Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The Palestinian Future

YOU ARE IN: Home Page

Update from AIJAC

October 15, 2009
Number 10/09 #04


This Update contains three articles relating to aspects of the Palestinian future, including the path toward a future Palestinian state.

First up is former US CIA director R. James Woosley, who argues that it is a mistake to give in to Palestinian demands that no Jewish settlements exist in a future Palestinian state and thus, Palestinian demands on settlements.  He points out that the Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad responded to a question on the subject by saying Jews could reside in such a state, so why does the international community continue to regard it as a given that all settlements must be dismantled before such a state can be established, and therefore any homebuilding by Jews as a barrier to peace? He further points out that even if all current settlements were incorporated into a Palestinian state, the Jewish minority would be much smaller than Israel's existing Arab minority. For this important article, CLICK HERE.

Next up, two highly regard Israeli analysts-  Dan Diker, who specialises in security issues, and Pinhas Inbari, who specialises in Palesitinian affairs - look in detail at Fayyad's plans to establish a unilaterally-declared Palestinian state in two years. They point out that from Israel's point of view, the nation-building elements are seen as positive, but the unilateralist intention is likely to severely complicate peacemaking. More importantly, they dissect the internal Palestinian politics of this - with Fayyad, whose own popular support is growing but still very limited, effectively challenging Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas with this plan. For this dissection of all the elements in play with respect to Fayyad's plan, CLICK HERE.

Finally, this Update includes a detailed discussion of the history and current role of UNRWA, the UN's refugee and aid body for Palestinians, writtten by Israeli academic Nitza Nachmias. Nachmias makes a strong case that UNRWA's role has become "profoundly inimical both to the higher interests of its own Palestinian clients, and to the search for a political settlement of the conflicts in the region." For instance, she points out that locally-run schools  generally get better results than UNRWA schools and  mounts a detailed argument that there are other ways to provide aid and other benefits to Palestinians that would be more effective and productive. For her complete argument, CLICK HERE. Adidtional comment on the role of the Arab states in helping to keep Palestinians as dispossessed refugees, in part through UNWRA, come from American journalists Judith Miller and David Samuels.

Readers may also be interested in:

The Ugly Premise of 'Settlement' Opponents

About 20% of Israel is Arab. Would it be a tragedy if 10% of future Palestine is Jewish?

By R. JAMES WOOLSEY

Wall Street Journal, OCTOBER 11, 2009

At the Aspen Institute's Ideas Festival this past July, Salam Fayyad, acting prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, spoke enthusiastically about the rule of law in a future Palestine. I asked him whether the same rights would be available to Jewish citizens of a Palestinian state that are available to the over one million Arab citizens of Israel. Could they enjoy freedom of religion and speech, and be able to vote for real representatives in a real legislature? Most importantly, would they be able to sleep at night without worrying that someone might kick down the door and kill them?

Mr. Fayyad responded: "I'm not someone who will say that they would or should be treated differently than Israeli Arabs are treated in Israel. In fact, the kind of state that we want to have, that we aspire to have, is one that would definitely espouse high values of tolerance, coexistence, mutual respect and deference to all cultures, religions. No discrimination whatsoever, on any basis whatsoever. Jews, to the extent they choose to stay and live in the state of Palestine, will enjoy those rights and certainly will not enjoy any less rights than Israeli Arabs enjoy now in the state of Israel."

Such a policy would mark a substantial change from the Palestinian Authority's first law adopted in 1994: the death penalty for any Palestinian who sells land to Jews. Over 100 Palestinians have died, under sentence or extrajudicially, for such sales in the last 15 years, including one last May. The Fatah charter foresees a Palestine that is free of Jews. And recently Fatah demanded that Israel give up all of Jerusalem before it would begin negotiations on a two-state solution.

But suppose Mr. Fayyad's statement marks a tentative turn away from these positions?

The Obama administration seems determined to discourage any such shift. It remains committed to stopping growth of any kind in all Jewish settlements in the West Bank. This policy implies acquiescence in the banning of Jews from a future Palestinian state.

Why? The administration's fixation on preventing even minor construction internal to a settlement assumes that Jewish settlers are on the verge of taking over the entire West Bank. This is fanciful: There are about 200,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, and 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The settlers live on about 1.5% of the West Bank, and the very substantial majority are in four major settlement blocs around Jerusalem.

In the two previous administrations, the U.S. had accepted that in any reasonable peace agreement these four blocs would remain under Israeli control, and that some Israeli land would be transferred to the new Palestinian state. This was the assumption in the parameters that President Clinton proposed to Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in January 2001.

The Obama administration, on the other hand, seems quite opposed to any such small land adjustments. The president said on Sept. 23 at the U.N. that "America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" and that our goal was to end "the occupation that began in 1967."

It's still unclear why the administration has a problem with Jews living in the West Bank. Even if every settlement and its residents were transferred to Palestinian sovereignty, Jews would still comprise under 10% of the population of the new Palestinian state. Arabs, overwhelmingly Muslim, would continue to comprise nearly 20% of Israel's population. Why should such a Jewish minority be forbidden in Mr. Fayyad's Palestine?

It would of course take some time for his hopes to become reality. It is also clear that without American support for religious and political freedom in Palestine, there is no chance that Palestinian leaders will decide to make their country one in which Jews can feel safe. Yet rather than promoting the rule of law in a future Palestine, the Obama administration essentially urges us to accept that, because Palestinians will kill unprotected Jews, Jews cannot be permitted in a Palestinian state.

This is what the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan called "defining deviancy down." Will it provide the basis for peace in the Middle East for us to define deviancy for Palestinians in such a way that essentially accepts Fatah's goal of a Jew-free Palestine? As Mr. Moynihan once wryly understated it, such a move would simply be our deciding to "get used to a lot of behavior that is not good for us"—let alone for Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Woolsey, a former director of Central Intelligence under President Clinton, is a visiting fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Back to Top
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's Two-Year Path to Palestinian Statehood:

Implications for the Palestinian Authority and Israel


Dan Diker and Pinhas Inbari

Jerusalem Issue Brief
Vol. 9, No. 11    2 October 2009

  •  In August 2009, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced a unilateral plan to establish a de facto Palestinian state in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem following a two-year state-building process. Fayyad's plan is the first serious Palestinian outline of a state-building effort since the PLO was founded in 1964 and replaces the traditional PLO position of armed struggle to "liberate Palestine."
  • The Fayyad plan represents a bold anti-Fatah posture and is seen to pose a direct challenge to Fatah and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas. Fayyad enjoys only limited political backing and his political rivals, such as Tawfiq Tirawi, Abu Maher Gneim, and Mahmud al-Alul, who were recently elected to the new Fatah Central Committee, have already blasted Fayyad's plans.
  • Israel supports "bottom up" Palestinian state-building. However, Israeli leaders have voiced legal and security-based concerns over Fayyad's intention that the PLO would unilaterally declare Palestinian statehood in 2011 based on the June 4, 1967, lines. The one-sided establishment of a Palestinian state would contravene a key provision of the Oslo Interim Agreement, according to which: "Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status agreement."
  •  Another direct challenge to Israel is that Fayyad's "blueprint" calls for massive Palestinian development in Area "C" of the disputed West Bank, which is under Israeli civil and security control, and which directly challenges the delicate, agreed-upon framework of the 1993 Oslo accords.
  • Israel's requirement of "defensible borders" involves its continuing control in Area "C," including the strategically vital Jordan Valley and the high ground surrounding Jerusalem and overlooking Israel's vulnerable cities along the Mediterranean coast. Hizbullah's 4,000 rocket attacks from the north in 2006 and Hamas' 10,000 rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, culminating in the 2009 Gaza war, both underscore the potential rocket threat against Israel's cities that could emerge from a Palestinian state in the West Bank if Israel were to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines.
Introduction

In August 2009, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced a unilateral plan to establish a de facto Palestinian state in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem following a twenty-four-month state-building process. Fayyad's 54-page plan to build Palestinian infrastructure and establish Western-style public institutions is the first of its kind since the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords.

Fayyad's state-building vision has already elicited Western enthusiasm and financial and political support from the Obama administration and European countries. However, Western optimism may have underestimated the ominous political tensions which the plan has exacerbated among the fractured Palestinian leadership. Fayyad, as an unelected prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, has provoked some in the Palestinian leadership by announcing his far-reaching program without first seeking approval from the PA Legislative Council or the PLO governing bodies, without whose support such an initiative cannot be implemented.1

Israel supports "bottom up" Palestinian state-building. However, Israeli leaders have voiced legal and security-based concerns over Fayyad's intention that the PLO governing bodies will unilaterally declare Palestinian statehood in 2011 based on the June 4, 1967, lines. Such a move would be unacceptable to Israel, as it would contravene the internationally recognized principles of a negotiated settlement and secure and recognized boundaries - defensible borders - that were firmly established in UN Security Council Resolution 242 following the 1967 Six-Day War. This resolution, passed in November 1967, has governed all Arab-Israeli peace negotiations since then, including the Oslo process, the Roadmap, and Annapolis.

Israel would welcome the opportunity to share its vast experience in state-building to help Fayyad achieve his "bottom up," state-building vision within a strong Israeli-Palestinian partnership. However, any unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood would preclude Israel's vital security requirements, its internationally-sanctioned legal rights, and could end up derailing the peace process and lead to armed conflict between PA forces and Israel.

The Fayyad Plan

Fayyad's plan is the first serious Palestinian outline of a state-building effort since the PLO was founded in 1964 and replaces the traditional PLO position of advocating a "struggle of every means" including armed struggle to "liberate Palestine," that was reaffirmed at the Sixth Fatah Congress in Bethlehem in August 2009.2 Fayyad's stated intention is to dedicate the next 24 months until 2011 to building physical infrastructure, public institutions, public services, and tax incentives for foreign investors.3 These state-building assets would anchor a viable de facto state throughout the West Bank including areas that, in line with signed agreements between Israel and the PLO at Oslo, fall under Israeli control, such as the hills that overlook Jerusalem and Israel's coastal cities to the west, as well as the strategically important Jordan Valley to the east.

Fayyad's intention is to create facts on the ground that will garner major international support and lead to pressure to transform recognition of a de facto Palestinian state in 2011 into a de jure state in the event that the Palestinian Authority and Israel fail to reach a negotiated solution.4 Fayyad said: "If occupation has not ended by then (2011) and the nations of the world from China to Chile to Africa and to Australia are looking at us, they will say that the Palestinian people have a ready state on the ground. The only problem is the Israeli occupation [the Israeli communities and security presence] that should end."5

Fayyad's Plan Sidelines Fatah

Despite the plan's explicit "full commitment to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) program," the Fayyad plan represents a bold anti-Fatah posture.6 The plan's opening sentences omit any mention of Fatah, despite its role as the leading Palestinian political movement that has defined the Palestinian liberation narrative for nearly half a century. Fayyad writes: "The establishment of a Palestinian state requires collective dedication to this national goal, which is shared by the various political and social organizations, academic and cultural institutions, non-government organizations, local government councils, the private sector, the land-protection and anti-settlements and anti-wall committees, and the national organizations of women and youth."7

Fayyad's Western approach in language, substance, and style represents a sharp break from both past PA governments and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement. Fayyad's glaring omission of mentioning Fatah, and the plan's commitment to political struggle based on "peaceful and popular movements," together with "building a government based on the principles of justice and the rule of law, equality and tolerance, safeguarded by a clear separation of powers of the executive, the legislature and judiciary," is language uniquely befitting the U.S.-trained Palestinian economist, who told Newsweek that former U.S. President Alexander Hamilton, the New York federalist, was a role model.8 Fayyad has a staunch reputation in the West as a "technocrat and pragmatist."9

Western Support for the Fayyad Plan

Fayyad's unilateral Palestinian state program has already earned the broad backing of the UN, the Quartet, and European leaders, as well as the Obama administration. The Quartet issued a joint statement on September 24, 2009, that "welcomes the Palestinian Authority's plan for constructing the institutions of the Palestinian state within 24 months as a demonstration of the PA's serious commitment to an independent state."10 On September 22, 2009, Tony Blair, the Middle East Quartet Special Envoy, hosted the UN Ad Hoc Liaison Committee on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, where donor nations promised $400 million to the PA by the end of 2009.11 Blair has characterized Fayyad's performance as "absolutely first class - professional, courageous, intelligent."12 Norway's foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store, a committee member, praised donor support of the Fayyad plan as "an investment in a political project."13 UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry has also publicly backed the Fayyad plan.14 In fact, on July 12, 2009, Javier Solana, the European Union's top diplomat, reportedly called on the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state even without a final-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He said the UN "would accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the UN, and set a calendar for implementation."15

While the U.S. administration has not officially announced explicit support for Fayyad's state project, President Barack Obama has also envisioned a two-year path to Mideast peace.16 There are other indications of support as well. Shortly after the plan's publication in August, the Obama administration announced a $20 million grant to back the effort.17 A few weeks earlier, the U.S. Congress approved a $200 million deposit into the PA treasury, which falls under Fayyad's direct control.18 Washington also committed $109 million in 2009 to finance an expanded, U.S.-backed training program for the PA security forces that since 2005 have been under Fayyad's control, under the close supervision of U.S. Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton.19

Palestinian Opposition to the Fayyad Plan


Despite robust Western support, Fayyad's ambitious plan has enjoyed a mixed reception in Palestinian circles. Fatah has decided to give Fayyad's plan a chance due to the prospect of his implementing Palestinian state projects on an unprecedented scale.20 At the same time, Fayyad's agenda has triggered tensions in Fatah and the PLO and has drawn sharp criticism from the Arab media for co-opting the power and legitimacy of official PLO bodies.21

Fayyad has emphasized that any decision on a declaration of statehood at the end of two years would be made by the PLO organs.22 However, the Fayyad plan is seen to pose a direct challenge to Fatah and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who reiterated, when Fayyad presented the plan, that "negotiations with Israel are the only option for the Palestinian Authority."23 Furthermore, Fayyad's approach collides with Fatah's traditional platform of "armed struggle" to "liberate Palestine" using "all options" available, as confirmed at the recent Fatah Congress.24 Fayyad's program also contradicts the Fatah Congress' reaffirmation of a "one-state" solution in the event that negotiations over a "two-state" solution fail.25

Fayyad, who is not a member of the ruling Fatah movement, enjoys only limited political backing in the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, particularly following the latest central committee elections in August 2009. Fatah's rejection of Fayyad was manifested in the rejection of his candidacy to the PLO executive committee, which, had he been elected, would have empowered him to declare a Palestinian state as part of the PLO political hierarchy. However, Fayyad reached a limited understanding with powerful Fatah warlord Mohammed Dahlan. In fact, Dahlan is currently one of Fayyad's staunchest supporters in the complex constellation of Palestinian politics. However, Fayyad's political rivals, such as Tawfiq Tirawi, Abu Maher Gneim, and Mahmud al-Alul, who support "armed resistance" against Israel and were recently elected to the new Fatah Central Committee, have already blasted Fayyad's plans as being a "governmental intifada" that contradicted the "armed struggle."

Fayyad will also face a major challenge in financing his state-building program. International donor countries have not yet fulfilled the billions of dollars in pledges made at the 2007 Paris donors conference, as well as the nearly $5 billion pledged at the 2009 Gaza war donors conference in Cairo.26 Fayyad has faced difficulties in the past simply paying the monthly salaries of the 130,000 employees on the PA payroll. Nevertheless, lately salaries have been paid on time, and Fayyad is inaugurating development projects on a daily basis due to the support his plan is receiving from the donor community.27

One potentially prohibitive roadblock to Fayyad's statehood plan is that it calls for a reconnection of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to the Fatah-ruled West Bank. This would imply that Hamas would have to accede to holding elections in January 2010 which it currently opposes, relinquish its de facto rule over Gaza, and once again accept living under Fatah control. Yet it seems more likely that Hamas would initiate a military confrontation with Fayyad's PA forces, as it did in its takeover of Gaza in 2007. Indeed, following Fayyad's most recent appointment as prime minister in May 2009, Hamas officials labeled him a "traitor" and promised an "earthquake" of a response.28 A few days later, Fayyad-led PA security forces and Hamas engaged in a deadly firefight in the West Bank town of Kalkilya in which three PA security forces and three Hamas operatives were killed.29

The Fateful 2010 Palestinian Elections


Fayyad has launched his state-building plan as his opening gambit for the scheduled elections in January 2010, when the terms of Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Legislative Council are due to expire. Since Fayyad now serves as Abbas' appointed prime minister, he will be able to advance his state-building project and unilaterally declare Palestinian statehood in 2011 only if he wins by a landslide either in a bid for the presidency or as a newly-elected prime minister. Fayyad has already hit the campaign trail, admitting to Newsweek's Kevin Peraino: "Part of what you have to do is to be on a campaign all year long."30 Competition for Abbas' job will be fierce and will likely be led by extremist Fatah leaders such as Abu Maher Gneim and Tawfiq Tirawi who vehemently oppose Fayyad. However, Fayyad's grassroots popularity has blossomed significantly in recent months among West Bankers in smaller towns and villages, where he has delivered essential services such as upgraded water projects, electricity, and other basic infrastructure that Fatah and PA organs had failed to deliver. Analysts estimate that Fayyad could win as much as 15 percent of the vote in the next elections, currently scheduled for January 2010.31

Israel's Legal and Security Concerns

Aside from formidable challenges on the Palestinian front, Fayyad's plan creates serious legal and security concerns for Israel. It is true that Israel has long supported Palestinian institution-building and has even based its current policy towards the Palestinian Authority on "bottom up" state-building and "economic peace."32 However, Israel strongly opposes any unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, as this would contravene the principle of a negotiated solution between Israel and its Arab neighbors, as enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 242, of November 22, 1967, which has governed all Arab-Israeli peace efforts for the past 42 years.

Alan Baker, former legal advisor to Israel's Foreign Ministry and one of the legal "engineers" of the Oslo accords, warned that Fayyad's one-sided establishment of a Palestinian state contravenes a key provision of the Oslo Interim Agreement, according to which: "Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status agreement."33 Baker noted: "The intention of the parties during the negotiations was clear: the Palestinian side will not declare a unilateral Palestinian state and the Israelis will not declare annexation."34

Another direct challenge to Israel is that Fayyad's "blueprint" calls for massive Palestinian development in Area "C" of the disputed West Bank, which is under Israeli civil and security control, and which directly challenges the delicate, agreed-upon framework of the 1993 Oslo accords.35 Palestinian plans include building an airport in the Jordan Valley, taking control of Atarot airport near Jerusalem, establishing new rail links to neighboring states, and water installation projects near Tulkarem and Kalkilya close to the pre-1967 "green line."36 Israeli security echelons firmly oppose Palestinian airport development plans near Jerusalem and in the Jordan Valley.37 Furthermore, Fayyad's agenda has broader designs on Area "C." Fayyad told the Arab daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat in a September 1, 2009, interview: "Many think that zone "C" areas have become disputed territories rather than occupied territories in the public consciousness. We assert that these are PNA territories where the state will be established."38

The Israeli government is aware of the possibility of unilateral Palestinian moves in the ongoing dispute over the future of the West Bank. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Quartet envoy Tony Blair and EU policy chief Javier Solana soon after the plan's release in August 2009: "Palestinian unilateral initiatives do not contribute to a positive dialogue between the parties and if the unilateral initiative presented by Salam Fayyad is promoted, Israel will respond."39 In a September 17, 2009, interview, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his rejection of the Palestinian demand that the 1967 lines will become Israel's eastern border, which is a central part of Fayyad's plan. Netanyahu told the Israeli daily Israel Today: "There are those who prophesized that the 1967 lines would be (Israel's eastern) border, but these are indefensible, something that is unacceptable to me. Israel needs defensible borders and also the ongoing ability to defend itself."40

Netanyahu's comments were not made in a vacuum. They were based on Israel's international legal rights as preserved in UN Security Council Resolution 242. Netanyahu's insistence on "defensible borders" also stems from understandings Israel has secured with the U.S. in the past. The concept of "defensible borders" was a central element in President George W. Bush's letter to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of April 14, 2004, with a commitment made by the White House as a diplomatic quid pro quo for Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August 2005.41 The Bush letter was approved overwhelmingly by both houses of the U.S. Congress immediately afterward.

President Bush reiterated his public commitment to defensible borders for Israel on January 10, 2008, during his first visit to Israel as president.42 Prime Minister Netanyahu also emphasized Israel's requirement for "defensible borders" in his first major policy address on June 15, 2009, at Bar-Ilan University. The achievement of "defensible borders" was one of several key security requirements that would anchor Israel's agreement to the establishment of a future demilitarized Palestinian state.43

Israel's requirement of "defensible borders" involves its continuing control in Area "C," including the strategically vital Jordan Valley and the high ground surrounding Jerusalem and overlooking Israel's vulnerable cities along the Mediterranean coast. The Jordan Valley serves as a vital barrier against any potential invasion from the east. Despite the treaty of peace with Jordan and the U.S. military occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, potential threats from the east are still tangible. The Iranian-backed Hizbullah's 4,000 rocket attacks from the north in 2006 and the Iranian-backed Hamas' 10,000 rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, culminating in the 2009 Gaza war, both underscore the potential rocket threat against Israel's cities that could emerge if Israel withdrew to the pre-1967 lines.

Former IDF Intelligence Assessment Chief Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror notes that the Jordan Valley now serves as an important natural barrier to the potential flow of rockets to the West Bank hilltops overlooking Israel's coastline, where they could easily strike Israel's main airport, key utilities, and most of Israel's major cities.44 Former IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz made a similar assessment to the Israeli cabinet in 2000 at the time of the Clinton proposals,45 while his successor as chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon, underscored the same requirement for defensible borders in the West Bank in 2008.46

Conclusions

PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's two-year, unilateral, state-building plan signals a positive shift away from the politics of armed struggle that has characterized the Fatah leadership to date. The current policy of the State of Israel advocates "bottom up" state-building as well as security, political, and educational reform and economic peace as necessary stages to achieve a demilitarized Palestinian state. In this sense, Fayyad has demonstrated political boldness in unilaterally transforming the failed Fatah policies of the past and in standing firm against Hamas.

The Obama administration has indicated its support for Fayyad's state-building project. However, the risks and dangers of such a plan in view of the growing tensions and competition for power in the Palestinian arena likely outweigh the plan's potential to unify Palestinian ranks and end the conflict with Israel.

Furthermore, the Fayyad plan would unilaterally transform the diplomatic paradigm between the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel from a legally-sanctioned, negotiated process to a unilateral Palestinian initiative that has far-reaching and even troubling legal, political, and security implications for Israel and, by extension, for the Palestinians and other regional actors. A unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood would also free Israel from the restrictions and obligations it accepted under the Oslo agreements, with all that implies,47 and would further complicate the Middle East peace process.

Fayyad's strategy to enlist U.S. and international support for his unilateral steps to pressure Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines could very well backfire. Far from building the foundations of a Palestinian state, a unilaterally declared state that claims the pre-1967 lines as its borders could end up thrusting Israel, the PA, and other regional actors into a storm of instability and possibly armed conflict.

*     *     *

Notes

1. Salam Fayyad interview with Ali al Salih in Al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 1, 2009. Al Salih charged that Fayyad has been subject to personal attack and his unilateral plan "strongly criticized by some Palestinian factions including Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Hamas." Ali attacked Fayyad saying, "every Fatah official I have talked to criticized your initiative and considered it encroachment, an attack on the powers of the President."

2. See the political program of Fatah, as affirmed at the Sixth Fatah Conference, Bethlehem, Palestinian Authority, August, 2009, http://www.fatehconf.ps/pdfs/fatehpolitical.pdf.

3. Salam Fayyad, Palestine National Authority, Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State, Program of the Thirteenth Government, August 2009. See also "Palestinian PM: ‘We'll Form De Facto State by 2011'," Ha'aretz, August 25, 2009.

4. "Palestinian PM Expounds Plan to Proclaim Statehood by 2011," Al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 1, 2009.

5. Fayyad interview.

6. Ibid.

7. Fayyad, Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State, p. 3.

8. Kevin Peraino, "Palestine's New Perspective," Newsweek, September 14, 2009.

9. Ibid.

10. Joint Statement by the Quartet, Washington, D.C., September 24, 2009, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/sept/129602.htm.

11. Press Conference of Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for Assistance to Palestinians, United Nations, September 22, 2009, http://www.un.org/News/briefings/docs/2009/090922_AHLC.doc.htm. See also Avi Issacharoff, "Abbas: Palestinians Can't Negotiate with Netanyahu," Ha'aretz, September 24, 2009, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1116693.html.

