Photo Credit: Esty Dziubov/TPS
The offices of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the near east, in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, Jun 13, 2019.

Israel called for deep and significant reforms to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) after the body publicized the preliminary findings of its probe into broad corruption among its leadership.

In July, a confidential internal report from the UNRWA office of ethics that detailed alleged abuses of authority among the organization’s senior management team was publicized.


The 10-page document cites “credible and corroborated reports” that top UNRWA officials have engaged in “abuses of authority for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”

Several countries suspended their aid to the organization following the publication of the allegations.

In the latest development, the UN Secretary-General’s office on Wednesday announced that the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) has partially completed the inquiry into “UNRWA management-related matters.”

The findings revealed “management issues” related specifically to the Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl. He has stepped aside until the completion of the process, and Christian Saunders has been appointed the Officer-In-Charge for the interim period.

UNRWA chief Krähenbühl is a Swiss national who has been at UNRWA since 2014. He has reportedly pledged full cooperation with the investigating authorities.

The probe “revealed a number of areas which required strengthening, and the agency has already commenced corrective action and will be pursuing further initiatives and improvements over the coming months.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated after the findings were announced that it views them “with much severity” and called “for a full and transparent publication of the investigation’s findings.”

“The publications confirm Israel’s claims that the agency’s action model requires a profound and fundamental change,” the statement added.

Israel further charged that under Krähenbühl’s leadership, “UNRWA’s politicization has increased, the budget deficit has grown, and the organization’s model of operation has proven to be unsustainable.”

Krähenbühl’s suspension should be the “first step in a long process required to eradicate corruption, increase transparency, and prevent politicization in the agency,” Israel said, urging the international community to “take part in a process of thinking about a more effective model of action.”

“UNRWA’s mandate renewal is a completely absurd, immoral, and unacceptable move,” the statement concluded.

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said that “UNRWA’s conduct demonstrates that it is part of the problem and not part of the solution.”

“The agency perpetuates the refugee problem in an explicitly political fashion, eliminating any solution. The international community needs to find another model that will provide a humanitarian response to those who are genuinely eligible for aid, and rid itself of the false idea about the return ​​of refugees [to Israel],” he added.

UNRWA has been campaigning for the “return” of millions of Arab “refugees” to Israel. Israel has argued for years that the UN and the Arabs are working to perpetuate the refugee problem and oppose any attempt to seek a solution.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly charged that “UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem. It also perpetuates the narrative of the right-of-return, as it were, in order to eliminate the state of Israel; therefore, UNRWA needs to pass from the world.”

Netanyahu said the solution is to gradually shift UNRWA’s funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “with clear criteria for supporting genuine refugees, not fictitious refugees as happens today under UNRWA.”

The Palestinians’ status as refugees ensures an endless flow of international aid and has other financial ramifications.

A so-called “Palestinian” refugee receives quadruple the amount of aid that a Syrian, Iraqi or African refugee receives from the United Nations.

A study released in September 2017 shows that in 2016, UNRWA, which provides assistance solely to “Palestinians”, spent an average of $246 for each of the 5.3 million “Palestinians” it defines as refugees, while the UNHCR spent only a quarter of that, $58 per refugee, on non-Palestinians.


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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.