My Word: UNRWA’s unsettling impact

UNRWA has done nothing to build a sustainable, peaceful Palestinian state.

A MAN STANDS next to a cart carrying a sack of flour distributed by UNRWA in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in January, 2018. (photo credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)

When US President Donald Trump last week tweeted about cutting aid to Pakistan and the Palestinians, the thought process was not as erratic as his style might suggest. I’m not a fan of Trump’s diplomacy-by-Twitter policy, but I drew a line between the dots: a redline.

To understand the absurdity that is UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) exchange the name India for Israel and Pakistan for the Palestinians.

The disputes in both regions began in similar circumstances following the end of British rule, in 1947 in the case of India and Pakistan, and 1948 for Israel. (At the time, not even the Arab countries that immediately attacked the nascent Jewish state referred to the Arab residents as “Palestinians.”)

An estimated 15 million people were uprooted in Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Between one million and two million were killed. It was a tragedy of epic proportions.

Seventy years on, India and Pakistan have an uneasy relationship that occasionally flares into conflict. There are still disputed areas, such as Kashmir, but there is not a “refugee problem.”

That’s because the Hindus and Sikhs who fled Pakistan for India and the Muslims who escaped in the other direction – whether from fear or violent coercion – have not spent the past seven decades constantly being sold the illusion that they will move back and destroy their enemies.

Similarly, the approximately 850,000 Jews who left/fled Arab countries do not consider themselves “refugees” in Israel. There may be ongoing arguments about the way the Sephardim were treated by the Ashkenazi elites, but it is sibling rivalry. A family is not always perfect but nonetheless it remains a family.

Strangely, there are not only still “Palestinian refugees” but the numbers have ballooned from some 700,000 in 1948 to a reported five million today. Part of the blame can be pinned on the Arab countries such as Lebanon and Syria that denied the refugees full rights, cynically using them as a tool against Israel. The Palestinian Authority, too, is guilty of a dirty double game – on the one hand claiming to represent the State of Palestine (already recognized by more than 135 countries) while on the other protesting their ongoing condition of being refugees.

Above all, the UN has contributed to the problem. When it uniquely granted the Palestinians “perpetual refugee status,” a status that is passed down through the generations, it ensured the perpetuation of their plight (and Israel’s). UNRWA is not the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, it is the reason the problem still exists.

UNRWA was founded in 1949, ostensibly to help the Palestinians until the refugee problem would be solved. In the intervening decades it has become a big business, with a multimillion-dollar budget (some $300 million per annum courtesy of the US) and some 30,000 employees. It has no motivation to end the crisis....

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