Trump can end the UNRWA farce


After President Obama greased the wheels for the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlements policy, then President-elect Trump tweeted that “things will be different after January 20th.” I didn’t vote for Trump, but for the sake of restoring some sanity to America’s Middle East policies, I fervently hope he fulfils that promise.

To make a real difference, our next president needs to understand how the United Nations’ hostility to the Jewish state is rooted in perverse institutions that have been abetted by previous US administrations. The most glaring example of this is the inaptly named United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). With its US$1.3 billion budget (30% of which comes from US taxpayers), this agency actually perpetuates the refugee problem it was created to solve, while promoting Palestinian rejectionism and Jew hatred. Trump will soon have the means to drain the UNRWA swamp. If he does so, he would increase the chances of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

The United Nations created UNRWA with the noblest of intentions. By the time an armistice agreement ended the first Arab-Israeli war in 1949, roughly 700,000 Palestinians had fled (or were driven) from the territories governed by the new State of Israel. The prevailing view at the time was that refugee problems produced by war were best solved through resettlement in the countries to which the refugees had fled. In the aftermath of World War II, 7 million ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe were the victims of brutal ethnic cleansing campaigns approved by the victorious allied powers. On the Indian subcontinent another 3 million people were uprooted in the violent creation of India and Pakistan. These destitute refugees had to make do in their new host countries with virtually no outside aid. Yet, within a decade, there was no longer a refugee problem in Europe or Asia.

Unfortunately, the surrounding Arab countries that launched a war of conquest against the Jewish state – Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq – refused to accept any responsibility for the welfare of their Palestinian brothers who were the big losers in the conflict. That’s when the UN – led by the United States – generously stepped in. The 1949 General Assembly resolution establishing UNRWA called for “the alleviation of the conditions of starvation and distress among the Palestine refugees.” Yet the resolution also stated that “constructive measures should be undertaken at an early date with a view to the termination of international assistance for relief.” In other words, the new refugee agency’s mission was to be temporary.

Flash forward 66 years. The original 700,000 Palestinians leaving Israel have now been magically transformed into a mini-state of 5.6 million “refugees” registered with UNRWA. The “temporary” UN agency has been transformed into a bloated international bureaucracy with a staff of 30,000, almost all of whom are Palestinian refugees themselves.

Less than 5% of UNRWA’s clients ever lived in Israel, but the agency’s regulations state that all patrilineal descendants of the original displaced persons shall retain their refugee rights in perpetuity. Nor does UNRWA seem to be troubled by the fact that 40% of its camp residents are citizens of Jordan and Lebanon, and shouldn’t even be considered refugees under accepted international law.

The unchecked growth of UNRWA is a classic case in international politics of the economic principle of “moral hazard”. By providing a social welfare safety net, the UN enables the Palestinian leadership to undermine efforts to solve the underlying conditions that created the refugee problem in the first place. Palestinian rejectionism is thus rendered risk-free. In turn, UNRWA nurtures Palestinian extremism, yet never is held accountable by the agency’s donor nations.

The original sin was the world body’s unprecedented decision to create a single agency dedicated to dealing exclusively with one national group of refugees. Only the Palestinians who left Israel, a mere trickle of the post-World War II refugee flood, were designated as specially approved victims deserving of aid and support by the international community. To paraphrase Marx, this misguided policy created an historic tragedy, with elements of farce. It’s not only the billions of dollars and millions of lives that have been wasted over the past half century in the squalid refugee camps. It’s also that the easily solvable problem of the 1948 refugees was allowed to fester and then become the single greatest obstacle (no, President Obama, it’s not Jewish settlements on the West Bank) to a peaceful solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

In the 59 UNRWA refugee camps on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a daily drama of redemption and return is played out. The Palestinian Nakba narrative (i.e. the 1948 “catastrophe”) and the myth of eventual “return” are nourished under the approving eyes of UNRWA teachers and social workers. Generations of Palestinian children have learned in UNRWA schools that their totally innocent forbearers 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 homes in Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, and the other places throughout the Jewish state where their people lived in peace and harmony.

