Starved for funds, UNRWA operations to be “severely compromised” by March

The United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: konferenzadhs/Pixabay.

by Mike Wagenheim

(JNS) — Philippe Lazzrini, commissioner-general of UNRWA, asked the president of the U.N. General Assembly on Feb. 23 for permanent U.N. budgetary support for the scandal-plagued Palestinian-only refugee and social services agency.

Lazzrini wrote to Dennis Francis appealing to U.N. member states “for a solution that closes the gap between UNRWA’s mandate and its funding structure, which relies upon voluntary contributions that make it vulnerable to wider political considerations, such as UNRWA faces now.”

UNRWA is under financial strain after 16 donor countries suspended aid in the wake of Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA staff members participated in Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre. Subsequent reports have suggested that 10 percent of UNRWA’s staff has ties to Palestinian terror groups.

UNRWA relies exclusively on donations and receives no support through the regular U.N. budget.

There have long been allegations that UNRWA has direct ties to terror groups in Gaza or, at best, ignores the use of U.N. facilities for military purposes by Hamas and other terror groups. Lazzarini wrote with “profound regret” that UNRWA has reached a “breaking point, with Israel’s repeated calls to dismantle UNRWA.”

While Lazzarini and U.N. officials stated weeks ago that the agency would most likely be forced to shut down by the end of February without new funding, he wrote to Francis that UNRWA operations in Gaza and elsewhere “will be severely compromised from March.”

Throughout the letter, Lazzarini attacked Israel, claiming that “UNRWA’s mandate embodies the promise of a political solution,” a solution that Israel is attempting to erase.

UNRWA critics, including Israel, have long said that UNRWA is primarily a political agency meant to perpetuate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by assigning unique refugee status not just to those who fled the wars of 1948 and 1967, but also to all of their descendants in perpetuity.

This artificially inflates the “refugee” numbers exponentially and allows those who were born in Palestinian-controlled territories, like their parents and grandparents, to claim some form of right to return to sovereign Israel upon a political solution to the conflict, critics say.

Israel has taken steps to limit UNRWA’s footprint and called for the U.N. agency to be dismantled and replaced by other U.N. and outside aid agencies. It did so following accusations that UNRWA employees participated in the Oct. 7 terror attack, coupled with the discovery of a Hamas communications center and tunnel network under UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City as well as intelligence indicating a significant proportion of UNRWA staff holds direct ties to Hamas.

Some of those steps have been published widely, but there appeared to be new revelations in Lazzarini’s letter on Feb. 23.

The UNRWA head said that Israel has limited visas for most international UNRWA staff, including those in Gaza, to one or two months. Lazzarini also wrote that “hundreds of UNRWA local staff have been refused access to Jerusalem since October to reach UNRWA’s headquarters, schools and health centers.”

The United Nations launched an investigation into the role of UNRWA staff on Oct. 7. A separate review at Lazaarini’s request is taking place to determine whether UNRWA is abiding by its mandate to remain a neutral party.