By Moshe Dann
Supporters of Palestinian statehood prominently display “194″ next to their flag. That number refers not only to its proposed place in the UN next-in-line, but their goal.
Citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) as guarantor of the right to leave and return to one’s country, they use that to justify the “Palestinian right of return.”
But there is no such “right.” UNGA Resolution 194 (1948) refers to all refugees, Jewish as well as Arab, and does not confer automatic rights to return. Repatriation (or return) was suggested as one option, but this is based on conditions that Arabs have never fulfilled. Resettlement was also recommended in this and subsequent resolutions. All were rejected by the Arabs.
What to do with millions of Arab “refugees,” most of whom are cared for by UNRWA, is one of the most difficult and contentious issues that snarls any resolution of the dispute between Israel and the Arabs. UNRWA is at the core of the problem.
For sixty years, this agency has promoted an anti-Israel agenda that supports the “Palestinian right of return,” holds Israel alone as responsible for the plight of Arab refugees, and refuses to resettle them anywhere except in Israel.
Why, then, does Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs support it?
Citing agreements, the MFA acknowledges that it cooperates with UNRWA’s humanitarian efforts, albeit with “reservations about [its] political aspects.” But making this distinction practically is impossible.
UNRWA’s humanitarian work can be assumed by the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), which assists all other refugees. Why continue to support a separate organization only for those who claim to be Palestinian refugees and their descendants?
Israel’s support for UNRWA, moreover, prevents donor countries from insisting on change and reducing or restricting funds, thus enabling one of the most anti-Israel organizations to flourish.
Working with terrorist groups, such as Hamas in Gaza, Fatah in PA controlled areas, PFLP in Syria, and the Army of Islam in Lebanon, UNRWA enables and even participates in anti-Western, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda. With an annual budget of nearly a billion dollars, half provided by the US and the rest by Canada and European countries, there is no incentive to change.
In sixty “camps” (in fact, towns) throughout the region – Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Judea, Samaria and Gaza – UNRWA provides free education, medical services, food and “social and cultural” centers. Except for Jordan, no Arab country granted them citizenship, and they are often deprived of civil and humanitarian rights.
UNRWA’s largesse is available to anyone who is registered, whether they live in the town, or not, including those who live in other countries – as long as UNRWA exists. Once a “Palestinian refugee, always a Palestinian refugee” – from generation to generation.
Trapped by cynical Arab governments and Palestinian leaders, unable to get advanced training, attend college, apply for skilled jobs, often despised by locals, residents of UNRWA-backed towns are not allowed to get on with their lives as normal and productive citizens. Stuck, they are dry tinder for the fires of terrorism.
Burdened by economic hardship and growing national debt, support for UNRWA makes no sense. As long as Israel does not object and the funding doesn’t stop, however, this problem will continue to fester and spread, undermining efforts towards peace and reconciliation, and threatening the entire region.
Distracted by Arab Palestinian efforts for UN recognition, the world would do well to pay attention to more fundamental problems. Bringing an end to UNRWA will save resources that can be used more effectively and give hope to people who have been abused in the war to destroy Israel.