Instead of acknowledging this sad reality, members of Congress nodded their heads in eager agreement as witness Jonathan Schanzer, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, insisted that UNRWA be shut down. “UNRWA treats the Palestinians more like clients than refugees,” he claimed, thus perpetuating the refugee problem. The only dissenting voice around shutting down UNRWA was David Makovsky, who cautioned that the Israeli government might hate UNRWA, but it would not like to see it shut down because then Israel would have to pay for those services it provides, including schooling Palestinian refugee kids.
Shutting off the lights: One witness, Schanzer, had just returned from Ramallah with news about the “electricity scam.” The PA, he said, was supplying power to Palestinians in Gaza, but Hamas–which controls Gaza–was charging people and pocketing the money. Since the US funds the PA, we were enabling this scam. Committee Chair Ros-Lethinen was horrified and indicated that cutting off funds for electricity (i.e. turning out the lights on 1.6 million people) might be in order. No one mentioned that Israel bombed Gaza’s sole power plant during the 2008 invasion, and today it is still only partially functioning. No one mentioned that Israel continues to restrict the entry of spare parts to rebuild the plant and fuel to run it, leaving the people of Gaza with severe power shortages of up to 12 hours a day!
Tying aid with plenty of strings: While most representatives expressed a desire to cut all funds to the PA, the witnesses cautioned them–not for humanitarian reasons but for Israel’s interests. The PA security forces have been cooperating with the Israelis on everything from stopping attacks on Israelis to repressing demonstrations. David Makovsky from the Washington Institute speculated that cutting off funds to the PA security forces would only hurt Israel. Schanzer said that cutting off the PA could lead to an “intrafada” in which Hamas could emerge even stronger. He stated that money is the U.S. leverage to control the PA. “If we cut the funds, we lose our leverage and open the door for Iran and other anti-Israel actors.”