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Experts: Declassifying Report on Palestinian Refugees is Necessary for Peace

If declassified, a 2012 report on Palestinian refugees could force the Palestinian government to “govern, not merely stir up antagonism with Israel,” making peace in the Middle East more likely, two experts with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies wrote in an op-ed published Friday in The Wall Street Journal.

Jonathan Schanzer, FDD’s senior vice president and former Treasury Department official, and Richard Goldberg, FDD’s senior adviser and former Senate deputy chief of staff, wrote that the study shows that today only about  30,000 of those designated as refugees as a result of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence are still alive. However, because the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is the UN agency devoted entirely to Palestinian refugees, includes descendants of the refugees — including even their great-great-grandchildren — as refugees too, UNRWA “keeps the conflict’s embers glowing by refusing to resettle Palestinians in neighboring countries or even in the Palestinian territories.” UNRWA’s generous definition of “refugee” when it comes to the Palestinians, not only inflates their numbers to more than five million, but also runs “counter to the broader mission of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which is to resettle those displaced by war.”

Congress ordered the State Department to carry out the survey in 2012 to determine how many Palestinians, who are currently served by UNRWA, were actually refugees from 1948 and not their descendants. Instead of releasing the results of the report, President Barack Obama classified it citing national security concerns.

Already 50 members of Congress and one senator have urged President Donald Trump to declassify the report.

Schanzer and Goldberg assert that rather than hurting the Palestinians, exposing the “scam” of there being five million refugees by releasing the report would “unlock” the Palestinians’ potential and “create an opportunity for lasting peace.” It would also force Palestinian leadership to govern rather than perpetuate grievances with Israel.

By declassifying the report, Schanzer and Goldberg argue, Trump “can send a clear message to the millions living in Unrwa camps: Your leaders want to keep you in squalor, while America wants you to prosper.” They concluded, “It’s the most pro-Palestinian step an American president could take.”

Others have argued how UNRWA perpetuates the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

In May, newly appointed Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis asked whether  “UNRWA is part of the solution or part of the problem.” He concluded that UNRWA had ““worked as a solution for a long time, but today it has become part of the problem.”

In September 2014, former MK Einat Wilf wrote, “Under a thin veil of humanitarian activities, UNRWA acts with a clear political agenda, aimed at perpetuating the situation of Palestinian refugees and fostering the dream of their return to Israel. ”

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.

[Photo: RamallahMuni / YouTube]