An extraordinary documentary produced by Israeli journalist David Bedein graphically illustrates how this destructive culture of the Nakba is actively promoted in the UNRWA camps. In the video, children at an UNRWA summer camp can be seen chanting that they will soon be returning to the villages from which their ancestors were driven by the Jews. They sing martyrdom songs and praise suicide bombers. An UNRWA teacher promises a classroom of children as young as ten: “We will return to our villages with power and honour. With God’s help and our own strength we will wage war. And with education and Jihad we will return.” Speaking to the camera, a teenage Palestinian girl announces: “I dream that we will return to our land and with God’s help Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] will achieve that goal and we will not be disappointed.”

Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets have shown little interest in exploring UNRWA’s role in creating obstacles to Palestinian-Israeli peace. The conventional wisdom is that agitation for the right of return in the refugee camps is mostly harmless rhetoric that will recede after the “two-state solution” to the conflict is achieved. That has also been the official position of the State Department during succeeding US administrations. It was reemphasised most recently in Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech doubling down on the UN’s condemnation of Israel over the settlements issue. Let’s end the settlement project, get to a two-state solution, and the refugee issue will then fall into place, Kerry promised.

Too bad that the recent history of failed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations demolishes Kerry’s illusions. In 2007 and 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Abbas 35 times to try to achieve a peace agreement. During the secret negotiations, Olmert offered the Palestinian leader the same terms that Kerry now advocates: the 1967 borders with mutual swaps allowing Israel to keep the large settlement blocs; Jerusalem to be the capital for both states; and a five-nation consortium controlling the Old City and the Jewish and Muslim holy places.

On September 16, 2008, Olmert presented Abbas with a detailed map showing how Israel would retain 6% of Palestinian land on the West Bank and thus avoid evacuating most of the Jewish settlements. To compensate, Olmert proposed transferring an equivalent amount of Israeli land to the future Palestinian state. For their part, however, the Palestinians would have to drop their demand for the “right of return” to Israel of the 1948 refugees and their descendants – though Olmert offered to admit a few thousand on “humanitarian” grounds.

Abbas assured the Israeli Prime Minister that the map was worthy of study and he would come back the next day for further discussions. But Abbas never returned to the table. In an interview I conducted with Olmert in 2010, the former Prime Minister told me that there was only one plausible explanation for Abbas’ decision to end the talks: he couldn’t bring himself to announce to the Palestinians in the UNRWA camps that they wouldn’t be returning to their homes in Israel.

Nothing has changed in the past eight years. Abbas still can’t tell that Palestinian teenager in the David Bedein video that her “dream” of returning to her family’s ancestral lands will never happen. Contrary to Kerry’s apologia for the Palestinians, it isn’t Israel’s settlement policies that are preventing the two-state solution. Rather, it is the myth of a Palestinian return built up for generations in the UNRWA refugee camps.

As president, Trump can do a big favour for the Palestinians by disabusing them of their fantasy of return. He should begin by immediately cutting off all American funding of UNRWA. (This will be quite easy to do, because UNRWA isn’t financed out of the UN budget, but rather through voluntary contributions from member states.) The President can announce that the US$400 million that usually goes directly to UNRWA will be set aside for a fund available for permanent resettlement of the Palestinian residents of the refugee camps. Trump should also lobby the other nations funding UNRWA (mostly our European allies) that it’s time to end this destructive 66-year venture that breeds hate and violence.

Finally, Trump should tell Abbas that it’s time to end the 1948 war and let the 5.6 million alleged Palestinian refugees know that they are never going back to Israel. If Abbas is agreeable to this new path to peace, President Trump can assure the Palestinian leader that the US will do everything it can to facilitate negotiations for a two-state solution. If Abbas refuses to renounce the “right of return”, Trump should warn him that the US will end all aid programs to the Palestinians.

If President Trump is firm on this, Palestinian leaders may finally get the message and end the UNRWA farce.

