Israel. JN