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U.S. Needs a Better Way to Channel Funds to the Palestinian People
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged about $300 million last month in U.S. humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip, plus another $600 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority.
With Hamas ruling, the question is how U.S. tax dollars will be safeguarded and only reach Fatah's "kosher" hands. The resignation of theP.A.'s "Mr. Clean" -- Finance Minister Salam Fayad -- amid efforts to construct a unity Palestinian government only complicates the matter.
Making aid to the Palestinians even more difficult is the fact that United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East -- the U.N. agency devoted to the Palestinian cause -- is in bed with Hamas.
New evidence about UNRWA's corruption has come to light with the help of James Lindsay, who served as legal adviser and general counsel to UNRWA from 2002 to 2007. In his role, he oversaw all UNRWA legal activities, from aid contracts to relations with Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the P.A.
Lindsay, now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has published a troubling new report titled "Fixing UNRWA: Repairing the U.N.'s Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees." This is the first time an insider has exposed the problems of the organization from within. His report warns that UNRWA has deteriorated dramatically since its establishment.
Lindsay states that UNRWA offers services to those who don't actually need them, and that it employs Hamas operatives, something the organization no longer even bothers to deny.
A graphic demonstration of this was the death last May of Awad al-Qiq. He had a long career as a science teacher in an UNRWA school, and then had been promoted to run its Rafah Prep Boys School.
Qiq was also the leading bombmaker for Islamic Jihad. He was killed while supervising a factory that makes rockets and other weapons for use against Israel, located a short distance away from the school. Qiq was simultaneously building weapons for use in attacking Israeli civilians while indoctrinating his students to do the same thing. Islamic Jihad didn't need to pay him a salary for his military and militant activities since the United Nations and American taxpayers were already doing so.
Hamas has worked hard to portray Israel's December invasion of Gaza as a war against the Palestinian people. Westerners were presented with heartbreaking images of dead and maimed children, along with supposedly haphazard destruction. This was echoed by a stream of sympathetic European diplomats -- although impartial observers, such as Italian journalist Lorenzo Cremonisi, bravely reported about Hamas' intimidation of civilians, the use of human shields and lies regarding the numbers of casualties.
UNRWA added fuel to the fire by validating what it called a "humanitarian crisis" inflicted by the Israelis, which used "disproportionate force."
But when it comes to the Palestinians' claim for so-called "humanitarian" aid, all is forgiven. Since late 2007, more than $14 billion has been promised to the Palestinian Authority, although no one knows how much has actually been delivered. Western states, which took the lead by anteing up more than $5 billion at the recent donors' conference for the Palestinians, don't want to be seen as the ones pulling the plug on this never-ending dependence.
And Israel certainly does not want to be seen as the party responsible for starving Palestinian kids. This is one of the major conundrums Israel faces.
This reluctance to demand accountability -- not to speak of an end to dependence -- means that Israel itself is blocking the way to dismantling UNRWA. Because UNRWA is a major employer of Palestinians -- not only in Gaza, but in the West Bank, Jordan and everywhere it operates -- it has no incentive to put itself out of business. So it, in turn, blocks solutions to the refugee issue. And this issue is one of the problems, if not the central one, preventing the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In spite of all we know about UNRWA and the debilitating effects of dependency, aid continues to flow through it to Gaza, including food and medical supplies, as well as ambulances and blood units.
If we really want to help Palestinian society, we must insist that the roughly $900 million dollars actually get to the Palestinian people, and not to groups such as UNRWA and Hamas, which are more focused on empty rhetoric than working toward a peaceful civil society.
One option is to use other U.N. agencies that have more transparency. American tax payers deserve better, namely an entity that complies with U.S. law and its humanitarian mandate.
Asaf Romirowsky is the manager of Israel and Middle East affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.