Diplomacy

Israel’s Deputy FM Asks Foreign Diplomats to Reassess Their Nations’ Support for UNRWA

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister on Tuesday called on the international community to fundamentally rethink its support for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, in a briefing with 50 foreign dignitaries, JNS reported.

“Israel’s policy is to close UNRWA. They are the problem, not the solution,” said Tzipi Hotovely. “Over the years, we have seen how instead of settling the original refugees, UNRWA has acted to increase the number of refugees, as it did when it automatically transferred refugee status from generation to generation,” the minister added.

In her remarks, Hotovely praised the decision by the United States for demanding that UNRWA undergoes a “fundamental re-examination” of its mandate and for cutting all aid to the organization over its perpetuation of the refugee problem.

“There is no parallel for this in the world, and it only perpetuates the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict,” Hotovely noted. “After 70 years, why are there still Palestinian refugees, when it is clear to all that fewer than 100,000 Palestinians from the time of the [1948] War of Independence are still alive?” The minister charged that, “The Jordanian model, in which Jordan de facto naturalized the refugees, is also the right model for Syria and Lebanon.”

The actual number of Palestinians who can still meet the true definition of “refugee” today is no more than several tens of thousands. Yet UNRWA uniquely defines virtually every Palestinian born since the Arab-Israeli war of 1947-1949 as a refugee; a number that reaches over five million by UNWRA’s Palestinian-only definition.

Tuesday’s briefing was the first time that a group of foreign dignitaries were briefed on the Israeli government’s alternative vision for aiding Palestinian refugees. Dozens of officials attended the event, including ambassadors and diplomats from Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Russia and Sweden.

“One must differentiate between east Jerusalem, in which there is Israeli control, and Palestinian Authority territory. There is no justification for running two parallel education systems for the same people. The responsibility for education in Area A is that of the Palestinian Authority and not UNRWA,” explained Hotovely.

“In contrast, the situation in [the] Gaza [Strip] is complex, and U.N. organizations such as the UNDP [U.N. Development Program], which use an alternative pipeline to transfer humanitarian aid, should be found.” The minister added that, “There is no justification for maintaining millions of alleged refugees, fake refugees.”

Giving the keynote address at the briefing was former Labor MK Dr. Einat Wilf and co-author of the book “The War for Return.” Ongoing Western support for UNRWA, Wilf said, constitutes an obstacle to peace by using a unique criterion for defining Palestinian refugees.

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, Wilf argued, “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: Tzipi Hotovely / Facebook ]