Diplomacy

UK Development Secretary Urged to Reconsider UNRWA Aid Due to Its Failure to Reform

Britain’s International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has been urged to take “a firmer approach” to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), which is under fire for a lack of reform and the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem.

After the United States announced in September that it was ending funding to UNRWA, Britain pledged an additional £5 million ($6.4 million) in emergency aid for the agency’s activities in Gaza. Earlier this week, Mordaunt wrote to parliamentarians to explain the background of the decision.

However, in a letter to the cabinet, Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) said that the Secretary of State’s correspondence “fails to give the necessary assurances that this additional aid designation will be dispensed responsibly,” raising additional concerns on the “troubling” omission of Hamas’s status as an internationally designated terrorist organization.

The group added that there is no “recognition of [Hamas’s] harmful impact upon the people of Gaza,” including “Hamas’s efforts to divert international aid to construct cross-border attack tunnels into Israel and produce rockets to fire towards Israeli civilian communities.”

In their letter, CFI observed that a debate about how to define Palestinian refugees was “long overdue,” claiming that Palestinian refugees are “globally unique in that refugee status is inherited in perpetuity.”

They also conveyed “longstanding concerns” over “the presence of antisemitism, violent rhetoric and incitement within the Palestinian Authority (PA) curriculum,” which is dispersed by UNRWA across its network of some 700 schools, as well as condemnation for the PA’s “abhorrent practice of paying salaries to convicted Palestinian terrorists.”

Britain’s parliament on Tuesday approved in a first hearing a bill, drafted by Labour lawmakers Joan Ryan and Dame Louise Ellman, that could significantly cut aid funds to the PA over incitement against Israelis and Jews.

The legislation demands that teaching programs in schools run by the PA that receive financial assistance from Britain should promote values such as peace, freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination.

The Labour MPs charged that since introducing the bill they have been threatened by radical elements within the party. Ellman said: “I speak out against anti-Semitism and criticize the positions of the party when I don’t agree with them and I will continue to do so. It’s important to say that the Labour Friends of Israel group gives me a great deal of strength.”

In 2016, the Department for International Development suspended $30 million in aid to the PA, which amounted to around one-third of the UK’s yearly aid to the PA. At the time, then-International Development Secretary Priti Patel called for a review of the PA’s role in paying salaries to terrorists who are convicted by Israeli courts, or to families of terrorists who died while carrying out attacks.

[Photo: Chris McAndrew / WikiCommons ]