Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday insisted on the disbanding of the United Nations’ agency that supports millions of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, days after U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Netanyahu on Sunday reiterated Israel’s longstanding complaint that UNRWA “teaches children how to hate Israel” in its schools and accused the organization of “perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem.” He also said he had brought up the issue with Hayley last week. The U.S. was the biggest donor to UNRWA last year.
“The time has come to dismantle UNRWA and have its parts be integrated into the U.N. High Commission for Refugees,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, referring to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East by its acronym, according to the Times of Israel.
UNRWA was founded by the United Nations’ General Assembly in 1949 following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict to provide assistance to displaced Palestinians. Today, the organization supports some five million Palestinians living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The agency is funded almost entirely through voluntary contributions by U.N. member states and its services include education, health care and emergency relief.
UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness told HuffPost in a statement that the organization’s mandate and position is clear and unchanged. “UNRWA receives its mandate from the U.N. General Assembly; and only the U.N. General Assembly, by a majority vote, can change our mandate,” Gunness said. The General Assembly renewed UNRWA’s mandate for three years in December 2016.
UNRWA had faced fierce criticism in Israel in recent days after it announced that it had discovered a Hamas tunnel under two of its boys schools in Maghazi camp in the Gaza Strip on June 1. Both schools were cleared out for summer recess at the time.
The organization strongly objected against the tunnel running under its grounds and chastised the militants for putting students and staff at risk. “The sanctity and neutrality of U.N. premises must be preserved at all times,” the organization said in a statement.
UNRWA stressed that the tunnel had no entry or exit points on the schools’ premises and wasn’t connected to the school buildings.