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13 Comments / 13 Comments

  1. Edgar G.

    I disagree that the UN created UNWRA with”the noblest intentions” . I think they’d just found something they could “stick their noses into” to “glieb nachas”, as it were. There was no need to create it at all as there was already a very competent World Refugee Organisation in full force and working order. Indeed UNWRA immediately became so messed up that they created the whole present swamp, encouraging itinerant Arabs to crowd in from all over the Middle East to get handouts, and free everything that UNWRA could think of. With concurring massive costs to all except mainly the Arab oil-rich countries who had more sense than to actually honour their pledges to donate.

    This has ALL been hashed and re-hashed ad nauseam by everyone who can use a computer and calls himself a writer. And that brings up my second and LAST point about this “article”.

    Has anyone noticed that the plethora of writers recently, mentioning Trump, ALWAYS seem NOT TO HAVE VOTED FOR HIM, and make it stand-out clearly..presumably to hold on to their brownie points with their own slanted cohorts…… Hmmmm….@!!

  2. Sebastien Zorn

    @ Edgar G.:
    I agree. It’s hard to imagine that a redundant special agency was created for any purpose other than to undermine Israel. I wonder if somebody will research and write a book about the backstory of who proposed this and how they rammed it through. 1949 was also just the year that Stalin gave up on his hopes of turning Israel into a Soviet satellite and a year after he began his anti-semitic witch hunt at home. I liked it.
    Except for the typo.

    Incidentally, there is a typo in this NYT article: “‘It is the tragic paradox of Soviet culture. So many served the system and then were destroyed by it,” said Alla Gerber, a writer and former member of the Russian Parliament, who at Monday’s show.”

    who at Monday’s show what?

    Toilet paper of record.

    I really should be more forbearing. They are the Voice of the Poor — too poor to afford proof readers, apparently. I’m starting to grok what Christians mean by “poor in spirit”. Though it is an uncharacteristically sympathetic article, I have to say. A different era of progressive journalism.

  3. M. Cohen

    Obama did not stop working against Israel. In December, he engineered
    the UN Security Council deadly blow against Israel and if that was not
    enough, he got the French to organize a conference in Paris of 70
    countries to condemn Israel. I fret thinking that corrupt Hillary Clinton
    could have won the presidency. Just imagine the constant pressure
    on Israel!
    Sol Stern – who did not vote for Mr. Trump – is asking him to help Israel.
    Now, what is wrong with this picture? I for one identified from day one
    who Obama was. He did not fooled me! He, however fooled a large
    swat of my Jewish brothers and sisters. Clearly, Israel is extremely
    popular with Republicans. Anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Israel
    resides in the Democratic Party.
    Trust me, there will never be a Palestinian State, ever. This was just
    a last ditch to destroy Israel: Never Going To Happen…
    The days of Jews being carted to death is OVER
    I ask my brethren, next time you vote, THINK about ISRAEL…

  4. I am somewhat surprised at all the commotion regarding the U.N resolution 2334 (U.N. Resolutions which is non-binding and has no legal standing) which condemns Jewish Communities and Settlements in the West Bank aka Judea and Samaria. It should be noted Israel regained land and rebuilt communities previously taken from it illegally via the Defensive War of 1967 when it had to defend itself from an unprovoked attack from Jordan. If the U.N voted a resolution declaring the Vatican as Muslim territory, is anyone going to abide by it?

    According to my research, the U.N. Charter only provides for the recommendation(s) of a non-binding Resolution, with no legal standing. In fact, the U.N. has absolutely no legal standing or power to enforce any Resolution(s). Furthermore, it cannot be ignored that the U.N. has recommended hundreds of non-binding Resolutions against Israel with no legal, or factual standing to support said Resolutions. There is also the U.N. Article 51 which provides countries for defense against attack. The U.N, and the ICJ have no appeal process and that is against every Democratic law. Their opinions and non-binding resolutions are based on false information; there is no procedure to remedy the erroneous biased non-binding decisions.

