Will today's attack on UNRWA spark tomorrow's terrorism?

Netanyahu's attempt to defund the international body tasked with safeguarding Palestinian refugees puts their future into focus—one where children are not educated in UN classrooms but on the streets.

Will today's attack on UNRWA spark tomorrow's terrorism?

Netanyahu has always wanted to dismantle the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees (UNRWA) because it is a reminder of the Palestinians who were expelled from their lands 75 years ago by Israel and their inalienable right to return to their homes.

But there seems to be a more concerted and intentional effort underway. From the Israeli premier's point of view, destroying UNRWA would significantly boost Israel's negotiating position in the event of any final settlement agreement with the Palestinians.

Before a final solution can be reached, the two sides need to settle a host of pesky issues like Jerusalem, the right of return, Israeli settlements, and eventual Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu recently announced that UNRWA would not be allowed access to northern Gaza, where Israel is starving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who desperately need the aid.

Longstanding campaign

But this was just the latest step in a series of measures taken by Israel since the onset of its war on Gaza. On 26 January, Israel claimed that 12 UNRWA personnel in Gaza were involved in the 7 October Hamas attacks without providing evidence.

The timing conveniently coincided with a ruling by the International Court of Justice, which accused Israel of plausible genocide. No doubt, the court's decision infuriated Israel and fuelled its determination to eliminate UNRWA, whose reports were extensively cited in the Hague.

Will the decision to defund UNRWA today set into motion the next wave of terrorism tomorrow?

Perfect synchronisation

In the immediate aftermath— and in perfect synchronisation—the US and other Western nations fell into line. They announced they would suspend funding to UNRWA even before any investigation could determine if the Israeli claims were true.

Since 26 January, 18 countries, including the European Union, have suspended funding, although some have reversed their decisions since then. For its part, Congress omitted the $400mn allocated to UNRWA in the national budget. 

Additionally, it is proposing a law to deter other countries from funding international agencies, which could have practical and political implications for Europe.

What are the implications for UNRWA?  First, defunding the international organisation will diminish its crucial role in the West Bank (housing 900,000 refugees) and the Gaza Strip (home to 1.7 million refugees). 

The second implication would mean that responsibility for caring for Palestinian refugees across Syria, Lebanon and Jordan would then be transferred outside the purview of the United Nations and become a local issue instead.

This could have profound implications for these countries' demographic balances, particularly Jordan, which fears that Netanyahu could try to attack Palestinians in the West Bank and encourage another Palestinian refugee surge eastward into Jordan. 

All of this puts the future into focus—one where Palestinian children are not educated in United Nations classrooms but on the streets. Will today's decisions set into motion tomorrow's wave of terrorism?

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