Of the estimated hundreds of millions of people who were considered refugees after World War II, with minor exceptions, only one group remains designated and cared for as refugees: Arabs who were expelled and/or left Palestine/Israel during the 1948-9 conflict. For 60 years they have been used to attack Israel and prevent reconciliation.
Unlike all other refugee groups, Palestinian Arabs and their descendants are funded, generation after generation, to hate Jews and enable terrorism. Exploited and discriminated against by their host Arab countries, they have been denied the opportunity to lead normal lives, resettle and be compensated.
According to UNHCR statistics, of the over 10 million refugees in the world today, nearly half are “Palestinians,” most of whom live in and around UNRWA backed towns in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and PA administered territory.
The UNHCR’s annual budget was US $3.32 billion in 2011; UNRWA’s biennium regular budget for 2010 and 2011 is US $1.23 billion; in 2009, UNRWA’s total budget for its core programs, emergency activities and special projects was US$1.2 billion.
UNHCR’s mandate covers all refugees, except those under UNRWA, and according to UN rules and guidelines the two organizations cannot be combined. The reason is simple and political: Maintaining a unique and separate status for “Palestinian refugees” – who currently numbers almost five million – and insisting on their “right of return” – aims to destroy Israel.
UNRWA spokespeople point out that they do not run refugee camps/towns, but only provide health, education and welfare services; security is up to local governments and militias. The Yarmouk camp in Syria, one of the largest refugee camps with 138,000 residents, for example, is dominated by a branch of the PFLP, a terrorist organization, with Syrian approval. The PFLP organized the buses that transported people to the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan, which resulted in violent clashes and fatalities.
Not part of any political or social system, UNRWA-sponsored camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan as well as those in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are sources of discontent and abuse. Time-bombs, they are ready to explode – and the major funders of UNRWA – US, Canada and EU countries – are complicit.
Among new options that emerge from the “Arab Spring” can be the resettlement and integration of Arab “refugees” and their descendents wherever they are, allowing them civil and humanitarian rights, the opportunity to become productive and creative citizens. Contributions towards this end would promote peace and prosperity. President Obama and European countries can lead the way with a bold initiative that conditions future funding on dismantling UNRWA and assisting programs that serve the people, rather than anti-Israel political motives.
The author is a historian, writer and journalist living in Israel