Monday, February 09, 2009

Did UNRWA engineer the Hamas "hijacking?"

YNet reports:
The United Nations said on Monday that Hamas has returned all of the aid supplies that it seized from the agency in the Gaza Strip last week.
But one of the sentences at the end of the article is more interesting:
The UN is under pressure to show international donors that it is independent of Hamas as it seeks funding to rebuild the territory after Israel's crushing three-week military offensive.
Indeed it is. There have been prominent calls for Congress to withhold funding UNRWA until it proves it can audit UNRWA more effectively, and a bill has been introduced to increase oversight over UNRWA and investigate its ties to terror.

There is increasing evidence that UNRWA and Hamas have worked together, not officially but as de facto partners. If we take UNRWA's statements at face value, Hamas has avoided stealing UNRWA goods while it has taken supplies from other NGOs over the years; if we are more skeptical, then UNRWA has been covering up Hamas crimes against the agency. Either way, it looks more like collusion than an adversarial relationship.

Additionally, Hamas has admitted to diverting Palestinian Red Crescent aid to UNRWA.

Much has been written about known Hamas terrorists in UNRWA, and perhaps those accusations aren't entirely fair, as UNRWA has argued. However, instead of looking at the relatively low percentage of verified terrorists among the thousands of UNRWA employees in Gaza, we can get a more complete picture by looking at the UNRWA union. In 2003, more than 90% of the vote for the UNRWA workers' union was won by Hamas - and this is way before Hamas' Gaza coup. Hamas won every UNRWA union election since 1990.

After years of what can only be considered a symbiotic relationship between UNRWA and Hamas, where a Hamas-dominated UNRWA controlled the majority of aid in Gaza allowing Hamas to import weapons, it seems strange that Hamas should suddenly openly steal aid from UNRWA.

In the context of the new spotlight on UNRWA ties to Hamas, between the aforementioned congressional pressure and the recent report by James Lindsay on UNRWA's many shortcomings, is it possible that UNRWA engineered this "hijacking" of aid? UNRWA now appears to be upset at Hamas (and the UN genuinely is,) it gets Hamas to back down and admit its "mistake" - something Hamas never does - and the Hamas now shamefully returns the aid, also something Hamas has never done before. The idea that Hamas and UNRWA work together seems much less likely and this could be enough to allow that relationship to survive another couple of years without serious oversight.

I'm generally not big on conspiracy theories, but UNRWA seems to have benefitted greatly over this while Hamas has lost little.