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UNRWA Deemed Appropriately Neutral, but U.S. Plans To Withhold Funds for a Year

UNWRA personel in Gaza. Credit: UNRWA Facebook page

March 21, 2024 (EIRNS)—UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s spokesman issued a statement yesterday that their initial investigation of UNRWA, the main agency delivering “assistance to the 2 million people in the Gaza Strip who depend on it for their survival amidst one of the largest and most complex humanitarian crises in the world” finds “that UNRWA has in place a significant number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with the Humanitarian Principle of neutrality, and the group has also identified critical areas that still need to be addressed…. The review group will now develop concrete and realistic recommendations on how to address these critical areas to strengthen and improve UNRWA.” The final report is due April 20, so countries that insist upon continuing to withhold funds to UNRWA may hold out hope that they will have room to object to the recommended measures.

The March 19 interim report is from the UN’s independent panel, led by former French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna. They are working with three research institutions: Sweden’s Raoul Wallenberg Institute, Norway’s Chr. Michelsen Institute, and Denmark’s Institute for Human Rights. They interviewed UNRWA staff as well as Israeli and Palestinian officials as part of the investigation.

The United States, along with some 15 other countries plus the EU, suspended funding to UNRWA in January, finding that Israel’s allegations, that 12 of UNRWA’s 30,000 employees were involved in the Hamas Oct. 7 attack, were a more vital issue than the aid those employees were providing to 1.4 million displaced Gazans. Since then Sweden, Canada, and the European Commission have all reinstated funding.

On March 15, the Australian government became the fourth, announcing that they are resuming the funding for UNRWA, and are also pledging to increase aid to Gaza. Foreign Minister Penny Wong expressed her horror at the deteriorating humanitarian situation there, and stated: “The best available current advice from agencies and the Australian government lawyers is that UNRWA is not a terrorist organization.” Australia has “been working with a group of donor countries and with UNRWA on the shared objective of ensuring the integrity of UNRWA’s operations, rebuilding confidence, and so importantly, ensuring aid flows to Gazans in desperate need.”

In contrast, the Times of Israel reported yesterday from two sources that an agreement was reached by U.S. Congressional leaders and the White House to continue their ban on funding of UNRWA until March 2025. The Times of Israel reports: “The two sources familiar with the agreement said the funding would be blocked for a year, and that details of alternative efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza would be discussed after the legislation is made public. The White House and congressional leaders declined to comment on details of the agreement until texts of the spending bills are released.”