LESSENING UNRWA'S DAMAGE
By Dr. Daniel Pipes & Dr. Steven J. Rosen
Food distribution now constitutes a small part of UNRWA's spending; most of it concerns education and health.
But UNRWA's most consequential problem is its mission. Over 63 years, it has become an agency that perpetuates the refugee problem, rather than contributing to its resolution. UNRWA does not work to settle refugees; instead, by registering each day ever more grandchildren and great-grandchildren who have never been displaced from their homes or employment, artificially adding them to the tally of "refugees," it adds to number of refugees aggrieved against Israel. By now, these descendants comprise over 90 percent of UNRWA refugees.
Further, UNRWA violates the Refugee Convention by insisting that nearly two million people who have been given citizenship in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon (and who constitute 40 percent of UNRWA's beneficiaries) are still refugees.
As a result of such practices, instead of going down through resettlement and natural attrition, the number of UNRWA refugees has steadily grown since 1949, from 750,000 to almost 5 million. At this rate, UNRWA refugees will exceed 8 million by 2030 and 20 million by 2060, its camps and schools endlessly promoting the futile dream that these millions of descendants someday will "return" to their ancestors' homes in Israel. When even Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas acknowledges that sending five million Palestinians would mean "the end of Israel," it's clear that UNRWA obstructs conflict resolution.
Israeli government officials are well aware that UNRWA perpetuates the refugee problem and full well know its sins. That said, the State of Israel has a working relationship with UNRWA and looks to it to fulfill certain services.
Israel's cooperative policy began in 1967 with the Comay-Michelmore Exchange of Letters in which Jerusalem promised "the full co-operation of the Israel authorities ... [to] facilitate the task of UNRWA." This policy remains in very much place; in November, 2009, an Israeli representative confirmed a "continued commitment to the understandings" of the 1967 letters and support for "UNRWA's important humanitarian mission." He even promised to maintain "close coordination" with UNRWA.
Israeli officials distinguish between UNRWA's negative political role and its more positive role as a social service agency providing assistance, primarily medical and educational. They appreciate that UNRWA, with funds provided by foreign governments, helps one-third of the population in the West Bank and three-quarters in Gaza. Without these funds, Israel could face an explosive situation on its borders and international demands that it, depicted as the "occupying power," assume the burden of care for these populations. In the extreme case, the Israel Defense Forces would have to enter hostile areas to oversee the running of schools and hospitals, for which the Israeli taxpayer would have to foot the bill – a most unattractive prospect.
As a well-informed Israeli official sums it up, UNRWA plays a "key role in supplying humanitarian assistance to the civilian Palestinian population" that must be sustained.
This explains why, when foreign friends of Israel try to defund UNRWA, Jerusalem urges caution or even obstructs these efforts. For example, in January, 2010, Canada's Harper government announced that it would redirect aid from UNRWA to the Palestinian Authority to "ensure accountability and foster democracy in the PA." Although B'nai B'rith Canada proudly reported that "the government listened" to its advice, Canadian diplomats said that Jerusalem quietly requested the Canadians to resume funding UNRWA.
Another example: in December, 2011, the Dutch foreign minister said that his government would "thoroughly review" its policy toward UNRWA, only later to tell confidants that Jerusalem had asked him to leave UNRWA's funding alone.
Which brings us to the question: Can the elements of UNRWA useful to Israel be retained without perpetuating the refugee status?
Yes, but this requires distinguishing UNRWA's role as a social service agency from its role producing ever-more "refugees." Contrary to its practice of registering grandchildren as refugees, Section III.A.2 and Section III.B of UNRWA's Consolidated Eligibility & Registration Instructions allow it to provide social services to Palestinians without defining them as refugees. This provision is already in effect: in the West Bank, for example, 17 percent of the Palestinians registered with UNRWA in January, 2012, and eligible to receive its services were not listed as refugees.
Given that UNRWA reports to the U.N. General Assembly, with its automatic anti-Israel majority, mandating a change in UNRWA practices is nearly impossible. But major UNRWA donors, starting with the U.S. government, should stop being accomplices to UNRWA's perpetuation of the refugee status.
Washington should treat UNRWA as a vehicle to deliver social services, nothing more. It should insist that UNRWA beneficiaries who either were never displaced or who have already have citizenship in other countries, although perhaps eligible for UNRWA services, are not refugees. Establishing this distinction reduces a key irritant in Arab-Israeli relations.
© 2012 by Daniel Pipes & Steven J. Rosen
Originally Published in The Jerusalem Post, July 10, 2012
Republished with Permission of Daniel Pipes & Steven J. Rosen
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Dr. Daniel Pipes, a Ph.D. in Islamic History (Harvard University, 1978), is Founder and President of the Middle East Forum, Publisher of Middle East Quarterly, Founder of Campus Watch, Taube Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, a signatory of the Project for the New American Century, a former board member of the U.S. Institute of Peace, a former adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Golden Circle supporter of the U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon, a former member of the U.S. Department of Defense Special Task Force on Terrorism and Technology, and a former lecturer at the U.S. Naval War College, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Pipes was the Director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute from 1986 to 1993.
Author or co-author of eighteen books, Dr. Pipes is a regular columnist for National Review Online, Front Page Magazine, the New York Sun, and the Jerusalem Post. His analyses of world trends and of forces and developments in the Middle East have appeared in numerous North American newspapers, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He frequently appears on American network television, as well as at universities and think tanks, to discuss the Middle East, Islam, and the Islamist threat to the U.S.A. and the West. He also has appeared on BBC and Al Jazeera, and has lectured in approximately twenty-five countries.
Dr. Pipes is a Polish-American Jew whose parents fled Poland in 1939, immigrated to the U.S.A., and assimilated well into American society and culture. His father is Richard Pipes, an American historian specializing in Russian and Soviet history and serving as Professor of History at Harvard University from 1950 until his retirement in 1996. During the Cold War, the worldview of Richard Pipes was strongly anti-Soviet and anti-Communist.
Dr. Steven J. Rosen is Director of the Washington Project of the Middle East Forum. He holds a Ph.D. degree from
the Maxwell School of Diplomacy at Syracuse University. From 1968 to 1978, Dr. Rosen taught Political Science and
International Relations at several universities -- the University of Pittsburgh, Brandeis University, and the Australian
National University. From 1978 to 1982, he was Associate Director of the National Security Strategies Program at the
RAND Corporation. From 1982 to 2005, he was Director of Foreign Policy Issues at the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC). In 2009, he joined the Middle East Forum's staff as a visiting fellow, with special responsibility
for U.S. foreign policy. Dr. Rosen, along with Dr. Walter S. Jones, co-authored a bestselling textbook, The Logic
of International Relations, which went through five editions from 1974 to 1982.
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