How the U.S. Missed an Opportunity to Reform the Corrupt UN Organization That Keeps the Israel-Palestinian Conflict Alive

Sept. 10 2021

In 2018, the U.S. abruptly cut its funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the organization created in 1950 to tend to the needs of Arab refugees from the Israeli War of Independence. The reasons to deny financial support to UNRWA are numerous: unlike the UN itself and other international bodies, it counts descendants of refugees as refugees themselves, along with those who have citizenship in other countries; its schools teach students anti-Semitic and jihadist propaganda; and in Gaza its employees cooperate with terrorists and its schools sometimes serve as weapons depots. Worst of all, it functions to prolong, rather than solve, the Palestinian refugee problem.

Since coming to office, the Biden administration has restored funding, but has only received some vague assurances from UNRWA that it will rectify some of its most egregious behavior. James G. Lindsay writes:

In return for renewing its generous funding, the United States could have, inter alia, demanded that UNRWA

  • Check its staff, beneficiaries, and contractors against the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control list—which at least would have reduced the likelihood of the agency using U.S. funds to support persons under sanctions;
  • Take immediate action with regard to the decades-long saga of improper content in UNRWA textbooks—e.g., by paying for separate print runs of local textbooks, modified to be suitable for use by UNRWA students;
  • Begin the process of identifying those persons on UNRWA’s rolls who actually meet the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) definition of a refugee;
  • Move from a status- to a needs-based provision of services to refugees.

The 2021 framework agreement [with the U.S.] may carry minor benefits by highlighting a few embarrassing problems raised publicly by UNRWA critics (e.g., staff misconduct, textbook concerns), but the agreement mostly focuses on process-related items, such as reporting modalities, and on aspirational statements. More effective would have been to use UNRWA’s tenuous financial position to compel specific, tangible, and constructive actions such as those just outlined.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Joe Biden, Palestinian refugees, UNRWA

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism