More than two years ago, US Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the US Senate Near East Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked the Government Accountability Office to conduct an investigation of Palestinian Authority schoolbooks now used by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Senator Risch ordered the GAO study after Idaho constituents introduced Senator Risch to the findings of the Center for Near East Policy Research, which purchases, translates and evaluates all schoolbooks that Palestinian Arab children learn from in all UNRWA schools, financed in part by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and published by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center).
UNRWA is an American issue.
The US is the largest funder of UNRWA, donating 30% of the $1.2 billion UNRWA budget; 54% of the UNRWA budget is allocated to UNRWA education.
The GAO completed its comprehensive report on UNRWA education at the end of April. Sources at the GAO confirm that the study conclusively documents that Palestinian Authority schoolbooks used by UNRWA work against peace and reconciliation. War indoctrination is a theme throughout the PA schoolbooks.
However, on May 3, Chuck Young, director of public affairs of the GAO issued a statement that the US State Dept will not allow the report to be released to the US Congress which had ordered the report in order to provide a guide to further US funding of UNRWA. Why? Young referred that question to the State Department.
I wrote to US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. No answer. I wrote to the new US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. No answer. I flew to New York and met with the staff of Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN. No answer.
A perfunctory answer emanated from an official of the US State Department, who referred the question to the GAO. The GAO repeated that this was a US State Department decision, not theirs. So the decision stands. The GAO report on UNRWA education is officially blocked from the media, the US Congress and even from the US administration.
Why would the US State Department not want to disclose what students study in US-funded UNRWA schools? After all, these schoolbooks reach half a million UNRWA students and are publicly disseminated. The books all appear on the Internet. Why should the content of UNRWA schoolbooks not be disclosed?
Publication of such a GAO report would make it very difficult for the US government to maintain its policy that the nascent Palestinian Authority constitutes a bona fide peace partner; perhaps that is the reason that the topic of education is not being mentioned in the reports that have surfaced concerning the new US peace initiative.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of Global Social Action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, issued a statement about the refusal of the State Department to disclose the GAO investigation of UNRWA education, saying, “We urge this decision be reversed,” he said. “UNRWA needs reform. Even UN Secretary General Guterres said so. The idea that a study about what the Palestinians teach their children in textbooks should be withheld from the public is unconscionable and unacceptable. When textbooks reflect a rejection of the reality of Israel and the legitimacy of Israel as a neighbor, we will see another generation offered up by their leaders as cannon fodder and unable to accept a peace offer.”
The writer is director of the Israel Resource News Agency Center for Near East Policy Research.