Elliott Abrams

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Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Business as Usual with UNRWA

by Elliott Abrams
November 28, 2014


Business as usual is nicely defined as “Persistence in the ordinary course of events despite difficulties, morality, and other hindrances.”

This month the Department of State published its “Framework for Cooperation Between the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and the Government of the United States of America for 2015.”  Near the top it states that:

The United States and UNRWA have been working in formal partnership through a Framework for Cooperation since 2005 to provide humanitarian assistance to UNRWA’s beneficiaries in accordance with its mandate as approved by the United Nations General Assembly. The United States and UNRWA review their Framework for Cooperation annually to advance shared objectives. It is understood that this document, in its entirety, constitutes policy commitments by UNRWA and the United States, and is therefore not intended to be legally binding.

The Framework might as well be legally binding, for all the reforms it demands of UNRWA.

What reforms might one seek?

Think about the discoveries of last summer, during the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas.  July 17: 20 rockets found in a vacant UNRWA school. July 22: more rockets found in another UNRWA school. July 30: rockets found in an UNRWA school for the third time. Nor was that all. In the first case, it seems that Hamas was called upon to remove the rockets, which suggested that UNRWA was turning them back over to Hamas rather than seizing them or asking the UN for help. In the 2012 employee union elections, 25 of 27 seats apparently went to Hamas supporters. (This may make it slightly less mysterious why Hamas can hide rockets at UNRWA locations. And here is a more recent report of support for terrorism by UNRWA staff.) Finally, there was this moment during last summer’s war: “Three IDF soldiers were killed on Wednesday in Gaza in an explosion at a booby-trapped UNRWA health clinic that housed the opening of a tunnel….”

The Framework concludes this way:

The United States expects to remain an active participant in UNRWA’s Advisory Commission, which meets twice per year, and should endeavor to provide advice and guidance to UNRWA through its engagement at meetings of the Advisory Commission. In 2015, the United States is expected to serve as Vice-Chair of the Sub-Committee to the Advisory Commission and endeavors to provide leadership and support to the Sub-Committee in its capacity as a technical advisory group to the Advisory Commission. The United States and UNRWA should regularly consult bilaterally on policy and program issues identified in this Framework.

Here are some ideas for those regular bilateral consultations in 2015: No more business as usual. Thorough, independent investigations of each rocket incident. An investigation of the health clinic incident. An investigation of the influence of Hamas on UNRWA staff, and through that staff and its union on UNRWA schools and other facilities.

There is no possible claim of ignorance: last summer’s war exposed the UNRWA-Hamas ties yet again. In that context it is shocking that State has signed a Framework that mentions none of this, none at all, and says nothing about curing it and preventing recurrence. Shocking–but, one has to admit,not particularly surprising.

Post a Comment 9 Comments

  • Posted by EMT

    How is it that this case has not been covered in the American press?
    The fact that these rockets were returned to Hamas proves that there was an agreement between UNRWA and Hamas, without the US being aware of it. Did they apologize to the Israelis? Now the US is aware of this. I think UNRWA should not have returned the rockets found to Hamas, as not to become an accomplice of Hamas, which put the US in the same position. What will the United States do in the future to avoid such abuse? After all, the US pays most of the cost of UNRWA. The Jews expelled from Arab countries had to fend for themselves and have not received assistance from UNRWA.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    The current administration has entered into some very dubious “partnerships” in the past . This one is no different .

  • Posted by Miles

    Who authored this article?

  • Posted by Rex Brynen

    There was no “booby-trapped UNRWA health clinic”–as has been widely reported in the media, the IDF misidentified the location, and subsequently issued a correction. The rockets found in an UNRWA school were not handed over to Hamas—the UN contacted EOD personnel linked to the Ramallah PA (although it is reasonable to assume they were actually seized by Hamas, since UNRWA had no ability to prevent this.) Note that the IDF does not permit the UN to deploy proper EOD teams to Gaza, so the UN has no capacity to deal with UXO (etc) itself. Moreover–and far more important–UNRWA operated emergency shelters for over 300,000 people during the most recent war, despite Hamas calls for people to remain in their homes. The issue of UN neutrality in Gaza is certainly an important one, but it doesn’t help to filter the facts (and make a few up) in order to fit a preconceived frame of analysis.

  • Posted by Cora Nott

    You are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. UNRWA is a Muslim mouthpiece…nothing more…nothing less. Expecting anything else from them is idiotic.

  • Posted by mike needle


  • Posted by EMT

    In my view this rocket affair should be properly exposed to the American press and to the US Government, which is responsible for UNRWA’s activities.

  • Posted by kitty fane

    Don’t expect a change in policy as long as Obama is in the White House. This guy should be impeached for violating the constitution, specifically the separation of powers, by trying to shove down our throat amnesty (by whatever name) for illegals, by executive order, a measure that would never pass congress in regular session.
    As for the UN, I wonder why we fund that corrupt outfit, where Arab nations have 23 seats vs. Israel’s ONE, unless of course, Obama favors the Arabs. (which he so obviously does). No wonder that Israel is consistently condemned for things it hasn’t even done, or for defending itself against terrorist attacks.

  • Posted by dewa poker

    your review about your article so good , make me know it… 2 thumb for you 🙂

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