Trump Administration withdraws funding from UNRWA

Sep 6, 2018 | AIJAC staff

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Update from AIJAC

Update 09/18 #01

As readers may be aware, last Friday the Trump Administration announced it would be withdrawing all US financial support from the agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency), after having already cut the US contribution to the agency earlier this year. This Update is devoted to commentary on the US move – which was praised by Israeli PM Netanyahu – and its implications.

We begin with an editorial on the US move from the Jerusalem Post.  The paper makes the case that the action is justified because, aside from other problems with UNRWA, the agency’s “mandate plays a central role in perpetuating the Palestinian refugee myth and the demand for the ‘right of return'” which makes peace impossible. The Post also suggests that this is a move which may help the Palestinians resume responsibility for their own national future, but acknowledges tactical concerns that there is a risk it will create instability on the West Bank in the short term. For the paper’s complete discussion, CLICK HERE.

Next up is Israeli columnist Ben-Dror Yemini, who offers some history of both how the UNRWA problem developed and of how the US came to change its policy with respect to UNRWA. The US, he notes, started changing policy thanks in part to pioneering legislation by US Senator Mark Kirk in 2012, which demanded the US State Department report on the refugee problem – and the US is now implementing the original resolutions which created UNRWA. Yemini also makes the case that the Palestinian refugee problem would long since have been resolved if only the international community had treated Palestinian refugees as it has treated all other refugees since World War II. For all the details, CLICK HERE.

Finally, in a piece written before the latest Trump Administration announcement but highly relevant to it, we offer you American Jewish Committee head David Harris explaining the differences between the treatment of Palestinian refugees and all other refugees. He reviews the history of the millions of refugees created by conflict over the past 100 years, and notes that not only do Palestinian have their own unique agency UNRWA, and their own unique definition of who is a refugee, but the UN backing Palestinian efforts to resist any workable long-term solution for the refugees is “unprecedented”. He concludes that in the story of these refugees lies the “irreducible tragedy — and the heart — of a decades-long conflict.” For Harris’ perceptive and well-written analysis,  CLICK HERE

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Editorial: Cutting UNRWA

Jerusalem Post, 09/02/2018

But beyond the UNRWA system being abused by terrorists, its written mandate plays a central role in perpetuating the Palestinian refugee myth and the demand for the “right of return.”

The Trump administration’s decision to cut funding to UNRWA, the UN agency serving Palestinian refugees, was justifiably applauded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.

As Netanyahu said, UNRWA’s treatment of Palestinians is “one of the main problems perpetuating the conflict.”

In recent years, for example, there have been a number of cases of its employees and facilities harboring terrorists, spreading incitement in textbooks and other materials, and even housing rocket launchers used to shoot at Israel.

A Hamas terror tunnel was found emanating from this Gaza school in 2017

But beyond the UNRWA system being abused by terrorists, its written mandate plays a central role in perpetuating the Palestinian refugee myth and the demand for the “right of return.”

The Palestinians have their own special UN refugee agency, as opposed to all other refugees who are served by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The definition of refugee that UNRWA follows is different from that of the UNHCR, and is so broad that to use the term “refugee” for most of the people it serves is absurd.

According to UNRWA, Palestinian refugees are not just people who fled this land during the 1948 War of Independence and have yet to be resettled. They include descendants of male refugees – meaning someone born this week can be a refugee of a war 70 years ago.

It also includes people that are citizens of other countries, as well as people living in the West Bank and Gaza – the very land from which they supposedly fled – who in other situations would legally be considered victims of “internal displacement.” By considering all of these people refugees, it bolsters their claim that they should be granted the “right of return” to sovereign Israel.

Former MK Einat Wilf, who wrote a book published in Hebrew this summer called War of the Right of Return, estimated that at most 1% of the 5.3 million Palestinians registered by UNRWA fit the general UN definition of a refugee.

She tweeted: “2.1 [million] live in [the West Bank] and Gaza, so IN Palestine, 2.2 [million] are CITIZENS of Jordan; in Syria and Lebanon, 1 million [ population] figure is 4x inflated and of them only 10-30,000 have fled war.”

In other words, UNRWA has been fleecing the world since it was established in 1949 – and has failed in its 69 years of operations to do what the UNHCR did within a decade for the millions of refugees of World War II.

Palestinian refugees in 1948 – After 69 years, UNRWA has failed to do for them what the UNHRC did for millions of other refugees from the forties in just a few years. 

The endless flow of Palestinian grievances – and the support of them by an international community that funds UNRWA – are keys to why the conflict continues.

It is unrealistic to expect the Palestinians to give up their national aspirations. But as long as they feign perpetual victimhood – and, of course, inflate Israeli “crimes” beyond proportion – they view themselves as not having agency, and not being responsible for trying to improve their own lives, and the world agrees. Sweden, for example, pledged on Friday to transfer $206 million in un-earmarked funds over four years to UNRWA.

How can the Palestinians be expected to engage in state building if they refuse to take responsibility for themselves and are constantly holding their hand out to the world?