12. Peraino.

13. Press Conference of Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for Assistance to Palestinians.

14. http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=221642.

15. "Solana Wants UN to Establish Palestine," Jerusalem Post, July 12, 2009, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1246443786047.

16. Barak Ravid and Akiva Eldar, "Obama Envisions Two Years until Mideast Peace Deal," Ha'aretz, September 1, 2009.

17. USAID official Hayward Sumka confirmed the $20 million U.S. financial assistance package to support the Fayyad vision during a September 2009 visit to the West Bank. See also Maan news agency (Arabic), August 27, 2009, http://www.maannews.net/arb/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=222018.

18. Peraino.

19. Jim Zanotti, "U.S. Security Assistance to the Palestinian Authority," Congressional Research Service, June 24, 2009, http://italy.usembassy.gov/pdf/other/R40664.pdf.

20. Meeting with senior Fatah source and former senior Palestinian official in Jerusalem, September 10, 2009.

21. Fayyad interview. See also note 1 for attacks on Fayyad by Palestinian factions.

22. Fayyad interview. Fayyad said, "I absolutely do not cast doubts on  the fact that the PLO is responsible for proclaiming the state."

23. Maan news agency (Arabic), August 17, 2009, http://www.maannews.net/arb/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=219746.

24. Pinhas Inbari, "Will Fatah Give Up the Armed Struggle at Its Sixth General Congress?" Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 9, No. 6, August 4, 2009.

25. Ibid.

26. Dan Diker and Pinhas Inbari, "Is the Palestinian Authority Stable Enough for Peace Talks? Assessing the Resignation and Return of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad," Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 9, No. 3, June 16, 2009.

27. Maan news agency (Arabic), September 23, 2009, http://www.maannews.net/arb/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=227336.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

30. Peraino.

31. This assessment of Fayyad's dramatically increased popularity was made to the authors by three senior Palestinian analysts in separate meetings in Jerusalem, September 28-30, 2009.

32. Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon coined the term "bottom up" in 2008 as a new approach to Palestinian society-building. See Moshe Yaalon, "A New Strategy for the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict," Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 8, No. 10, September 2, 2008, http://www.jcpa.org/Templates/ShowPage.asp?DRIT=1&DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=111&FID=442&PID=0&IID=2515&TTL=A_New_Strategy_for_the_Israeli-Palestinian_Conflict. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coined the phrase "economic peace" in 2008 with regard to developing the Palestinian Authority's economy as a key prerequisite for viable and stable Palestinian statehood.

33. Alan Baker, "De Facto Deliberations," Jerusalem Post, August 26, 2009, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1251145125233&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull.

34. Ibid.

35. According to the 1993 Oslo Accords that were signed on September 13, 1993, at the White House by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, until a final status accord was established, the West Bank and Gaza would be divided into three zones: Area A - full control of the Palestinian Authority; Area B - Palestinian civil control, Israeli military control; Area C - full Israeli control.

36. Fayyad, Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State, p. 35. Fayyad's aggressive plans to build in Area "C" of the West Bank is the most far-reaching attempt by the Palestinian Authority to establish de facto control outside of Palestinian Areas "A" and "B" as defined at Oslo. See also Alan Baker, "De Facto Deliberations." Baker, former legal advisor to Israel's Foreign Ministry and a legal architect of the Oslo accords, notes: "The concept of a one-sided establishment of a de facto state outside the agreed-upon process would appear to ignore a central component of the framework in which Fayyad himself is permitted to function, and from which he derives his own authority." The 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip "still remains the valid source of authority for the Palestinian administration in the territories, as well as for the entire functioning of Palestinian governance. This agreement sets out and enables the establishment and functioning of the Palestinian Council (which serves as the parliament of the Palestinian Authority), details the mode of election of its members and appointment of its ministers, and defines its jurisdiction, its legislative and other powers, structure and prerogatives."

37. Meeting with a former senior IDF source who was directly involved in security aspects of the previous negotiations with the PA that included plans for airports and other transportation projects mentioned in the Fayyad plan, Jerusalem, September 23, 2009.

38. Fayyad interview in Al-Sharq al-Awsat.

39. "FM: Bilateral Steps Will Bring Peace," Jerusalem Post, August 31, 2009.

