Palestinian men collect aid food at a United Nations' compound in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on September 1, 2018. AFP

Israeli Defense Officials to Gov’t: We Must Establish Alternative for UNRWA or Gaza Will Collapse

Israeli delegation to upcoming conference expected to encourage donor countries to help guarantee continued delivery of food, education services and salaries

Israeli defense officials agreed in a meeting last week that the government must develop an alternative to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip in order to head off a humanitarian disaster in light of the U.S. commitment to defunding the agency.

An Israeli delegation to a donor conference in New York later this month is expected to encourage donor countries to pitch in to guarantee the continued delivery of food, education services and the salaries of the UN’s 30,000 employees in the Strip. Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, is one of several Israeli defense officials who are scheduled to attend.

In earlier meetings ideas for projects were put forward that Israel wanted to promote, mainly in the realm of infrastructure, but now Israel will now seek ways of funding more basic needs.

At the moment, Israeli security officials say, agency activities have not been curtailed, and this situation should remain this way until the end of 2018, because the agency’s budget and activities have already been determined. The school year began as planned, food is coming in and salaries are being paid.

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But defense officials noted last week that 97 percent of the water in the Gaza Strip is unfit for drinking. Desalination projects are not progressing quickly enough, and Gazans now store seawater in their homes for household use.

By international standards, Israeli security officials said, despite the difficult situation in Gaza the Strip is not in humanitarian collapse.

The Israel Defense Forces warned last week, however, that if the UN agency’s Gaza operations cease without a workable alternative being found, an escalation in violence is nearly inevitable. This is because Hamas will more easily be able to direct popular criticism toward Israel and clash with Israel, even if in a limited manner, to highlight the issue internationally.

Last week IDF sources said the main problem now is that the Palestinian Authority does not want to accept agreements reached among Hamas, Egypt and the UN envoy unless the PA takes the lead.

Under these circumstances, reconciliation between the Gaza government and the PA is unlikely and increases the risk of escalation.

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