Thursday, August 30, 2018

UNRWA fiction may soon be exposed - Cliff Smith

by Cliff Smith

This could go a long way toward settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Trump administration is supposedly considering declassifying a State Department report that tallies up the true number of Palestinian refugees.

If it does, the repercussions could go a long way toward settling the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The way UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, classifies those refugees is unlike that of any other organization in the world, and contradicts common sense.

Whereas the number of refugees from the original 1948 Arab-Israeli war would likely number in the tens of thousands, UNRWA also counts their descendants, many of whom are citizens of other countries, in addition to everyone living in their internationally recognized homes in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
This politically motivated definition raises the number of "refugees" to an estimated 5.3 million, and this is the number the Palestinians claim a "right of return" for to Israel – a number that amounts to more than half Israel's current population.

Even today there is no official acknowledgment of the true number of Palestinian refugees. Governments and international organizations around the world instead pay lip service to UNRWA’s fiction that the number of refugees has expanded many times over since the 1948 war.

This will change if the Trump administration releases the classified report.

And if the complete report is released, the Trump administration’s decision to withhold funding from UNRWA could prove useful.

While UNRWA does indoctrinate many of its aid recipients with anti-Semitic teachings and sometimes even facilitates violence, the real problem is its fraudulent definition of a refugee, which perpetuates the conflict.

With the truth in hand, the Trump administration could demand that UNRWA repudiate its faux-refugee definition – or go broke.

Even if UNRWA decided to choose the latter option rather than slaughter its sacred cow, this would not necessarily mean an end to aid to Palestinians truly in need. Instead, the money could be repurposed to another U.N. agency, or perhaps to joint public-private development in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that would be handled directly by donor governments and private partners.

Either would be preferable to the status quo and might assuage the Israeli government's concerns that aid to UNRWA is necessary to prevent violence in Gaza.

In July, the American Center for Law and Justice obtained a version of the report via a Freedom of Information Act request and a subsequent lawsuit. Unfortunately, it was heavily redacted and omitted the most crucial information: the true number of refugees.

Recent media reports citing State Department sources pin the total at just 20,000 refugees, nowhere near the 5.3 million that UNRWA claims the State Department has adopted.

But the public will not know for sure unless the Trump administration releases an unredacted version of the report.

Hopefully, the administration will do so. Telling the truth about the number of refugees, rather than the fictional number provided by UNRWA, would be a big step to unraveling the expansive "right of return" claims and ending a threat to Israel's existence.

Cliff Smith is Washington project director for the Middle East Forum.


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