Yesterday the head of the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA)—created in 1949 to provide humanitarian relief to Arab refugees from Israel’s War of Independence—resigned amidst a corruption scandal involving misuse of funds and an affair with a subordinate. As Frank Musmar notes, corruption is but one of many problems with the organization, which caters not just to refugees but to their descendants and, contrary to its original mission, seeks not to settle them in the countries where they live but to keep them in a perpetual state of dependency. He writes:
UNRWA has prolonged rather than resolved the plight of Palestinian refugees. Worse, by encouraging the Palestinian fixation on the “right of return”—the standard euphemism for the destruction of Israel via demographic subversion—it impedes negotiations for a permanent peace agreement. The agency should be eliminated and the responsibility for [the remaining] Palestinian refugees shifted to the UN high commissioner of refugees (UNHCR).
Not for the first time, the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services is currently investigating UNRWA’s top management for abuses of power, including sexual misconduct, nepotism, bullying, and retaliation. The Swiss, Dutch, and Belgian governments have all suspended payments to UNRWA while the investigation is ongoing.
Perhaps not surprisingly in view of the above, the agency has adopted a culture of secrecy about itself. It employs about 30,000 people—compared with the 11,000 employees of UNHCR [the UN’s main agency for refugees] for the rest of the world’s 17 million refugees and displaced persons. Most of its staff are Palestinians and many are known members of Hamas; indeed, Hamas membership can help one get a UN job on the West Bank.