    Israel is on solid legal and historical ground as far as its’ territorial boundaries west of the Jordan River. In fact, history proves Israel has both a legal and historical claim for a lot of land held by Jordan. See the January 1919 Faisal Weizmann Agreement,

    The World at large has for thousands of years wrongfully persecuted the Jews, confiscated and stole their assets including homes and land. The world at large will try and push us around if we let them. It is time to put an end to such unjustified and deliberate persecution.

    All the distortions of history up to and including modern day, by biased nations relying upon deceptive, fictitious make-believe facts and wishful beliefs, must not be tolerated any more. While most of the biased world continues to unjustly assail Israel; the nation of Israel contributes to the world a substantial amount of advancement and technology in all fields, including medicine, energy, water desalination, IT, and much more.

    Today the Jewish State of Israel has the man-power and the resources to defend itself against most world powers. Thus, it is time for us Jews to become unified and stand up for ourselves as was done during the days of Moses, King David and King Solomon.

    We are supposed to be “a stubborn nation” (Am Kshey Oref). Let us utilize our “stubborn” resolve with a strong backbone steeled with our unwavering faith. If we stand our ground without capitulations, we might encounter some obstacles and suffer some set-backs. But in the long run we will be stronger and the world at large will respect us more.

    We must overcome the “Diaspora victim mentality” we have too easily accepted over thousands of years. It is time for all Jews worldwide to raise our heads, and steel our resolve as a proud nation with proud people.

    YJ Draiman

  5. stevenl

    The SD will strongly oppose this kind of decision!

  6. Email received:

    I do not know who Sol Stern is, but he really should begin his discussion with verifiable facts, and not Arab propaganda. It is highly tiresome to hear this oft repeated idiocy that UNRWA began with 700,000 refugees.

    To begin with, an author who wishes to discuss UN resolution that set up this bastardised agency one should actually read the resolution and comprehend the facts.

    A. The actual number was 150,000.

    B) The money that was allocated for them at the time, was given to the Arab countries’ governments involved, who – all of them (Ibn Saud, Abdulla & etc. – simply took the money and pocketed it.

    C) UNRWA then, and now, went on a ‘rampage’ of redefinition of who was then a refugee in order to artificially inflate the number. Hundreds of thousands of persons that had never been anywhere near the Land of Israel, suddenly became “Palestinians” – the most famous of these was, of course, Yasser Arafat.

    Then, as now, there was no UN mechanism for checks and control of the allocated funds.

    This is, and was, a major part of the problem.

    Trump has a quite simple excuse to end all finding to this horror of an agency. Stop rampant, UN authorised, graft!

    What is more, the graft is all based upon lies and fabrications, like this ridiculous number.

  7. Edgar G.

    YJ Draiman Said:

    We must overcome the “Diaspora victim mentality” we have too easily accepted over thousands of years.


    The problem here is one that has never really been addressed by competent researchers. Indeed, it takes little research to understand what happened. Very simply this…..;

    Since Greek and Roman oppression and occupations of Israel, which ended with the diepersal of millions of Jews from their Land (although as we now know, not all, because the population revived significantly in numbers during Byzantine days) the Rabonim, forgetting that they had been originally Sages, became convinced that it was no use for Israel to stand against the huge world powers of the time, always seeming to end in disaster, and began to both preach and practice pacifism, and after a while it became believed that the Jewish People had ALWAYS been pacifists, and laid down at the feet of whomever went against it. You only have to look at the behaviour of today’s Rabbis to see that they are worthy descendants.

    They have now become a shame and disgrace to the proud Jewish People, kow-towing to everyone, and concerned about their murderous enemies more than their own people.

    So that’s the way it it folks…

  8. Sebastien Zorn

    @ Ted Belman:
    Is this a quote? Source please.

  9. Sebastien Zorn

    @ Ted Belman:
    I found that on my own. In fact, Kindle unlimited has some of his books for free. I can’t find anything on the history of UNRWA other than Joan Peters and I don’t think she talks about the numbers. What’s the source for that quote?

  10. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    I didn’t suggest that it is a quote from one of his books. He just commented in an email to me.

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