DUBIOUS REFUGEE RELIEF
By Nicole Brackman & Asaf Romirowsky
Along with the explosion in Lebanon, there have been weeks of street fighting in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah activists. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called for resumed negotiations with Israel, while Hamas has rejected this possibility. The inter-Palestinian violence also heralded a new barrage of Kassem rockets launched at Israel — more than 150 in the past weeks.
In Lebanon, it seems the refugee camps have been effectively taken over by a new al-Qa'ida-linked terrorist faction called Fatah al-Islam. Long an epicenter of factional extremism in Lebanon, the Palestinian camps are a hotbed for breeding and exporting terrorist activists. One common denominator between the refugee crisis in Lebanon and the violence in Gaza is the involvement of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Founded in 1949 after the passage of UN Resolution 194, the organization was to take over immediate relief and more longterm work projects designed to make the refugee communities self-sufficient, pending a political settlement.
This group is a unique body that has no other parallel in the United Nations system. Millions of refugees worldwide fall under the responsibility of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which aims to resettle and rehabilitate the refugees. But the relief group was created as a separate body whose jurisdiction is solely the Palestinians. UNRWA defines the term "refugee" in the broadest terms by including not only those Arabs who fled from territories held by Israel, but also those who stayed in their homes and lost their source of livelihood as a result of war. Today, this would include all third-generation and fourth-generation children of refugees, even those of just one Palestinian refugee parent.
Historically, UNRWA is the main vehicle for the perpetuation of the UN's focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In contradistinction to the human-rights group, UNRWA is an apparatus that maintains the status quo; the office has no incentive to develop a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. As one of the largest employers in the host countries that have Palestinian refugee camps, UNRWA is staffed in situ 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 constellation — UNHCR considers hiring agency recipients a conflict of interest. The bureaucracy has created an infrastructure of dependency, whereby Palestinian refugees rely on UNRWA services (medical assistance, jobs, education) but do not plan or implement any solutions that may endanger their livelihood by rendering themselves obsolete.
UNRWA serves as a crucial tool of legitimacy for the Palestinian refugee issue — as long as the office is active, how could anyone question the Palestinian refugee problem? Thus an oxymoronic situation: Despite the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and the creation in 1993 of a Palestinian Authority with jurisdiction over the Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and West Bank, UNRWA remains the key social, medical, educational, and professional service provider for Palestinians living in "refugee" camps. This runs contrary to every principle of normal territorial integrity and autonomy.
UNRWA's budget has been funded by many nations, of which the United States and other Western nations have been the largest contributors. By 2000, UNRWA's budget was $365 million. UNRWA is beset by bureaucratic difficulties and has not escaped the internal conflicts that have overwhelmed the Palestinian political landscape. More disturbing are the widespread reports of terrorism emanating from UNRWA-supervised facilities — including sniper attacks from UNRWA-run schools, bomb factories in UNRWA camps, transportation of terrorists to their target zones in UNRWA ambulances — even employees directly related in terrorist attacks on civilians.
All this should bother Americans because American funding makes up more than a third of the agency's budget and, therefore, American dollars are funding Islamic terrorist activities in a fairly direct way. And, now, Islamic terrorism isn't only about fighting against Israel. The infiltration of al-Qa'ida into the camps in Lebanon signals that such terrorist activity is almost certainly also going on elsewhere — in southern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank. Combined with the other terrorist actors seeking to foment instability and gain influence (Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, etc.) at the expense of regional stability, the prospects for the exportation of terror are most alarming.
It is therefore not surprising that the Palestinian agenda — and sympathy for the Palestinian cause — has infiltrated every aperture at Turtle Bay. It has engendered Arab and Western support for the delegitimation of Israel. Fighting the war against terror entails clamping down on those institutions that perpetuate the ideology Islamist groups spread. UNRWA and the UN as a whole have transformed themselves into a propaganda machine for such thinking. America, as a shareholder, should take a very close look at where our money is being spent. It is crucial that the United States seek a true international body that represents the entire global community and not buy into the myths groups like UNRWA try to sell us.
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors
American Foreign Policy -- The Middle East
Islamism & Jihadism -- Radical Islam & Islamic Terrorism
Page Three Page Two Page One
The United Nations, Its Agencies, U.S. National Interests
International Politics & World Disorder:
War & Peace in the Real World
Page Two Page One
Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
U.S. National Security Strategy
Nicole Brackman is a former Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Asaf Romirowsky is an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum and Manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
The foregoing article by Nicole Brackman and Asaf Romirowsky was originally published in the Washington Times, June 21, 2007, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a 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.
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