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August 29, 2018 8:08 am

UNRWA Is Not the Solution

avatar by Ron Prosor / JNS.org

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Palestinian employees of UNRWA in Gaza City demonstrate against the US decision in Jan 2018 to cut contributions to the agency. Photo: Reuters/Mohammed Salem.

JNS.org – It seems that quite a few officials at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv are concerned by reports that the United States plans to cut funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and revoke its mandate to operate in the West Bank.

It is high time these officials realize that UNRWA — the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East — is not the solution, but the problem.

Established for the exclusive benefit of Palestinian refugees, UNRWA has, instead of resolving the problem, done everything in its power to perpetuate it. Instead of peace and co-existence, it teaches hatred and incitement. Instead of fighting terrorist organizations, it collaborates with them. As someone who has worked toward UNRWA’s closure for years, I am glad that Washington finally gets it, and I hope that the people at IDF headquarters will soon come to their senses.

According to media reports, the White House is determined to end the Palestinians’ unique ability to inherit refugee status; indeed, the world should recognize 500,000 Palestinian refugees instead of the five million that UNRWA purports to serve.

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While it is in Israel’s long-term interest that UNRWA be closed, in practice the defense establishment acts as the agency’s representative. Following the media reports, it took less than 24 hours for the fear-mongering to begin, with officials arguing that ending UNRWA’s operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would result in Israel being made to bear the burden of providing the education, health, and welfare services for which the agency is currently responsible.

There may be difficulties in the short term, but in the long term this action must be taken. We cannot allow tactical concerns to dictate policy and perpetuate a strategic problem.

Responsibility for the Palestinians and the UNRWA budgets could be transferred to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which looks after the rest of the world’s refugees and, unlike UNRWA, works toward solving the refugee problem instead of perpetuating it.

Alternatively, UN agencies that already operate in the region, such as the United Nations Development Program, could be tasked with the job.

Another option is to transfer the budgets directly to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, where UNRWA’s presence is particularly problematic. As things stand today, the budgets are allocated to UNRWA, which cooperates with Hamas and acts against the PA. Transferring the authority and the funds to Ramallah would serve to strengthen the PA.

The US’s reported plan for dealing with UNRWA is proof that in Washington they sometimes see things more clearly than they do in Tel Aviv. Israel must adopt the same plan wholeheartedly. It is the only way for the refugee problem to be resolved and possibly for us to come closer to finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ron Prosor is head of the Abba Eban Chair of International Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and Israel’s former ambassador to the UN.

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