There is one legitimate concern about the US pulling out of funding UNRWA: that it will destabilize the West Bank. A senior IDF officer expressed concern to The Jerusalem Post’s Anna Ahronheim that if UNRWA schools shut down, those who would otherwise be in a classroom will start attacking Israelis. He also pointed out that children are more likely to participate in rock-throwing, which can be deadly.

While the concern is real, it is also tactical, as opposed to looking strategically at UNRWA’s role in the ongoing conflict.

And even if the agency is kept alive by donor countries such as Sweden and Jordan – which is pushing UN member states to increase their pledges – the fact that the US, once UNRWA’s biggest donor, is pulling out, sends a strong message.

And as the IDF officer told the Post: “Maybe something good will come out of [the cutting of funds] – and the Palestinians will learn to support themselves and not rely on others for everything.”

A step in the right direction

Op-ed: The so-called ‘Palestinian refugee problem’ would have been resolved if only standard refugees procedures had been implemented instead of UNRWA allowing their number to balloon to 5.3 million by counting descendents too; Obama Admin. buried State Dept. report of actual refugees number, perhaps 30,000.

Ben-Dror Yemini 

Ynet.com, 09.02.18 , 23:50

UNRWA headquarters in Gaza

Already in Resolution 302 of the UN General Assembly of December 1949, by which UNRWA was established, it was stated: “A plan must be presented for a time when the welfare program will no longer be needed.”

Later resolutions dealt with the transfer of treatment of refugees to the countries they settled in order to integrate them. But all the proposals were rejected, in theory and in practice, by the Arab states.

The result has been an ongoing distortion that has been going on for nearly 70 years. The US Department of State’s announcement, it should be noted, is actually implementing UN resolutions from those years. Not the perpetuation of refugee status, but rather rehabilitation.

The change in policy began in 2012 when Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) passed an amendment to the US Foreign Assistance Act requiring the State Department to prepare a report on the actual number of Palestinian refugees, while distinguishing the original refugees, only some of whom can be considered refugees, from their descendants, who according to any international definition are no longer considered refugees.

US Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill), who began the change in US policy with an amendment in 2012

The initiative to amend the law was that of Dr. Einat Wilf, then a member of the Labor Party. Even then, as now, there was a dispute over the initiative, which had nothing to do with the constant and tiring dispute between “left” and “right.”

Wilf then made it clear that she was also against continued construction in the settlements and against the continued granting of refugee status to the descendants of the refugees, because both of these things harmed the prospects for peace.

Even then, the top echelon of the defense establishment took a hesitant stance. Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry’s diplomatic bureau, wrote at the time: “Minimizing the refugee problem is a clear Israeli interest. At the same time, UNRWA plays an important role in providing assistance to the Palestinian population… let’s avoid a situation that will endanger the continuation of that aid which is in Israel’s interest.” The Israeli position has not changed since then.

The State Department prepared the report as required by the amendment, but during the administration of John Kerry as secretary of state and Barack Obama as president, the report became classified.

It can be assumed that the top echelon of the American administration did not want to cause a commotion when the actual number of refugees became known.

The official number of refugees according to UNRWA is 5.3 million. The actual number, without descendents, is between 20 and 30,000 people at most, because some of them have already been granted citizenship, for example in Jordan, and others have become financially established, so according to the UN definition they are not refugees.

Therefore the actual number of refugees, according to the conventional definition, stands at a few thousand. In any case, UN General Assembly Resolution 194 deals with them, and only them, and not with second- and third-generation descendants.

The so-called “Palestinian refugee problem” would have been resolved if only standard refugees procedures been implemented with the Palestinians as well.

The fear by security officials of a vacuum, that would be filled by Hamas, if UNRWA leaves the Gaza Strip, is a little strange, because in any case, in the recent elections for UNRWA institutions, in which nearly 11,500 of the organization’s employees voted, the Hamas associated “Professional List” won a crushing victory. Despite all the denials, education at UNRWA institutions primarily produces Hamas activists.

The United States could have made the change in a slightly more coordinated fashion, but the direction is right. After almost 70 years of the big refugee scam, the time has come for a change.

The cessation of US aid will not cause the refugee problem to disappear. The transition from the fostering of refugees to their rehabilitation must be a gradual, coordinated international effort. But it is absolutely clear that as long as the organization is the main instrument for perpetuating the refugee problem and nurturing the return fantasy — UNRWA is the problem. Not the solution.

Why are Palestinian refugees different from all other refugees?

The unique status afforded to Palestinians is the single biggest stumbling block to achieving peace

David Harris

Times of Israel, Aug. 30, 2018, 10:13 AM

Palestinians receive their monthly food aid from a UN distribution centre in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, last year (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Why indeed?

News reports suggest the U.S. administration is considering a historic decision to redefine who is and is not a Palestinian “refugee.” I hope the reports are true. A change is long overdue and could actually help the search for peace long-term.

Tragically, there have been countless refugees in the annals of history.

In the 20th century alone, tens of millions of refugees, if not more, were compelled to find new homes — victims of world wars, border adjustments, population transfers, political demagoguery, and social pathologies.

