Undoing UNRWA

Two weeks ago (I know, I’m behind) the Trump administration announced that the US was pulling its support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. UNRWA was established by the UN in 1949 as a way to assist Palestinian refugees in the wake of the creation of Israel. To date, it is the only UN body to serve a specific set of refugees. All other refugee aid is handled by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.


When UNRWA was created, it was mandated to care specifically for the 700,000 Palestinian refugees that existed at the time. Now that number has, as a result of, yknow, the birds and the bees and also continued displacement, swelled to over 5 million. The Trump administration has a problem with that. It’s outside the scope of the mission, they say, despite the UN’s definition of refugee including all descendants so long as displacement continues.

The problem is that the US gives more than anyone else to UNRWA. In 2017, the US gave $355m to the overall $1.1 billion budget (compared to $38bn in military aid to Israel). Trump sees it as an unfair footing of the bill, and because UNRWA explicitly maintains a right of return for Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees it as a threat.

But 300 mil is a drop in the bucket for the US. .0019% of the US economy, and a whopping .01% of the US budget, to be exact. To the Palestinians living under blockade in Gaza, it’s the difference between life and death. All this comes directly on the heels of a $200m cut to direct State Department aid for meant for the Palestinian Authority. UNRWA says aid will continue, but they’re still $200m short for the year.

Benjamin Netanyahu. You know the other guy.

Benjamin Netanyahu. You know the other guy.

If you want to minimize conflict and violence, and encourage progress towards a peaceful, two-state solution, this is absolutely the wrong way to go. With no one else to turn to for assistance, no hope or resources or food or electricity or water, you force Palestinians to ever more desperate courses of action, and risk inciting violence while diminishing any leverage they might have had in negotiations. Watch any dystopian movie and wait for the riot scene.

On the other hand, say you fully support Israel, think settlements are rad, and have been wondering if your two-state solution maybe involves one state too many. What would you do? You could, if you were pretty Machiavellian, first recognize Jerusalem as wholly Israel’s, diminishing further Palestine’s leverage. Then, cut all aid to the only semi-functioning governing body in Palestine, as well as to any NGO that might give Palestinians a way to live and some degree of hope. By ensuring unlivable conditions you help feed the anger and rage on which terrorists capitalize. You drive otherwise peaceful people to the brink, and then, when they lash out in desperation, in a riot or an attack on the border or a third intifada, you claim Israel must protect itself, justifying the use of its overwhelming military superiority, and insulating them against claims of aggression with self-defense.

But that’s only if you didn’t believe in peace in the Middle East.

I’ve said it since 2016, and others had and have been saying it way longer: the US was never an impartial arbiter of peace talks, and our involvement in the peace process has hindered it. Trump is making it worse, but in doing so he strips away the veil.

Meanwhile, John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, has attacked the International Criminal Court. Why? Because it said it was looking at prosecuting US soldiers for potential war crimes in Afghanistan and – you guessed it – because the ICC also wants to try Israel for human rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank. #fpf

John Bolton. That’s why his mustache is so big. It’s full of secrets.

John Bolton. That’s why his mustache is so big. It’s full of secrets.