by Yoav Sorek
Chapter 1: The Uniqueness of the Palestinian Problem
The Palestinian Refugee issue is unique on two counts. First, in that it is still unsolved after six decades, with no serious attempts at being solved — unlike countless other refugee situations that have come and gone. Second, unlike most refugees, which are under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees agency (UNHCR), Palestinian refugee camps are run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
UNRWA was founded after the 1948 War of Independence to provide relief and employment to the roughly 600,000 Palestinians that became refugees as a result of the war. The agency defines Palestinian refugees as "persons whose normal place of residence was
It is important to note that the inclusion of the descendants of the uprooted people in the 'refugee' status is unique. By all other definitions, refugees are exiles fleeing their homeland for safety — not including subsequent generations. Since the Palestinian refugee problem remained unsolved, UNRWA changed the criteria for refugee registration. While all other refugee populations declined as years passed, the number of Palestinian refugees continues to grow. Today, UNRWA provides education, health, relief and social services to over 4.6 million registered refugees in the
UNRWA, the agency responsible for Palestinian refugees does not have the mandate to solve their problem. It can provide services within UNRWA camps, but cannot find the refugees new homes. This is one reason that the Palestinian refugee problem has existed for 61 years. UNRWA has only served to perpetuate the issue and preserve the refugees as they are: waiting for the state of
Other refugees around the world receive aid from UNHCR, and are rehabilitated within a few years. In keeping with UNHCR's charter, these refugees have either returned home or settled in other countries. This is how the international community has handled millions of refugees from wars in Africa,
Chapter 2: From a Humanitarian to a Political Problem
The War of Independence erupted in 1948, when the Arabs rejected the UN Partition Plan and attacked the young State of Israel. During the fighting, a large number of the area's Arabs left their homes with the expectation of returning later, accompanied by the victorious Arab armies.
For many years, refugees sat in camps, while their Arab brethren chose not to rehabilitate them — perhaps out of hope that the State of Israel would disappear.
Rather than properly taking care of the refugee problem, it became a political tool. When the PLO was established in the 1960s, before the Six Day War, it used the hardship in the refugee camps to promote the cause of "Free Palestine." In other words, according to the PLO, the problem was not the status and lives if these people, but rather the fact that they do not have a state of their own; that the Arabs do not rule over
The Palestinians succeeded in promoting their cause. Today, the whole world talks about "two states for two nations," as if
Once we realize that this is a humanitarian issue, it can be solved.
If the problem is political, we cannot solve it.
The key to getting out of this dead-end situation is to see the issue for what it is: a humanitarian, not a political problem.
and the Palestinian Refugee Issue Israel
Since the War of Independence, Israel has opposed what the Palestinians call "the right of return" — allowing all Palestinian refugees to come to Israel. The government has rejected the claim that it is
Many years later, In the 1980s,
In addition, in 1983, a Committee to Rehabilitate the Palestinian Refugees was formed in then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin's cabinet. The head of the committee, Minister Without Portfolio Mordechai Ben-Porat, being himself a refugee from
This plan was never executed, mostly because Arab leaders such as Arafat or King Hussein preferred to leave the refugees in camps, claiming that Ben Porat's plan would destroy the Palestinian people.
For the next 24 years,
We in the Israeli Initiative hope that Netanyahu's government will follow Begin's legacy, and launch a new policy, aimed to solve the problem rather than ignore it.
Chapter 4: UNRWA's Foundation, Mandate and History
After Israel's War of Independence ended, UN General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) founded the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on December 8, 1949. UNRWA began operations in May 1950, with 860,000 registered refugees. UNRWA's mandate was to carry out relief and works programs for Palestinian refugees, including education, health, relief and social services.
The agency was defined as a temporary one, but the UN has repeatedly renewed UNRWA's mandate, which is currently extended until June 30, 2011. UNRWA claims to currently serve 4.6 million refugees. Its major donors are the
UNRWA has its own definition of "refugee," which it allows it to provide humanitarian assistance. Beneficiaries of UNRWA's aid had to have lived in the British Mandate of Palestine for at least two years before fleeing, and must have lost their home and their livelihood as a result of the 1948 War of Independence. This refugee status is also given to the descendants of those who meet these criteria. This definition differs from that used by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which deals with all other refugees in the world.
This is not the only discrepancy between the way UNRWA and UNHCR deal with refugees. First, UNRWA only takes care of the Palestinians. It also registers descendants of refugees, and leaves refugees that have found new homes and employment in its registry. Most important is that UNRWA does not rehabilitate its beneficiaries: It has no mandate to reduce the number of refugees, help them gain citizenship in the countries and areas where they are currently residing, or to recommend that they become citizens in other countries.
As opposed to other UN agencies, UNRWA is a huge organization that employs tens of thousands of refugees in its extensive bureaucratic framework, which serves one objective: to maintain the refugee camps and ensure that the Palestinian refugee problem remains intact.
Although UNRWA claims to be a neutral agency, providing only basic humanitarian services, it is an essential part of the Palestinian national movement. By providing education and healthcare and serving as a major employer, UNRWA has become an integral part of the Palestinian society and has aided its use of terror. This UN-based organization, which enjoys international funding, is in several aspects a Palestinian national organization — and an anti-Israeli one.
Recently, there have been a number of scandals in which UNRWA showed its dangerous political nature. During Operation Cast Lead, the IDF reported that Hamas rockets were launched from UNRWA properties. Hamas had also been elected by UNRWA refugees to manage UNRWA camps. In addition, the Holocaust is not taught in UNRWA schools' "Human Rights Curriculum," but anti-Semitism and glorification of terror are.
Recently, Congressmen like Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Steve Rothman (D-NJ) have proposed the UNRWA Accountability Bill, demanding transparency and responsibility from UNRWA. Despite these efforts, UNRWA has only committed to general, long-term plans to include the Holocaust in their curriculum, and continues to employ thousands of refugees, many with connections to Hamas. UNRWA officials also planned to meet with Hamas to discuss these possible curriculum changes.
As long as UNRWA maintains its current mandate and international support, it will continue to be an obstacle to solving the Palestinian refugee issue, and an impediment in attaining true peace in the
Chapter 5: UNRWA — its Link to the Palestinian National Movement, to Terror and Hamas
As we mentioned last week, UNRWA claims to be a neutral organization, but has proven time and again to be a puppet of the Palestinian National movement and of terror. In this chapter, we will specify how UNRWA is linked to these dangerous groups.
UNRWA As a Support for the Palestinian National Movement
Even if UNRWA was not directly connected to terrorist groups, its existence would be enough to support Palestinian Nationalism. Since UNRWA does not rehabilitate refugees, it perpetuates the refugee situation, by providing many refugees with relatively comfortable conditions: housing in the camps, education, medical care and other welfare services.
The refugees are an essential part of the Palestinian National narrative; Palestinian leaders have insisted on the "right of return" since the movement's inception. This card has been played to block Israeli attempts to bring peace time and again. As long as UNRWA is around to maintain the refugee problem, there cannot be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Palestinians can continue in their war against "the Zionist entity."
UNRWA admits, and is even proud, that it identifies politically with the Palestinian National Movement. In 2004, former commissioner-general Peter Hansen said that, while UNRWA is supposed to be "above the fray" and not political, he found that in "good conscience [he] cannot turn a blind eye" to his perceived infringement of the refugees' human rights by
The current commissioner-general, Karen Abu-Zayd, has the same approach. She has spoken out in an unbalanced matter, which has generated negative PR, causing grave damage to
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.