The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNWRA, was set up after 1948 to assist Palestinian refugees. According to several news reports, UNWRA is, for the first time, planning to partner with other UN agencies in order to do its job. Apparently, the level of future financial support expected from European and Arab financial countries has become problematic because of belt tightening on the part of these so-called “donor nations” and concerns over some serious allegations of financial corruption and sexual abuse on the part of UNWRA’s top brass. Moreover, the Palestinian cause has reportedly lost a lot of its lustre of late because of their failure to negotiate realistically with Israel.
Perhaps most importantly, with the growing threat of Iran, the fully developed and powerful Israel – underscored by the emergence of the Abraham Accords – has rendered the Palestinians largely irrelevant to the paramount concerns of the donor nations by comparison.
Palestinian leaders reacted with dismay to UNWRA’s plan claiming it could well lead to UNWRA’s eventual dissolution. And well they should be concerned. They stand to lose a principal prop for their continuing in power. But for the rest of us there are compelling reasons to welcome UNWRA’s demise. It continues as one of the more powerful reasons that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has not been peacefully resolved.
A top Palestinian Liberation Organization official said it all the other day:
“[UNWRA] embodies the international responsibility towards the Palestinian refugees and their plight… Preserving UNWRA means preserving the right of refugees to return [to their homes] and [receive] compensation in accordance with international legitimacy resolutions, and maintaining UNWRA is an important stabilizing factor and a guaranteeing factor for a development process to achieve the sustainable development goals that must include Palestinian refugees.”
Of course this is a rather obtuse recitation of the Palestinian narrative that the Palestinians have sovereign rights in land where some of them resided; that it is the responsibility of the international community to effectuate that right and at all events, the world owed the Palestinians a living. Over the years, UNWRA had registered all descendants of the original refugees who had left their homes in 1948 as refugees as well, swelling the number of refugees from an initial 700,000 to today’s UNWRA-sanctioned number of approximately 6 million – about half of all the Palestinians living in the world today, and growing. Incredibly, less than 5% of all Palestinians ever lived in the land they now claim.
Yet the 1949 UN General Assembly Resolution establishing UNWRA called for “the alleviation of the conditions of starvation and distress among the Palestine refugees,” and that “constructive measures should be undertaken at an early date with a view to the termination of international assistance and relief.” It was also tasked with facilitating the resettlement of the refugees in the Arab countries to which they had gone.
Somehow, though, this temporary agency with a narrow mission morphed into a mini-state replete with ambitious social, economic and educational programs with more than 30,000 employees – most of whom are Palestinians themselves – and a mandate to support a “right of Palestinian return to Palestine” in tandem with the refusal of other Arab states to accept them as citizens.
By contrast, populations of German refugees created by World War II and its aftermath, or the populations of India and Pakistan after their partition, were soon largely resettled without any lingering refugee population.
As the City Journal magazine has described it:
In the 59 UNWRA refugee camps on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip a daily dream of redemption and return is played out. The Palestinian Nakba narrative and the myth of eventual “return” are nourished under the approving eyes of UNWRA teachers and social workers. Generations of Palestinian children have learned in UNWRA schools that their totally innocent forebears were driven out of their homes by the conquering Zionists. Yet they are also told never to lose hope, because the day is not far off when they will be returning in victory to their ancestral home.
For 74 years, UNWRA has allowed the refugee problem to fester. A problem that would otherwise have been easier to solve in the aftermath of Israel’s successful defeat of the Arab world and its war designed to destroy the Jewish state. It’s time it was forced to close up shop.