Thursday, April 1, 2010

How to solve the Arab refugee problem. Part I


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 Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood" in the 1948 war... plus their descendants.

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 Middle East, according to the agency's likely inaccurate numbers.

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 Israel to disappear and for the 'Right of Return' to be realized.

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, Yugoslavia, Southeast Asia and, in recent years, Iraq. This is true everywhere except in Israel. What makes Palestinian refugees different from the others? Why haven't they been rehabilitated? The answer is simple: UNRWA.

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. Israel succeeded in forming a sovereign country, and the Arabs that fled became refugees.

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 Palestine. The humanitarian problem was translated into a political one.

The Palestinians succeeded in promoting their cause. Today, the whole world talks about "two states for two nations," as if Israel took sovereignty away from the Palestinians. Hardly anyone remembers that there has never been a Palestinian state, other than Jordan, and that the problem created in 1948 is not political, it is a humanitarian crisis.

Once we realize that this is a humanitarian issue, it can be solved.

If the problem is political, we cannot solve it.

Palestine can only rise from the ashes of a destroyed Israel — this is a matter of us or them. If we choose to treat the problem as political, it will not be solved, despite the enormous funds and effort expended towards this end.

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.

Chapter 3: Israel and the Palestinian Refugee Issue

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 Israel's fault that there are Palestinian refugees, and pointed out that Israel absorbed more Jewish refugees from Arab countries than the number of Arabs who fled Israel in 1948. Israel's position was that the fledgling state took care of the Jewish refugees, while the surrounding Arab countries chose to put Palestinian refugees in camps, not giving them the opportunity to lead normal lives.

Since then, Israel has, mostly, chosen to ignore the refugee issue. However, on occasion, governments have realized that although the refugee problem is not Israel's fault, it still exists, and must be taken care of. In 1952, Israel took care of 40,000 Palestinian refugees living in Israel and initiated a "family reunion" program, where 45,000 family members living in neighboring countries were brought to Israel. Israel also unfroze the bank accounts of the refugees.

Many years later, In the 1980s, Israel built housing complexes for Palestinian refugees in Nablus and Gaza. However, the refugees, facing threats from the PLO, refused to live in the new homes.

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 Iraq, visited many refugee camps and did extensive research, leading to the publication of a report in 1984. The report recommended that Israel will improve the state of the refugees in her territory, and demand from Arab countries to compensate the Jewish refugees for their lost property.

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, Israel was mostly silent on the refugee issue. Even the Oslo Accords pushed taking care of the problem until after a Palestinian state would rise. The only plan which dealt with the refugee issue was Benny Elon's "The Right Road to Peace" plan, published in its first version in 2003. However, in took till 2008, that MKs Benny Elon and Amira Dotan founded a Parliamentary Lobby to Solve the Palestinian Refugee Problem. The lobby included MKs from five different parties: Likud, Labor, Kadima, National Union and Shas, and was the first in the history of Israeli parliament to touch this delicate issue. Less than a year after the lobby's inception, elections were held, and thus the group was dissolved.

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 United States, which has donated $187 million in 2008, and the European Union, which donated $177 million in 2008.

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 Middle East.

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 Israel. According to Hansen, it comes down to "human rights" as opposed to "simple assistance."

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 Israel's image. A recent example of UNRWA's politicization is a one-man play written by and starring UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, in which he accuses the IDF of using illegal white phosphorus to bomb a warehouse in Gaza. This behavior moves UNRWA out of the realm of humanitarian aid and squarely in the political arena.


Yoav Sorek

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


1 comment:

JFJAW said...

"How to solve the Arab refugee problem. Part I": By making Arab[ic] regimes recognize their deportation machine of Jews from their Arab[ic] native countries. The Jewish refugees in and from Arab countries have rights.

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