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The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is protesting a Canadian government decision to cut funding to the agency’s programs in the Palestinian Authority, in favor of redirecting the money towards the PA justice system. 

UNRWA runs a numbers of schools as well as food distribution and other support programs, including quarterly stipends, in Arab towns and villages throughout Gaza, Judea and Samaria. The organization's website describes the agency as follows: Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, was established by United Nations General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees. The agency today is a mammoth structure, employing thousands of local PA Arabs in each of the regions to carry out its programs, each of which is also administered by local PA residents as well.

The redirection of funds was applauded by the nonprofit Binai Brith of Canada organization, which praised the strategy as one that would further build PA government infrastructure.

Neither PA officials nor UNRWA was pleased by the decision. Until now, the Canadian government has provided UNRWA with approximately 11 percent of its budget, totaling approximately $10 million annually. In explaining the change, Canadian officials said that it was “difficult” for the government to monitor how the money was being used. 

The Canada-Israel Committee also released a statement applauding the government's reallocation of UNRWA's funding to "direct food aid to the Palestinians."

Canada: PA Wanted ‘Direct Deposit' to Treasury

Victor Toews, president of the Canadian Treasury Board, told reporters that he met in Ramallah on January 9 to discuss the matter with Ali al-Jarbawi, PA Minister of Planning and Administrative Development. Also present at the meeting were two other PA officials, PA Justice Minister Ali Khashan and PA Attorney-General Ahmed al-Mughani.

Toews related that at the meeting, al-Jarbawi asked that the money be deposited “directly" to the PA Treasury. However, Toews said, the Canadian government refused the request.

“Canada has made a $300 million commitment over five years to the Palestinian Authority, but we want to put that money only into programs that are consistent with Canadian values,” he explained. “We are going to focus directing our funds on institution-building in the PA, such as building a proper functioning justice system… I told him [Jarbawi] that our [Canada’s] paramount concern is the security of Israel.”

Binai Brith: Hamas Infiltration in UNRWA?

“We are grateful that Canadians have a government that truly understands the situation in Israel and the territories and has acted to redirect funding from UNRWA to specific projects in the Palestinian Authority,” Frank Dimant, executive vice president of Binai Brith Canada, said in a statement.

“Institution-building in the Palestinian territories is crucial for civil society there to prosper and for a peace deal between the parties to become truly feasible. Canadian funding of UNRWA has always been problematic due to the fact that numerous reports spelled out the degree to which Hamas and other Islamic terrorist organizations have infiltrated UNRWA and diverted funding intended to benefit the Palestinian people,” the statement continued.

“This new directive from the Harper administration will ensure that the funding will actually go to real and specific projects for which there will at last be true accountability.”

UNRWA: ‘Ill-Judged Politically-Motivated Allegations’

Jerusalem-based UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said flatly the allegations were “baseless.”  In a written response sent to Israel National News, Gunness noted that the United States and Europe, “which give serious support to the State of Israel, are UNRWA’s two most generous supporters. If these baseless allegations were even halfway true, do you really think the US and EC would give us hundreds of millions of dollars each year?” he asked.

“The latest US Government Accountability Office audit of UNRWA – the result of months of detailed investigations into these sorts of allegations – show how ill-judged these politically motivated allegations are,” he said.

Gunness also claimed that it is in Israel’s interest to maintain a strong UNRWA, “contributing to the peace and stability of this region – a fact recognized by the Israeli government which regularly praises our work,” he said. “There are groups who seem to think that if UNRWA were de-funded and disappeared, the refugees would disappear too. This is a deluded fiction,” he stated.