UNRWA cannot come to a standstill in Gaza because of this: Global Times editorial
Published: Jan 29, 2024 12:19 AM
Blocking aid. Illustration: Liu Rui/ GT

Blocking aid. Illustration: Liu Rui/ GT

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), has become the latest focus of the Israel-Palestine conflict, with allegations of its staffers' involvement in October's attack on Israel. The allegations have complicated the already fragile humanitarian situation in Gaza. So far, 10 countries, including the largest donor, the US, have announced the suspension of funding for UNRWA. On January 28, the spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a statement disclosing the investigation into the incident. It stated that "any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution," but urged donor countries to "guarantee the continuity of UNRWA's operations" to maintain the much-needed assistance to Gaza. 

The international community, including the UN itself, has taken the allegations of UN employees being involved in the attack seriously. It is believed that the UN will conduct a thorough investigation and take appropriate action, providing a responsible account to the international community. It is necessary to emphasize that both the ongoing probe and the future investigation results should be handled on a case-by-case basis, without politicizing or exaggerating the issue. In particular, precautions should be taken to prevent any serious secondary humanitarian disaster resulting from this incident. 

UNRWA is one of the oldest UN agencies and the largest UN agency in Gaza. Since the start of this conflict, 1.7 million people have sought refuge or received services in over 150 UNRWA shelters and distribution sites. Food, water, education, and healthcare in Gaza largely depend on UNRWA. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is the last lifeline for 2.2 million people. The funding of this agency is almost entirely provided by donors, and it has been in a financially tight or even crisis state for many years. The countries that have currently announced the suspension of funding are important donor countries, with their donations accounting for a significant proportion of the organization's funds. Although most countries currently claim to suspend funding during the "investigation period," the concept of the "investigation period" is vague, and it is still unknown how long the funding will be suspended.

The UN announced on Sunday that UNRWA's current funding will not allow it to meet all requirements of the aid recipients in February. At that time, the agency may find it difficult to maintain its previous operational status, and may even face the possibility of a shutdown. It is particularly noteworthy that Israel has previously stated that the Israeli government will implement a policy to prevent UNRWA from operating in the Gaza Strip after the current round of Israel-Palestine conflict ends. Considering UNRWA's pivotal position in local organizations within the UN, this will restrain the UN's role in Gaza and the Middle East, and deal a major blow to the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

During the era of the Trump administration, the US temporarily suspended donations to the agency and even planned to propose alternative solutions. However, after the Biden administration took office, it gradually resumed funding and adopted a cooperative attitude toward UNRWA. Apart from Washington's change in stance, the main reason for this is that there is currently no alternative to UNRWA, and it remains the only hope for Palestinian refugees. The international community has broad consensus that "collective punishment" against the Gaza population for condemning and combating terrorism is unacceptable and humanitarian needs should be guaranteed. It is completely unnecessary to take sides on this matter. 

The alleged involvement of UN employees in the October 7 attack should be dealt with objectively and fairly, and the international community should increase support for UNRWA rather than reduce it. As for the complex situation in the Gaza Strip, the two-state solution is the only viable option that can achieve a comprehensive, fair, and lasting resolution to the Palestinian issue. In the slow progress of the "two-state solution," UNRWA has played an indispensable role in providing much-needed assistance to Palestinian refugees. It is a shared responsibility of all parties to continue supporting and maintaining the authority and status of the UN.