19 January 2005
The U.N. at Work
In 2003 and 2004, the Israel Defense Forces captured documentation showing how the U.N. Development Program was regularly funding two Hamas front organizations: the Tulkarm Charity Committee and the Jenin District Committee for Charitable Funds. The donations varied - sometimes $4,000 and sometimes $10,000. Receipts and even copies of thank-you notes to UNDP were discovered. The U.N. should have exercised considerable caution with transfers of this sort, considering that in 2002, Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement described Jenin as "the capital of the suicide bombers." Nonetheless, one might ask, how was the U.N. to know that these were actually Hamas front groups?
Here's how: In June 2003, the Office of the Coordinator of the Activities of the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip asked UNDP to stop all assistance to the Jenin District Committee because of its Hamas connection. Israel knew that Hamas operatives ran the charity; its deputy director had been a member of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the elite terrorist unit of Hamas. Timothy Rothermel, UNDP's special representative in Jerusalem, turned down the Israeli request.
Another disturbing revelation from captured documents is the support provided by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for the "Koran and Sunna Society" of Kalkilya. UNRWA has been heavily penetrated by Hamas for years; Hamas members dominate many of its unions, including the teachers union. But this new link represented a further deterioration in the U.N.'s connections, for the "Koran and Sunna Society" defines itself as salafi - it adopts doctrines from militant Islam. Indeed, the "Koran and Sunna Society," which has six branches in the West Bank, distributes pamphlets published in Saudi Arabia that are often written by radical Wahhabi clerics. References to the value of martyrdom and jihad are not uncommon in these materials. One of the Society's schools, called "The Martyrs of the Al-Aqsa Intifada," received payments from UNRWA for educating children of Palestinian refugees in March and June of 2004.
This glaringly bad judgment by U.N. agencies is not confined to the West Bank and Gaza. In October 2004, the "Arab International Forum for Rehabilitation and Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory" held a conference in Beirut under the auspices of the U.N.'s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). The conference announced a joint initiative between ESCWA and the "Coalition of Goodness," an organization led by a spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradhawi. This U.N. partner, a year earlier, appeared in Sweden and spoke in favor of suicide operations against Israeli civilians. And two months before the Beirut conference, he signed a communique' calling on Muslims to support the forces fighting the U.S. in Iraq.
Besides getting to the bottom of the Oil-for-Food scandal, it is equally vital to get the U.N. to halt its backing of recognized international terrorist groups. The Bush administration gave the U.N. a special status in the Arab-Israeli peace process by making it part of the multilateral "Quartet" - along with the U.S., the EU and Russia. But because of this behavior on the part of its agencies, the U.N. should not be granted this diplomatic standing by any of the parties to Middle Eastern negotiations. Since the U.N. presents itself as the source of international legitimacy, Hamas fronts can now argue in domestic courts that they are legitimate humanitarian agencies that benefit from U.N. recognition. True, the U.N. is a huge complex of many sub-organizations - and it may be difficult to monitor everyone. But the U.N. has a duty today to clean up its act before it asks for the trust of Israel or any law-abiding member of the international community again.
Mr. Gold, Israel's ambassador to the U.N. from 1997-99, is author of Tower of Babble: How the U.N. Has Fueled Global Chaos (Crown, 2004).