The Time Has Come for UNRWA Reform: A Solution to the Palestinian Refugee Dilemma
A mantra is repeated almost every day in Middle East parlance: the need for a policy initiative that would extract the region from a simmering status quo which can only lead to a violent outcome.
Israel, the Western nations and reality-based Palestinians can embark on a new diplomatic initiative that would douse the flames of the most burning issue in the Palestinian realm: five million descendants of Arab refugees from 1948, who continue to wallow in UNRWA refugee facilities, under the promise of the “right of return” to Arab villages in what is now Israel. For this, they are told, they must live and die – a recurring theme found in Palestinian Authority textbooks now used in UNRWA schools — which is an ongoing recipe for disaster and a lingering human rights tragedy of the 21st century.
UNRWA now perpetuates the stateless status of refugees and their descendants, reinforcing a life of limbo, poverty, anguish and despair. No, UNRWA cannot be phased out: It operates under the mandate of the UN General Assembly. However, since 97% of UNRWA’s 1.2 billion budget comes from Western donor nations, these nations could be asked to join an effort to reform UNRWA policies, which hardly conform to the UN credo that “peace starts here.”
For decades, I have run agencies that have researched and filmed UNRWA education in Jerusalem and throughout the region, and we have listened to UNRWA students speak about how UNRWA “education” now inspires them to kill Jews. Our most recent film — “The UNRWA Road to Terror: Palestinian Classroom Incitement” — released on May 27th, will be shown to members of legislative bodies of donor nations. It portrays a war curriculum that has no place in a UN facility.
This reality can be changed. Instead of just throwing money at UNRWA, donors could advance policies to improve the living conditions of UNRWA refugee residents and offer an alternative to the current “refugee status in perpetuity” and “right of return” mantra drummed into the minds of half a million UNRWA students. A new reform initiative could galvanize donor nations to overhaul six UNRWA policy challenges:
- Ask for an audit of donor funds given to UNRWA. This would address widespread documented reports of wasted resources, duplicity of services and the undesired flow of cash to Gaza-based terror groups, which have gained control over UNRWA operations there for the past 18 years.
- Introduce UNHCR standards to UNRWA, to advance the resettlement of Arab refugees after 67 years. Current UNRWA policy is that refugee resettlement would interfere with the “right of return” to Arab villages that existed before 1948.
- Cancel the new UNRWA curriculum, which incorporates principles of jihad, martyrdom and a the “right of return” by force of arms.
- Cease paramilitary training in all UNRWA schools. Should UNRWA, as a UN agency, not demonstrate a renewed commitment to UN principles to “peace education”?
- Insist that UNRWA dismiss employees who are affiliated with Hamas, in accordance with laws on the books in western nations, which forbid aid to any agency that employs members of a terrorist organization.
- Since UNRWA has recently hired a “youth ambassador” — Mohammad Assaf — to travel the world and encourage insurrection and violence, would this not be the appropriate time for donor nations to ask that UNRWA cancel that contract with a promoter of war?
At a time when Israel is pressed to launch a new diplomatic initiative, this is an opportunity to remove the stain of “Arab refugees in perpetuity” as a source of intergenerational incitement.
Remove the Arab refugee issue from the Middle East agenda, and you remove a root cause of violence in the Middle East.