Netanyahu Calls for Shuttering of Palestinian UN Agency, Backs Trump’s Critique

U.S. President Donald Trump (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) agree on UNRWA. Illustrative. Photo courtesy of Kobi Gideon (GPO)

The United Nations have had a special refugee organization specifically dedicated to Palestinians for 70 years, despite the fact that Palestinians haven’t had new refugees for decades. But that organization’s time, or at least it’s funding, may finally be limited. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) should be shut down and its funding diverted to helping real refugees, following critiques of UNRWA by the Trump Administration.

In particular, Netanyahu slammed the “refugee” status of the Palestinians covered by UNRWA. That status implies they have rights to land in Israel from which they fled during conflicts more than 50 years ago, rights which Palestinians call the “right of return”, which believes that Palestinians should be allowed to retake territory in Israel even after being granted a Palestinian state on additional lands controlled by Israel.

“UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem. It also perpetuates the narrative of the right-of-return, as it were, in order to eliminate the State of Israel; therefore, UNRWA needs to pass from the world,” said Netanyahu on Sunday in comments released by his office. “…Of course this creates a situation in which there are great-grandchildren of refugees, who are not refugees but who are cared for by UNRWA, and another 70 years will pass and those great-grandchildren will have great-grandchildren and therefore, this absurdity needs to stop.”

United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley last week said that President Donald Trump wanted to nix American funding of UNRWA, according to a report by Haaretz. Meanwhile, a separate report from The Times of Israel a few days later reported that the US had not yet decided whether or not to cut off UNRWA funding.

Haaretz reported that the US gives UNRWA more than $300 million annually. Netanyahu, who said he agrees “completely” with Trump’s critique of UNRWA.

Israeli Housing Minister Naftali Bennet issued his own criticism of UNRWA on Twitter, saying that “UNRWA is supporting terrorism.” Facilities belonging to the UN agency have been used by terrorists in Gaza, although in the most recent occasion last June the UN body condemned the construction of tunnels that ran under two UNRWA schools and emphasized their own neutrality.

The United Nations actually has a separate refugee organization aside from UNRWA that covers general refugee issues, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Netanyahu believes that agency is the solution for the dissolution for UNRWA.

“I have made a simple proposal: UNRWA support funds need to be gradually shifted to the UNHCR, with clear criteria for supporting genuine refugees, not fictitious refugees as happens today under UNRWA,” said Netanyahu.

“I have brought this position to the attention of the US. This is how to rid the world of UNRWA and deal with genuine refugee problems, to the extent that such remain.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, January 7, 2017)

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