Why countries are pulling funding from the U.N. agency for Palestinians

Several countries suspended funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinians in Gaza, following allegations from Israeli authorities that some employees of the organization were involved in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack.

The move by the United States, Britain, Germany, Australia and others to pause funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, pending an investigation into Israel’s allegations, puts over 2 million people who depend on it “for their sheer survival” at risk, said UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini.

  • On Friday, Lazzarini said Israel provided the agency with “information about the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees” in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, without specifying further. He said UNRWA launched an independent investigation.
  • U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said 12 UNRWA employees were implicated in the alleged misconduct. Of those, “nine were immediately identified and terminated,” one is “confirmed dead,” and “the identity of the two others is being clarified,” he said Sunday.

U.N. agency fires workers accused of joining Oct. 7 Hamas attack

  • Since Friday, at least nine countries have suspended their funding to UNRWA. Lazzarini said the moves were “shocking” and urged the countries to maintain lifesaving aid for vulnerable Palestinians.
  • It’s not clear whether the pause in funding is immediate or affects future funding pledges, but Guterres said UNRWA could run out of money to meet all the needs of Palestinians displaced by the war as soon as February.
  • A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the move to suspend funding “sends a wrong message” and urged countries to reverse course. “It’s a humanitarian issue,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh said.

A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, criticized the decision of some countries to pause funding for UNRWA. (Video: Reuters)

Israeli officials have not publicly provided many details about the allegations against UNRWA employees. The U.S. State Department said it had contacted Israel to “seek more information.” UNRWA, when reached early Sunday, declined to comment further.

Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Israel’s prime minister, told the BBC on Friday that an Israeli hostage who was released said she was “held in the house of someone who worked for UNRWA.” The Post could not independently verify the claims.

After several countries announced they were pausing funding to UNRWA, Lazzarini said in a statement: “It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the Agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff.” He said countries that suspended their funding should “re-consider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian response.”

Gaza’s Health Ministry says at least 26,422 people have been killed and 65,087 injured in the enclave since the start of Israel’s military operation. The United Nations estimates that over 1.9 million people have been displaced in the territory.

UNRWA was established in 1949 by a U.N. resolution to carry out direct relief for Palestinian refugees following the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. It provides education, health care, social services and other humanitarian aid to registered Palestinian refugees. It also runs schools for more than half a million students. UNRWA serves people in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon.

The agency has specific eligibility guidelines for who can register: A person whose “normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

The descendants of male Palestinian refugees are also eligible, according to the agency’s website, which says about 5.9 million Palestinians qualify for its services. There are about 2 million people in the Gaza Strip and 3 million in the West Bank, according to a 2022 U.S. estimate.

What is UNRWA, the U.N. agency in Gaza struggling to help Palestinians?

Most of the funding for UNRWA comes from “voluntary contributions” from U.N. member states, with a small portion of its financing coming from the U.N.’s regular budget. The agency’s largest donors in 2022 were the United States, Germany, the European Union, Sweden, Norway and Japan.

UNRWA’s mandate has been repeatedly renewed “in the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem,” it said. The U.N. renewed the mandate in December 2022 until June 2026.

The dispute between Israeli authorities and UNRWA began long before Oct. 7. For years, Israel has accused the agency of having an overly broad definition of who qualifies as a Palestinian refugee. Israeli officials have also long accused UNRWA of turning a blind eye to incitement to violence within Gaza.

The agency has dealt with the withdrawal of U.S. funding before. In 2018, President Donald Trump suspended support for UNRWA, saying Washington no longer wanted to disproportionately fund the agency. The State Department said at the time that the agency’s finances were “unsustainable.” In 2021, President Biden reinstated $150 million in U.S. funding to UNRWA.

Which countries have suspended funding?

At least nine countries have announced plans to temporarily stop funding UNRWA in response to Israel’s allegations.

United States: State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Friday that the United States had “temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA” while it reviewed Israel’s allegations and the U.N. response.

Canada: International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen said Friday that Canada had “temporarily paused any additional funding to UNRWA while it undertakes a thorough investigation. Should the allegations prove to be accurate,” he continued, “Canada expects UNRWA to immediately act against those determined to have been involved” in the Oct. 7 attack. He added that Canada would continue “to work with other partners” to provide aid to civilians in Gaza.

Australia: Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Friday that the allegations were “deeply concerning.” “Australia welcomes UNRWA’s swift response and will engage closely on investigations,” Wong said. “We are speaking with partners and will temporarily pause disbursement of recent funding.”

Germany: The Foreign Ministry said Saturday that it would suspend funding to UNRWA “in agreement with other donor countries” pending an investigation into Israel’s allegations. In a tweet, the ministry said it expects the investigation to be “thorough and complete.”

United Kingdom: Britain is “temporarily pausing any future funding” for the agency pending a review of Israel’s allegations, the Foreign Ministry said Saturday. “We remain committed to getting humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza who desperately need it.”

Italy: Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said Saturday that Italy had suspended funding to UNRWA along with allies, adding that it remained committed to providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians and to protecting Israel’s security.

Netherlands: Dutch media outlets reported Saturday that the Netherlands would also suspend funding to UNRWA. The minister for foreign trade and development cooperation, Geoffrey van Leeuwen, told the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation that his government was “extremely shocked” by the claim “that U.N. money, our money, was used to carry out the October 7 attacks.”

Finland: The country’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that Finland would suspend its funding because of Israel’s allegations.

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