Palestinian policemen loyal to Hamas guard outside the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Staging another of its surreal spectacles, the UN last week marked the 65th birthday of one of its most deformed, misbegotten offspring – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
UNRWA was established in 1949 to cater exclusively to those deemed to be Palestinian refugees. All other refugees, regardless of degree of plight and objective hardship, are looked after by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), while the privileged Palestinian category is singularly aided by UNRWA.
The defect was already implanted in UNRWA’s genome.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted that UNRWA was never meant to live this long, but he contended that “it exists because of political failure.” Doubtless, as per the UN’s dishonorable tradition, Israel is blamed for this failure.
The Jewish state is habitually painted as the villain of any piece and its bogus villainy is exasperatingly accepted as an axiomatic premise.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl plaintively bewails refugee statistics, which he characteristically presents as unassailable facts – even though there is plenty to assail. According to Krahenbuhl, there are more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in today’s Middle East, because that is the number registered with UNRWA – never mind the fact that there may be personal incentives to register and political profit in inflating refugee rolls.
UNRWA’s own self-serving interests rule out neutrality and fairness to begin with, lest these actually lead to improvements that might obviate the sham pretext for keeping UNRWA around. Perversely, UNRWA’s continued existence hinges on never alleviating this region’s woes.
Put differently, it’s in UNRWA’s distinct interest to keep the flames of conflict burning high.
UNRWA’s numbers do undeniably point to the embedded problem, but not in the way Ban or Krahenbuhl portray things. True, UNRWA is kept alive because of a political failure, but not one that is of Israel’s making.
The Arab states, among them unimaginably wealthy oil-glutted monarchies and fiefdoms (quite niggardly in their handouts to UNRWA), utilize that very agency to calculatingly prevent refugee descendents from losing their refugee status. They thereby create the greatest obstacle to the peace they ostensibly seek.
They deliberately keep alive and fan the ambition to inundate Israel with millions of hostile Palestinians, while paying lip-service to a two-state solution. Had these same stingy states counseled refugee descendents to drop their “right-of-return” demands, they would make a colossal contribution both to refugee welfare and to peace.
By unnaturally perpetuating a problem for generations, they give the lie to their own claims to promote a peaceful two-state solution. The same goes for UNRWA itself, an organization whose raison d’être is fraudulent and whose self-preservation hinges on making sure the problem entrusted to it is never solved.
This becomes self-evident when we consider the different definitions for “refugee” to which UNHCR and UNRWA resort. UNHCR’s refugee is one who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted… is outside the country of his nationality.” By this definition the refugee’s descendents aren’t refugees. Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless.
The only exceptions are the Palestinians. UNRWA classifies as refugees any Arabs, native or not, who sojourned “in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Not only could an itinerant foreign Arab laborer claim Palestinian refugee status, but UNRWA stipulates that the right extends to “descendents of persons who became refugees in 1948.” Indeed one refugee great-grandparent suffices for inheriting the distinction – even when not “outside the country of one’s nationality.”
By UNHCR’s yardsticks, over 97% of those whom UNRWA regards as refugees are nothing of the sort.
There’s no other UN organ in which so many layers of unabashed hypocrisy overlap and contribute so cynically to the perpetuation of misery instead of assisting the cause of peace and prosperity.
It’s time to regard UNRWA as a problem in and of itself.
It’s time to cease shelling out millions that only impede peace and artificially sustain an insidious travesty. This region would be better off without UNRWA. It’s time to transfer its responsibilities to UNHCR.