A man with an UNRWA flag in the southern Gaza Strip..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With unbelievable foresight, 67 years ago last week, the UN resolved the longest-lasting Middle East conflict by forging the revolutionary concept of two states for two peoples. Unfortunately, it was an idea whose time has not yet come.
When on November 29, 1947, the world body voted to partition the British Mandate for Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, the country’s Jews rejoiced, but the Arab world said no. Indeed, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon immediately launched a war of annihilation against the newborn Jewish state. It survived, but the Palestinian state was stillborn as a result.
According to the UN, about 700,000 Palestinians were displaced in this war of aggression initiated by the Arabs. How have we permitted the world to ignore the fact that, during the same period, some 850,000 Jewish refugees were forced to flee from Muslim countries? Instead of the UN’s revisionist International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People that recognizes only one victim of the conflict, its annual November 29 observance could have been devoted for the past 67 years to celebrating the anniversary of the establishment of both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. And not merely two states, but as the partition resolution declared: they were to be linked economically in “the Economic Union of Palestine,” which also was to provide “for other matters of common interest.”
The conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state, but rather the existence of the Jewish state.
Neither has it been about refugees, although the Palestinians have managed to invent history’s first instance of fourth-generation refugees. The Arab nations have deliberately maintained this refugee status as another political weapon in their ongoing war against the Jewish state, while Israel did its utmost to integrate Jewish refugees from Muslim countries as productive citizens.
The world ignores the double aggression that created two groups of refugees: Palestinian refugees from the Arab war against the Jewish state and Jewish refugees from the Arab war against their own Jewish citizens. While no one expects the Arab League to take responsibility for its role in perpetuating the suffering of Palestinian refugees, not to mention of the Jewish refugees, the world community could do better.
Since 1948, for example, more than 180 General Assembly resolutions have dealt with the plight of Palestinian refugees – and not one mentions Jewish refugees.
What should be done to help displaced Palestinians unwanted by their fellow Arabs? A first step should be dissolving UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and transferring its jurisdiction over Palestinian refugees to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which actually rehabilitates refugees.
Aside from its domination by Hamas, UNRWA exists to perpetuate the Palestinians’ refugee situation rather than help them to a better future. Despite Mahmoud Abbas’s rhetoric, there are few Palestinians who really believe their “temporary” refugee status of nearly 70 years will be remedied by a nonexistent “right of return” to Israel.
UNRWA’s clientele has grown from fewer than half a million to a claimed 5 million (UNRWA has not taken a census).
Its schools, when not being used as Hamas launching-pads, teach hatred of Jews as part of an ongoing program of incitement. Surely the United Nations can do better.
And by the way, the United States will not. The State Department opposes any reform of UNRWA, or transferring its responsibilities to other UN agencies.
If peace negotiations are ever to resume, Israel would be wise to condition them in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967: All negotiations for “a just and lasting peace” must include all refugees, Jewish and Palestinian. This principle has since been reinforced by the US Congress, which passed a resolution in 2008 requiring that the Jewish refugee issue be raised in any talks on a Middle East peace settlement.
The Knesset finally passed similar legislation this year, after much lobbying by former Jewish refugees from Muslim countries and particularly their organizations in the US, such as Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa. These former refugees today make up about half of Israel’s population.
On November 30, Israel observed its first national commemoration of the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran. The date marks the day following the partition resolution, when the Arab countries attacked in their first war aimed at wiping out the Jewish state. Palestinians refer to it as the Nakba, catastrophe. But it was also the nakba of the Jews who were thrown out of their homes elsewhere in the Middle East; not to mention the Jews who lost their lives defending Israel in its first of too many wars. This is a point our Foreign Ministry should be making every day.