Palestinian UN agencies need to improve their neutrality

A UN report on the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA concluded that more efforts need to be made to improve the agency’s neutrality, staff scrutiny and transparency.

But an independent investigation also said Israel was unable to substantiate claims that many of the agency’s employees belong to terrorist organizations.

Some UNRWA personnel have been accused by Israel of involvement in the October 7 attack and as members of Hamas.

This led several countries to suspend funding to humanitarian agencies.

The new report says Israel has not yet provided “corroborating evidence” for its claims.

However, it added that the agency’s oversight processes needed to be improved and that despite the fact that the organization had a “robust framework”, issues related to neutrality remained.

Israeli authorities rejected the findings, claiming the report ignored the seriousness of the problem. They say the agency’s problem is “not a matter of a few bad apples; it is a rotten, poisonous tree with Hamas at its roots.”

Israel initially claimed that 12 UNRWA personnel took part in Hamas attacks against southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking approximately 250 hostages.

UNRWA has dismissed 10 of these employees who were still alive, and a separate investigation by the UN Internal Monitoring Service into these allegations is ongoing.

Monday’s report considers other Israeli claims that a number of UNRWA personnel are members of terrorist groups or have family members of terrorist groups.

Israel has announced that out of a total of 13,000 employees in the Gaza Strip, more than 2,135 of its employees are members of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is banned as a terrorist organization by Israel, Britain, the United States, and others. It also suggests that one-fifth of UNRWA’s school administrators are members of Hamas.

UNRWA claims it conducts detailed background checks on all its staff and shares its staff list with all host countries, including Israel. The new report states that Israel has not yet provided evidence to support its claims.

But that doesn’t mean it’s an enthusiastic supporter of the agency.

Led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and supported by three European research institutes, UNRWA believes it can do a better job of upholding the obligatory humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality.

It points to the staff vetting system as an area for improvement, but adds that this requires better cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel already regularly receives lists of UNRWA personnel for its own vetting purposes.

The report also highlights how difficult and even dangerous working conditions at UNRWA are.

Violence is common, opinion is polarized, and although UNRWA’s system is said to be more stringent than many other agencies, the report finds that the system is hampered by staffing shortages and safety concerns. This suggests that this is often the case.

The United Nations Secretary-General and UNRWA Director fully accepted the report’s findings and committed to implementing all of its recommendations.

Several donor countries have resumed funding to UNRWA, including Japan, Sweden, Finland, Canada, and the European Union, but the United States and the United Kingdom have not.

The United Nations hopes the report will prompt the restoration of financial support.

But before returning their cash to an organization that today’s report described as an “irreplaceable and irreplaceable organization” despite its need for improvement, some donors decided to give up on Oct. 7. It may want to wait for a separate UN investigation that specifically looks into allegations that 12 UNRWA personnel actually took part in the attack. It is essential to the human and economic development of the Palestinian people. ”

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