Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, described the special situation of Palestinian refugees on the recent World Refugee Day:
Unlike other refugees, the Palestinians have their own set of rules, their own funding and even their own international agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency or UNRWA. To paraphrase George Orwell, all refugees are equal, but some refugees are more equal than others.
In 2012, the United Nations spent six times more on every Palestinian refugee as compared to all other refugees. Like a favored child, the Palestinians have been on the UN’s permanent payroll for over 60 years and are entitled to every service from healthcare to housing and from food rations to education. When it comes to refugees from Syria or Somalia, responsibility falls to the host country to provide basic assistance.
While UNHCR’s approach teaches independence, UNRWA’s approach prepares the Palestinians to be lifelong dependents. Under UNRWA’s framework, Palestinians can continue to be called refugees long after they acquire citizenship and find permanent housing.
UNRWA’s humanitarian mission is undoubtedly important. However, it is being marred by its unspoken political motto of “once a refugee, always a refugee.” By allowing refugee status to pass to Palestinian children and grandchildren, the number of Palestinian refugees has ballooned from a few hundred thousand in 1948 to over five million today. Left unchecked, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will continue to be added to the UN’s permanent payroll every year.
Let’s apply some simple arithmetic. If about 650,000 Arabs fled Palestine in 1948 (I’m ignoring the smaller number of 1967 refugees in the interest of simplicity) and there are 5 million today, that represents a truly remarkable growth rate of 3.2% per year (the population of India, by contrast, is growing at about 1.7% per year, and that of the US, including immigration, at about 1.1%). If the current trend continues, then, in ten years there will be 6.8 million. The 10 million mark will be reached in 2035, when a Palestinian child born today will be 22 years old. And in 100 years, there will be 116 million Palestinian refugees!
This is clearly unsustainable, but the only ‘solution’ acceptable to the Arabs, to supporters of BDS, to a majority of UN members, and even to our local “Peace Fresno” organization is that all of these Arabs will ‘return to their homes’ in what is today Israel. In the meantime, their ‘oppression’ qualifies them to engage in violent actions.
Instead of extending their hand in friendship, the Arab states employed the NIMBY strategy – Not In My Back Yard. Believing that the creation of UNRWA absolved them of any responsibility to their Palestinian brothers, the Arab states passed discriminatory laws. In Lebanon for example, Palestinian refugees are barred from working as doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers or accountants.
By making the Palestinians the poster children for international victimhood, the Arab states believe they hold a permanent trump card to defame and pressure Israel. While the Arab states are saturated in petrol dollars, the funds mysteriously dry up when it comes to assisting Palestinians and subsidizing UNRWA.
Scan the list of UNRWA’s top contributors and you’ll find it’s exclusively North American and West European countries.
To put it more bluntly: the US and the Europeans are contributing more than $650 million a year (2011 figure) to help the Arab nations build a weapon to use against the Jewish state. And the Arabs pay almost nothing! What a deal.
And it is more than simply a demographic weapon. UNRWA in Gaza supports Hamas in several important ways, particularly by way of its educational system. Teachers — who are all Gaza Palestinians — use books and materials supplied by the Hamas regime. Many Hamas leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh, are graduates of UNRWA schools, and teachers sometimes moonlight as terrorists.
The question of refugees is just one area in which the UN (and its budget) is grotesquely deformed in the direction of the Palestinians. Everyone knows about the imbalance in General Assembly resolutions, and the biased Human Rights Commission. But don’t forget the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People (SCIIHRP), not to mention the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR), which is responsible for the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, held every year on November 29, the anniversary of the Partition Resolution of 1947.