On Friday, the State Department announced that it will cease providing funds to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the body responsible for caring for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and that it is now working to shut down and replace it. Many current and former high-ranking IDF officers, while acknowledging UNRWA’s serious flaws, have been lobbying on the agency’s behalf, arguing that the benefits its humanitarian work outweigh its anti-Israel incitement, cooperation with Hamas, and mission of keeping its clients in a permanent state of refugeehood. Evelyn Gordon isn’t swayed:
First, U.S. cutbacks won’t actually cause a financial crisis. . . . UNRWA wouldn’t have any crisis at all if it weren’t outrageously overstaffed. It has almost three times as many employees as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, though the latter agency, which cares for all non-Palestinian refugees and displaced people worldwide, serves twelve times as many people. . . .
The defense officials’ second fallacy is that for Hamas to be providing services in UNRWA’s stead would somehow be bad. In reality, if Hamas had to provide services to the people it governs, it would have less money to spend on its endless military build-up, which would improve Israel’s security.
That’s exactly what happened last year, when the Palestinian Authority, which had previously financed all civilian services in Hamas-run Gaza not provided by UNRWA, stopped doing so. For the first time, Hamas had to pay for civilian needs like fuel for Gaza’s only power plant out of its own pocket. Consequently, according to Israeli intelligence, it slashed its annual military budget from $200 million in 2014 (the year of the last Hamas-Israel war) to $50 million last year. . . .
The final fallacy is defense officials’ desire to postpone conflict at any cost. Obviously, preventing war is usually desirable. But war with Hamas isn’t an existential threat, and in any case, virtually all Israeli analysts consider it inevitable at some point. The refugee crisis, in contrast, remains a potentially existential threat. Should the Palestinians ever succeed in mobilizing international support behind their demand that all 5 million “refugees” relocate to Israel, this would eradicate the Jewish state.
Hence Israel has a major interest in defusing this crisis by taking most of these “refugees” off the rolls—where, as noted, they don’t belong in any case—and permanently shuttering UNRWA, whose main mission in life is endlessly to expand those rolls.