Will UAE back Israeli plan to destroy UNRWA?

Children seated in a classroom

The UN agency UNRWA provides for health, education and other basic needs of millions of Palestinian refugees barred from returning home by Israel because they are not Jewish.

Mahmoud Ajjour APA images

The United Arab Emirates may be backing an Israeli plan to close UNRWA, the UN agency that meets the health, education and other basic needs of millions of Palestinian refugees.

Emirati officials are considering “a plan of action aimed at making UNRWA progressively disappear, without conditioning this on any resolution of the problem of the refugees,” France’s Le Monde newspaper reported last week.

This would help Israel achieve its longstanding goal of liquidating the rights of Palestinian refugees altogether.

Israel believes the existence of UNRWA keeps alive the question of Palestinian refugees who were ethnically cleansed from their homes by Zionist militias before and after Israel was founded in 1948.

Since then, Israel has barred Palestinian refugees from returning home solely on the racist grounds that they are not Jewish.

“UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the problem of the Palestinian refugees,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said.

“It also perpetuates the narrative of the so-called ‘right of return’ with the aim of eliminating the State of Israel, and therefore UNRWA must disappear,” Netanyahu added.

Perverse logic

UNRWA exists because refugees are denied their rights, and their basic humanitarian needs must be met until those rights are respected.

The perverse logic of the Israeli position is like saying that since hospitals are full of sick people, the way to eliminate sickness is to close all hospitals.

Yet Israel hopes that by destroying UNRWA, it can further reduce the visibility of Palestinian refugees on the international agenda and is no doubt recruiting Arab allies to its cause.

It was with the same logic in mind that the Trump administration eliminated all US funding for UNRWA in 2018.

The Trump administration’s “peace” plan also calls for Palestinian refugees to be permanently deprived of their right to return home.

While other countries increased their contributions to UNRWA in the wake of US cuts, the agency has remained in a chronic financial crisis, now exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Le Monde says that the UAE’s foreign affairs minister Anwar Gargash did not respond to its request for comment but notes that the Gulf state all but eliminated its funding to UNRWA this year.

After providing UNRWA with nearly $52 million in 2019, the UAE government slashed its pledge for 2020 to just $1 million.

In 2019, Saudi Arabia, another pro-Israel Arab regime, drastically cut its support for UNRWA’s core programming budget to just $2 million, from $50 million a year earlier. In 2020, Saudi Arabia bumped its funding back up to $29 million – still well short of 2018 levels. It remains to be seen if these gyrations contain a political message.

Israeli military in UAE?

Meanwhile, according to Le Monde, the Emirates is eyeing even closer military integration with Israel.

Over the next few years, the UAE may seek to acquire Israel’s Iron Dome missile interception system to defend against a perceived threat from Iran.

“The question of the transfer of this technology will be raised in coming years,” said Hussein Ibish, an employee of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

That think tank is funded by UAE and Saudi sources along with major oil firms and the weapons companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.

Iron Dome is made by Raytheon in partnership with the Israeli weapons company Rafael.

“The Israelis could demand in exchange the deployment of military advisers on the soil of the United Arab Emirates,” Ibish told Le Monde. “This way they would be right on the frontier with Iran.

By all appearances, the ultimate goal of the normalization deals between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab regimes is not “peace.” Instead, it is to transform these states into full economic, diplomatic and military outposts of Israel.




Thank you for pointing out some of the more deadly, but less obvious, motivations behind the growing partnerships between Israel and Arab countries. Sure, it seems like a generally cruel thing to do to the Palestinians by siding with Israel; but much more heinous motivations such as those you discuss in your article are the most dangerous motivations with catastrophic results.