UNRWA, the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency, is fueling “unrealistic” hopes of return, thereby hindering peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the Swiss Foreign Minister has said.
The Times of Israel reported on Thursday that, in an interview given to several German-language newspapers, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said, “It is unrealistic that this dream [of return] will be fulfilled for all.”
“But UNRWA maintains this hope. For me, the question is whether UNRWA is part of the solution or part of the problem,” he said, concluding that UNRWA is both. “The U.N. agency, he said, “worked as a solution for a long time, but today it has become part of the problem.”
Cassis pointed out that the number of Palestinians classified as refugees by UNRWA rose from 750, 000 in 1950 to 5 million in 2013 due to that organization’s unique policy of automatically awarding hereditary refugee status. The vast majority of the descendants of refugees are living in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza.
The minister continued: “It provides ammunition to continue the conflict. For as long as Palestinians live in refugee camps, they will want to return to their homeland,” adding that “By supporting UNRWA, we are keeping the conflict alive.”
Switzerland is among a group of countries that together pledged about $100 million in March to support UNRWA, after U.S. President Donald Trump cut the $360 million offered to the U.N. organization in 2017 to a commitment of just $60 million this year.
Cassis’s comments came after weeks-long Hamas-orchestrated riots along the Israeli-Gaza border, calling for the descendants of Palestinian refugees to be able to return to their ancestors’ homes in what is now Israel.
The minister said his country would continue to fund UNRWA, but urged that more needs to be done to integrate Palestinian refugees into their host communities. “Instead of supporting UNRWA schools and hospitals,” he said, “we could help the Jordanian institutions promote integration of Palestinian refugees.”
In The Real Palestinian Refugee Crisis, which was published in the May 2014 issue of The Tower Magazine, Asaf Romirowsky wrote:
For over six decades, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East has been a unique and uniquely troubled institution. It has unilaterally redefined the international definition of a refugee, expanded its mandate to include the construction of a massive social welfare and employment system, made itself the basis of at least one economy and an essential part of another, and allowed itself to become part of several terrorist movements, some dedicated to the destruction of a UN member state. Rather than being part of any conceivable solution, in other words, UNRWA sustains the problem it was supposed to help solve.
But more than anything else, UNRWA is the institutional foundation of one of the most persistent obstacles to peace in the Middle East. In its relentless defense of its own unique definition of a Palestinian refugee and its complete refusal to reconsider its demand for the “right of return,” it buttresses and perpetuates the Palestinians’ eternal sense of victimhood and the refugees’ narrative. This narrative accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the refugee problem, blaming it entirely on Israel, regardless of the decisions and actions of Palestinians and their leaders.
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