Wednesday, July 9, 2008


by Barry Rubin, Asaf Romirowsky and Jonathan Spyer


5th part of 6                      


Bibliography and footnotes in part 6



The late, eminent Middle East Scholar, Elie Kedourie wrote in his book Nationalism that

"the idea of self-determination as the highest moral and political good inevitably produced a deep change in the tone and political speculation. A society of autonomous men could not be that collection of individuals possessed of inalienable natural rights which, to the French revolutionaries, constituted a sovereign nation. Autonomy is not a condition achieved here and now, once and for all; it is rather to be struggled for ceaselessly, perhaps never to be attained or permanently secured."[23]

The relationship between Kedourie's observation and UNRWA is that UNRWA prevents this struggle. UNRWA prevents the development of coherent, representative organs of Palestinian society by keeping Palestinians dependent on its services. In turn, in practice, the supply of these services is dependent on radical activists who demand adherence to a political line which places endless struggle for total victory over pursuing a normal life.

The society created has the following characteristics: dependent on welfare, initiative and productivity are discouraged or even counterproductive, extremist and corrupt groups in control of citizens, indoctrination into violent ideologies, hatred rather than constructive activity, and so on.

Good governments and their citizens form the necessary foundations for social trust. Democratic governance gives incentives for participation and tools to influence policy. But UNRWA, which buttresses the eternal sense of victimhood and the "refugee badge of honor," creates not a social trust but an organizational trust that gives only the illusion of fair and balanced representation.

In addition, the "badge of honor" –– indeed the very entry ticket for acceptance as a proper citizen –– associated with UNRWA fosters eternal hatred towards Israel. Israel very existence is the cause of one being a refugee; only Israel's extinction can change that status. Nothing else is important; nothing else is responsible for one's daily fate.

UNRWA's relations with Palestinian terror groups are also deeply problematic in a very practical sense. Terrorism does not exclude one from being a part of UNRWA; –– sometimes it seems as if the opposite is true. In the twisted logic that characterizes UNRWA hiring practices, accepting the political (terrorist) ideologies of its workers and served population actually makes UNRWA more diverse and accommodating as would "befit" a non-governmental organization (NGO). As Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University writes,

"Humanitarian and charitable institutions throughout Palestine employ personnel regardless of sectarian or political affiliation and offer services on a similar basis. Thus, UNRWA, NGO-run and public hospitals and clinics, for example, employ members of different political groups such as Fatah, the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] Hamas and Islamic Jihad, without reference to their belonging to a specific group."[24]

UNRWA has become an active impediment to the development of workable, democratic Palestinian political institutions which could actually serve as the basis for a successful development of sovereignty.[25] Equally, UNRWA has become a barrier to achieving a peaceful and lasting two-state solution.

Since its inception, UNRWA has managed to transform itself into the guardian of the refugees' isolation whereby the uniqueness of the Palestinian refugees as far as an entity that cannot be assimilated into any Arab country. UNRWA reinforced this sentiment by becoming the parental supervisor for all things concerning refugees. This dependency also caused the refugees not to get involved in politics but to have UNRWA, which means the PLO and now Hamas, to be their advocate.

As Baruch Kimmerling and Joel Migdal describe, "The refugees' isolation reinforced not only family and clan ties, outside the camps, those in the camps forming approximately a quarter of Jordan's population, provided almost no representative to national political institutions -not a single one to parliament between 1950 and 1965."[26]

Former Commissioner-General of UNRWA Giorgio Giacomelli openly admitted that "it would be disingenuous to claim that UNRWA can perform its tasks without reference to politics."[27] In fact, UNRWA is the only UN refugee agency that has become engrained in politics. In contrast, UNHCR never allowed itself to be put in that position.

It is clear today, that there is no other non-government organization in the world that has let itself become part of a terrorist-dominated movement and a revolutionary effort to destroy a UN member state. Rather than becoming part of any conceivable solution, UNRWA sustains the problem it was supposed to help solve.


This study has highlighted the obstacles UNRWA presents for the world, the United Nations, the West, the United States, Israel, and above all the Palestinians themselves.

The UN erred when it created a UN body devoted exclusively to one population and with an approach and structure contradicting that of all other such institutions.

How do we significantly decrease the hold UNRWA has on Palestinian society, to encourage a peaceful solution of the conflict and a material improvement of the refugees' lives?

Three basic steps are required which are highly reasonable and in line with practices on every other such issue.

First, UNRWA should be dissolved.

Second, all the services UNRWA currently provides should be transferred to other agencies within the UN, notably the UNHCR, which have a long experience in such programs. In addition, these activities must be subject to normal transparency and accountability.

Third, to the greatest possible extent, responsibility for normal social services should be turned over to the Palestinian Authority. A large portion of the UNRWA staff should be transferred to that governmental authority. Donors should use the maximum amount of oversight to ensure this be done effectively.

People often wonder why it is that violence and instability persists after so many years regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict and especially the Palestinian element therein. Why is this issue so seemingly impossible to resolve?

A part of the answer is that UNRWA does not work towards a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. In fact, the opposite is true. UNRWA perpetuates the problem. All those seeking real progress toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians need to take a close look at this unacceptable situation. All those with responsibility for the management of these issues need to work for a change of course.

Barry Rubin, Asaf Romirowsky and Jonathan Spyer


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


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