The UNRWA Dilemma
by Timon Dias
September 17, 2013 at 5:00 am
If the entire Palestinian Authority leadership lives off an international welfare check that arrives only because the conflict still exists, there isn't much incentive for ending the conflict.
The Palestinian people, according to a recent study by the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, have received per capita, adjusted for inflation, 25 times more aid than did Europeans to rebuild war-torn Western Europe under the Marshall plan after the Second World War.
Most of these funds, according to the study, reached the Palestinian people through The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
UNRWA is the only UN refugee agency dedicated to a single group of people, and the only agency that designates individuals as original refugees if they have lived in areas affected by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, for a minimum of only two years, before being displaced. UNRWA is also the only UN agency that designates the descendants of the original refugees as refugees as well – even though 90% of UNRWA-designated refugees have never actually been displaced.
UNRWA, furthermore, violates the UNHCR Refugee Convention by insisting that two million people (40% of UNWRA's beneficiaries) who have been given full citizenship in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, are nevertheless still classified as refugees, and by encouraging them to act on a "right of return."
Although, since World War II, fifty million people have been displaced by armed conflict, the Palestinian people are the only ones in history to receive this special treatment.
Before describing why UNRWA is a body that drastically reduces any chance of a lasting peace, let's take a look at which citizens are funding UNWRA. After all: "There is no such thing as public money, there is only taxpayers' money."
The total 2012 UNRWA budget was $907,907,371. Although the permanent supportive rhetoric for the "Palestinian case" from the Muslim world might lead one to expect that UNWRA is funded mainly by Muslim countries, in fact UNRWA is almost entirely funded by Western taxpayers: The USA, EU, UK, Sweden, Norway, Germany, The Netherlands and Japan pay $644,701,999, or 71% of the annual UNRWA budget. The funds from the second largest donor, the EU, are of course already composed of EU taxes from its member states.
So where do the Muslim states rank? First in, at #15, is Saudi Arabia. The land of palaces and private gold leaf painted Airbus A380's on the Royal runways chipped in $12,030,540 -- less than half of a tiny country such as the Netherlands. Second, at #18, is Turkey, the supposedly economically flourishing state of a prime minister who zealously supports Hamas, but which contributes only $8,100,000. Qatar, which stands accused of paying millions in bribes to win the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, and is now spending millions on the construction of high end soccer stadiums, contributed exactly $0 to its Palestinian brothers in faith.
These figures also reflect the nature of the role Muslim countries play in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. In their rhetoric, they are permanently hostile towards Israel and sympathetic to slogans such as: "Free Palestine," still basically a euphemism for "Destroy Israel." Even this meager support, however, appears to strengthen the Palestinian leadership's resolve to say no to peace whenever that occasion arises. The non-existence of peace, however, is what perpetuates Palestinian agony, along with Muslim states' refusal to deliver anything helpful when it comes to either the material needs or the human rights of the Palestinians. The role of most Muslim states in the conflict therefore seems a subversive one, aimed at the perpetuation of Palestinian suffering to divert attention from their own deficiencies such as their terrible human right record, lack of democracy, and the repression of their own peoples; Assad allegedly lavishly paid Syrian Palestinians to storm the Israeli border in 2011, to divert attention away from his bloody crackdown on his countrymen and to let the world media focus on Israel shooting Palestinians on the border.
Muslim states use the Palestinian people as pawns in a hostile game of chess against Israel.
Now that we know where the money does and does not come from, it might be helpful to review how UNWRA spends it. Just a minor detail to keep in mind along the way: The personal wealth of PA president Abbas is estimated at $100 million. UNWRA also funds for Palestinian children summer camps in which the entire focus seems to emphasize the children's right of return to the villages in which their grandparents are said to have lived, as well as the means to achieve this: Jihad – as shown in a rather disturbing documentary, Camp Jihad, produced by David Bedein.
In one scene from it, for example, a woman asks children to tell her where they are from. They respond with Jaffa, Haifa and so on, but admit they have never been to these places. The woman then shouts: "We will return to our villages with power and honor. With god's help and our own strength we will wage war and with education and jihad we will return!"
A still shot from the documentary film "Camp Jihad".
In another scene, a group of even younger children is told by a woman in traditional Arab clothing that: "Our grandparents were having a BBQ on the beach, and then a wolf appeared. Who was the wolf? The Jews. What did the Jews do to us? They expelled and deported us. They killed us and shot our families."
