By Nir Amran[i]
Throughout THE Protective Edge Campaign (July-August 2014), the Israeli public was exposed to media reports concerning numerous shooting incidents by Hamas from UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) facilities and compounds, such places that by definition are supposed to be neutral, for example: schools, clinics, offices and humanitarian detention centers and shelters. Also uncovered, was the fact that the UNRWA offices served as storage places for weapons, explosives and missiles belonging to Hamas, thus endangering the lives of the very Palestinians most in need of the Agency services. Upon discovery, these weapons and ammunition were returned to “the local authorities”.
Much data has been collected over the years by the Israeli security forces, as well as during previous military operations such as Pillar of Defense and Cast Lead, corroborating an existing link between the Agency and anti-Israeli aggressive activity, especially terrorism. Ever since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2006, the Agency has become a kind of executive branch of Hamas, employing many of the terrorist organization’s own people.
It is very likely that once the new Government in Jerusalem takes office, the peace discussions will resume – with the USA, Europe and Egypt acting as mediators – tackling some of Hamas’ “long term” demands – those that were set aside previously as “too tough to crack at the present time”. Examples of the issues to be negotiated are Hamas’ demand that a sea port be built, the setting free of additional Palestinian prisoners and the opening up the border crossings completely. Israel, on its part, will presumably demand a complete demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, and the close and effective supervision of goods and donated funds entering it.
This is the opportune moment for the Israeli side to raise yet another important demand, one which is not wholly new: in light of the hard evidence the Israeli defense forces now possess proving the corruptibility of the Agency for Palestine Refugees, and the fact that it bears responsibility for significant terrorist activity – the activity of UNWRA in Judea and Samaria and Gaza must be terminated.
Such a demand at the present time, could serve as a valuable lever in renewing the process that began in wake of the Oslo Accords (and later suspended): a process intended to terminate UNRWA’s activity in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and to transfer its authority to the PA (the Palestinian Authority).
If such a demand were made by Israel at the present time, it would have a good chance of being accepted, since it is in the common interest of both Israel and the PA, and would also benefit the mediators – Egypt, Europe and the USA. The mediators are interested in weakening Hamas, and have already expressed their basic consent (in the past) to transfer some of the funds donated each year to UNRWA to the PA instead[ii] in the interest of strengthening PA leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Mr Abbas is perceived by these mediators and by many others in the international political arena to be a pragmatic and moderate leader. It is also possible that as a result of this move, the leadership of Hamas would be weakened further, and that the Palestinian Authority would be able to regain control of Gaza.
Effecting this change will be a significant step in the long-term objective of both Israel and others: bringing about the termination of the unique and exceptional mandate given to UNRWA to deal with the Palestine refugees of 1948 – a mission it has failed to achieve any success over the past 65 years. It is a well-known fact that, over the years, UNRWA has chosen to attack Israel by means of political and terror-supporting activity rather than concentrating its focus and efforts on finding a solution for the distress of the refugees, e.g. by helping them settle down and obtain citizenship and fair treatment in their various countries of residence. Such a results would go far to help resolve the conflict.
The current situation, outlined delineated below, presents the international community with a window of opportunity to bring about the end of UNRWA’s harmful activity in Gaza and Judea and Samaria, followed perhaps by similar actions in other countries in which it is active.
[i] Nir Amran is a doctoral student in the Department for Conflict Resolution, Management and Negotiation at Bar Ilan University. Following his law studies at Bar Ilan (M.A. Legal Studies), he wrote a thesis titled “Who is a refugee? The definition of a refugee in international law and how it can be implemented in the State of Israel”, which also examined the legal aspects of the ties between the State of Israel and UNRWA.
[ii] The relative portion, intended for refugees in Gaza and Judea and Samaria, of the overall sum of monies and good transferred to the Agency for the benefit of refugees in all the regions in which it is active, namely: Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Gaza and Judea and Samaria.