The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne codified the population exchange of Greeks and Turks, totaling more than 1.5 million people.

Huge numbers of Hindus and Muslims moved because of the partition of the sub-continent into two independent nations — India and Pakistan.

Refugees by the millions, unable to return to their countries, were created as a result of the 12-year Third Reich.

The exodus from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam after the victory of communist and rebel forces was massive.

Refugee flows from Africa’s civil and tribal wars have been constant.

Yemenis were kicked out of Saudi Arabia by the hundreds of thousands during the first Gulf War due to Yemen’s support for Iraq.

Countless Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims fled, or were expelled, due to Serbian aggression.

And this is just the tip of the refugee iceberg.

In fact, I don’t have to look far to understand the unending refugee crises of our times — or the trauma they have created. My mother, father, and wife were all refugees. Yet, instead of wallowing in victimization or becoming consumed by hatred and revenge, they started anew, grateful to their adopted lands for making it possible.

This past May, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) counted 19.9 million refugees in its jurisdiction, with the largest populations being from Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over five decades, UNHCR estimates that it has assisted 50 million refugees “to help restart their lives.”

UNHCR camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo

And yet, of all the world’s refugees, one group — the Palestinians — are treated entirely differently.

Indeed, the 1951 Refugee Convention explicitly does not apply to Palestinians, who fall within the purview of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

There is no equivalent UN body for anyone else in the world.

The definition of a refugee under the UNRWA mandate is also unique. It covers all descendants, without limit, of those deemed refugees in 1948. This helps explain why its caseload has increased from 750,000 to more than 5 million (and still growing).

Unlike UNHCR, UNRWA does not seek to resettle Palestinian refugees, but rather provides social services while, in effect, keeping them in perpetual limbo.

And despite the crocodile tears shed by Arab countries about the plight of their Palestinian brethren, they have been among the most miserly donors to UNRWA. They assert that it is not their responsibility to care for refugees created by the decisions of others. The top five donors to UNRWA until now have been the U.S. and European governments.

By the way, I should hasten to clarify that only those Palestinians seen as victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict are given this special treatment.

During the first Gulf War in 1991, when Kuwait sent packing 400,000 Palestinians for their alleged backing of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, there wasn’t much reaction from the international community. And more recently, while thousands of Palestinians have been dislocated by the Syrian civil war, again there’s silence. Arab violations of Arabs’ human rights are seemingly viewed differently, if they’re noticed at all.

And in Lebanon, with its large Palestinian population under UNRWA auspices, the government has long imposed strict restrictions on Palestinians’ right to work in numerous fields.

Where is the outcry?

So, we are confronted by something unprecedented.

Palestinians are not the world’s first refugee population, but their leadership may be the first to resist a workable, long-term solution.

Think about it. In 1947, the UN offered a two-state plan to address competing national claims. The Jews accepted it; the Arabs rejected it. Or in UN-speak, the “proposed Arab State failed to materialize.” Had it been otherwise, two states could have emerged, and with any luck, learned to coexist. Apropos, to this day, that two-state concept remains the most feasible outcome.

Instead, the Arab side went to war. Has there been any war without refugees? Yet, in a case of reverse causality, Israel is blamed for the refugees resulting from hostilities triggered by five Arab countries.

Meanwhile, the Arab-Israeli conflict produced even more Jewish refugees from the Arab world (and Iran). They, however, resettled elsewhere with little fanfare and no attention whatsoever from the UN.

Then, by design, the Palestinian refugees, and their descendants ad infinitum, were kept in UNRWA camps to serve as permanent reminders of the impermanence of their situation. Taught to focus their hatred on Israel, and to believe they will one day “return,” they’ve been denied chances for new lives. And they’ve been used to create the single biggest stumbling block to achieving peace — the Palestinian fantasy of ending Jewish sovereignty in Israel.

Even now, 13 years after Israel totally withdrew from Gaza, astonishingly, over 500,000 Palestinians continue to live in UNRWA camps there. Why? Gaza is under Palestinian rule, not Israeli.

While the Palestinians are among the world’s largest per capita aid recipients, much of that assistance has been siphoned off to line the pockets of Palestinian officials — who then turn around and seek more funds for their allegedly neglected people.

It’s the same absurd logic that Hamas deploys when it decries energy shortages, while trying to shell the Israeli power plants that provide electricity to Gaza.

The whole process is abetted by an elaborate, well-funded UN apparatus, encompassing more than just UNRWA, created by a majority of member states to support the Palestinians. By contrast, among others, Kurds, who have a compelling case for statehood, and Cypriots, who have lived on a divided island due to Turkish occupation, have no comparable UN bodies to advance their causes.

This is not to say that Palestinians have had easy lives. They haven’t. It is to say that their leaders, with the complicity of too many, have pulled off one of the most successful spin jobs in history. Rather than resettle the refugees, they have shamelessly exploited them and their descendants.

Therein lies the irreducible tragedy — and the heart — of a decades-long conflict.

David Harris is the CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).



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Image: Shutterstock

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Image: X/Twitter

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