By Asaf Romirowsky
Mr. Al-Qiq — not surprisingly, a science teacher — worked for one of the schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Now that he is out of the rocket business, the employment of such a "respectable" individual by the sole UN agency devoted to Palestinian refugees deserves an explanation.
In a new report by the Global Research in International Affairs Center, weitten by this author and Professor Barry Rubin, UNRWA: Refuge of Rejectionism, the case is made that this group is a major cause of the continued Arab-Israeli conflict, the incitement of a whole generation of Palestinians to terrorist violence and even the suffering of the refugees themselves.
The report's recommendation is simple and workable: UNRWA should be dissolved and its functions divided between the far more effective and depoliticized UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Since Hamas came to power in 2006, Palestinians in the new Islamic state of Gaza have been crying out for more and more UNRWA aid. Historically, UNRWA has been the main vehicle for the perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the United Nations. Where once it was charged with resettling Palestinians, its explicit mandate in recent decades has been to maintain them in the camps where Arab states left them some 60 years ago. Education, health, and limited vocational training are provided, just enough to keep Palestinians as "refugees." UNRWA is an apparatus that maintains the status quo — a huge bureaucracy with no incentive to move toward a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. This arrangement is ripe for abuse.
As one of the largest employers in the host countries with Palestinian refugee camps, UNRWA is staffed mainly by local Palestinians — more than 23,000 of them, with only about 100 international UN professionals. The pattern of hiring within the served population is unique in the UN system. By contrast, UNICEF (to cite one example) avoids employing locals who are also recipients of agency services, considering it a conflict of interest. The UNRWA bureaucracy has created an infrastructure for Palestinian dependency. Refugees, now in their third generation, rely on the services UNRWA provides and have no incentives to plan or implement solutions that may endanger their livelihood by rendering UNRWA's services obsolete.
It was under the leadership of former UNRWA Commissioner Peter Hansen that the organization's complicity with terror was openly exposed. In a statement to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Hansen admitted: "I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll, and I don't see that as a crime."
As Hamas' genocidal agenda has become impossible to cover up, UNRWA has now resorted to professions of shock and promises of "zero tolerance." For some, UNRWA's affiliation with terrorism is not a detraction, but an added value that shows "diversity." As Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, notes:
As we look for ways to crack down on terrorism and terrorist activity, looking at UNRWA is a good start. American taxpayer dollars fund approximately one-third of UNRWA's operating budget. UNRWA provides food, medicine, economic aid, jobs, radical education, political opportunities, and even logistical assistance to Hamas and other extremist groups. UNRWA's budget, which exceeds $365 million, is funded by many nations, but the United States and other Western nations are the largest contributors.
Cutting off UNRWA's budget would be detrimental to Hamas in Gaza, which would be forced to either provide services to Palestinians or admit it has no intention of doing so. It would also send an important message to the United Nations, which perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem and lends legitimacy to groups like Hamas through UNRWA's continued existence.
Transferring UNRWA's services to other agencies, notably the High Commission for Refugees, which has a long and productive experience, would be another important move. And lastly, actually having the Palestinian Authority take responsibility for the social services, if it is to truly govern the Palestinian people, would send a signal to all parties that a future state of Palestine would be prepared to live in peace with its neighbors and itself.
Israel & the Arabs -- The Israeli-Arab Conflict
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Asaf Romirowsky is an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum and the Manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
The foregoing article by Romirowsky was originally published in the Washington Times, May 19, 2008, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (Article URL: http://www.meforum.org/article/1896)
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