Apart from summer camps like these, the whole implementation of UNWRA might actually be counterproductive. If the entire Palestinian Authority leadership lives off an international welfare check that only arrives annually because the conflict still exits, there isn't much incentive for ending the conflict.
But there might be something more fundamental at play. German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn's 2003 book, Sons and World Power, explores the relation between war and the number of males in a society. Heinsohn writes:
[D]espite claiming that it wants to bring peace to the region, the West continues to make the population explosion in Gaza worse every year. By generously supporting UNRWA's budget, the West assists a rate of population increase that is 10 times higher than in its own countries. Much is being said about Iran waging a proxy war against Israel by supporting Hezbollah and Hamas. One may argue that by fueling Gaza's untenable population explosion, the West unintentionally finances a war-by-proxy against the Jews of Israel.
If we seriously want to avoid another generation of war in Gaza, we must have the courage to tell the Gazans that they will have to start looking after their children themselves, without UNRWA's help. This would force Palestinians to focus on building an economy instead of freeing them up to wage war. Of course, every baby lured into the world by our money up to now would still have our assistance.
If we make this urgently needed reform, then by at least 2025 many boys in Gaza -- as in Algeria -- would…be able to look forward to a more secure future in a less violent society.
Despite the many subversive factors UNRWA adds to an already volatile situation, however, there is outspoken Israeli support for UNRWA. These voices, however, always strongly emphasize that UNRWA should limit its work to humanitarian missions, and refrain from political alignment – even though this train has long-since left the station. In 1967 the Comay-Michelmore Exchange of Letters initiated Israel's policy of cooperation with UNRWA. As recent as 2009 this policy was reaffirmed by a representative of the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry, Dr. Uri Resnick, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he proposed to maintain "close coordination."
In 2010, Canada's government of Stephen Harper redirected its UNRWA funding directly to the Palestinian Authority to increase accountability. In 2011 the Dutch government announced it would thoroughly review its UNRWA policy. The Israeli government urged its allies to leave their UNRWA policies as they were. As Steven Rosen and Daniel Pipes explain:
Israeli officials distinguish between UNRWA's negative political role and its more positive role as a social service agency providing assistance, primarily medical and educational. They appreciate that UNRWA, with funds provided by foreign governments, helps one third of the population in the West Bank and three-quarters in Gaza. Without these funds, Israel could face an explosive situation on its borders and international demands that it, depicted as the "occupying power," assume the burden of care for these populations. In the extreme case, the Israel Defense Forces would have to enter hostile areas to oversee the running of schools and hospitals, for which the Israeli taxpayer would have to foot the bill – a most unattractive prospect. As a well-informed Israeli official sums it up, UNRWA plays a "key role in supplying humanitarian assistance to the civilian Palestinian population" that must be sustained.
By perpetuating the Palestinians' refugee status and enabling a demographic that does not educate its members for peace, UNRWA is an obstacle to peace. Ironically, however, UNRWA's humanitarian work relieves Israel of the hypothetical "responsibility" of caring for over five million Palestinians.
Can the West, as UNRWA's largest funder, do anything to realize a more balanced UNRWA policy? In the same piece Rosen and Pipes offer an option that unfortunately has not yet been put in to practice:
Can the elements of UNRWA useful to Israel be retained without perpetuating the refugee status? Yes, but this requires distinguishing UNRWA's role as a social service agency from its role producing ever-more refugees. Contrary to its practice of registering grandchildren as refugees, Section III.A.2 and Section III.B of UNRWA's Consolidated Eligibility & Registration Instructions allow it to provide social services to Palestinians without defining them as refugees. This provision is already in effect: in the West Bank, for example, 17% of the Palestinians registered with UNRWA in January 2012 and eligible to receive its services were not listed as refugees.
Given that UNRWA reports to the UN General Assembly, with its automatic anti-Israel majority, mandating a change in UNRWA practices is nearly impossible. But major UNRWA donors, starting with the US government, should stop being accomplices to UNRWA's perpetuation of the refugee status.
Donor states should, therefore, consider attaching strict conditions to their funding. With its annual $233,328,550 donation, the US should take the lead, and individual EU member states could inquire what the actual share of each is in the annual $204,098,161 EU donation, and then seriously consider imposing conditions on delivering this share.
If the current situation is left untouched, the Palestinians are left suffering, fed on dreams and violence.