40. Shlomo Tzna and Mati Tuckfeld, "The Prime Minister in a Special Holiday Interview: The Land Is Already Divided," Israel Today, September 16, 2009,  http://www.israelhayom.co.il/site/newsletter_article.php?a=3738. Netanyahu's opposition to returning to the June 4, 1967, lines is based on the internationally sanctioned legal principle of "secure and recognized boundaries" - "defensible borders" in diplomatic shorthand - that has been a fundamental security doctrine of Israeli governments since the June 1967 war and which was also enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 242. Netanyahu's insistence on defensible borders follows the same demand made by former prime ministers Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin, Golda Meir, and Levi Eshkol. Prime Minister Rabin told the Knesset in 1995 that Israel's future borders would "include the Jordan Valley in the broadest meaning of that term."

41. The 2004 Bush letter stated: "The United States remains committed to the security of Israel including secure, recognized and defensible borders and to preserving and strengthening the capability of Israel to deter enemies and defend itself against any threat." See Defensible Borders for a Lasting Peace. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem, 2008, Appendix 3, p. 73.

42. Herb Keinan, "Bush Tells Israel: End the Occupation," Jerusalem Post, January 10, 2008.

43. For the Netanyahu speech, see http://www.pmo.gov.il/PMOEng/Communication/PMSpeaks/speechbarilan140609.htm.

44. See also Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, "Israel's Requirement for Defensible Borders," in Defensible Borders for a Lasting Peace," pp. 17-39.

45. In December 2000, former IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz had emphasized similar resultant dangers to those that the new Fayyad plan poses to Israel when he warned the Israeli cabinet on behalf of the IDF General Staff that the Clinton parameters, which were also based on the June 4, 1967, lines, "would endanger Israel's security." Mofaz's  professional opposition to the adoption of the Clinton parameters, which like the Fayyad plan called for Israel to return to the June 4, 1967, lines, was headlined in Israel's Yediot Ahronot newpaper on December 29, 2000. See Dore Gold, The Fight for Jerusalem (Washington: Regnery, 2007), p. 9.

46. Moshe Yaalon, "The Second Lebanon War, from Territory to Ideology," in Iran's Race for Regional Supremacy, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem, 2008, p. 33.

47. Baker, "De Facto Declarations."


Dan Diker and Pinhas Inbari are senior foreign policy analysts at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Back to Top
------------------------------------------------------------------------

UNRWA at 60: Are There Better Alternatives?

by Nitza Nachmias

Middle East Forum, October 12, 2009

Abstract

The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for the Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) was established in 1948 as a temporary relief agency. In spite of its failure to solve the refugee problem, it has been renewed and expanded for 60 years, with support from the entire United Nations community, including the United States and Israel. UNRWA's annual budget now exceeds half a billion dollars, and it has come to be treated as a permanent protector and advocate of what are depicted as millions of Palestinian "refugees" who, UNRWA claims. lack a homeland, citizenship, and governments to serve their needs. Its mandate has been renewed repeatedly by the UN General Assembly albeit with restrained criticism demanding more transparency and additional budget controls.

The purpose of this paper is to explore three questions: (1) Are most of the Palestinians in the Middle East in fact "refugees", and does treating them as "refugees" contribute to solutions or prevent them? (2) Is UNRWA the agency best suited to address the issues facing these populations most effectively, or does it create more problems than it solves? (3) If UNRWA is a problem, is it the least bad of the alternatives, or are there, in the balance of costs and benefits, other solutions with a better probability to bring the issue to a just and rightful resolution?

The paper concludes that UNRWA is not merely an "imperfect" agency, but one that is profoundly inimical both to the higher interests of its own Palestinian clients, and to the search for a political settlement of the conflicts in the region. It describes alternative solutions that could more effectively deliver services to these Palestinian populations while strengthening rather than undermining moderate elements and governments in the various host countries, including the Palestinian Authority. Strengthening the PA would help to advance the peace process. The paper proposes more effective ways to channel the enormous sums misappropriated to UNRWA, to achieve vital objectives of the donors that perpetuation of UNRWA will continue to subvert.

Introduction

Sixty years ago UNRWA was created as a temporary emergency relief agency. Its main duties were constructing temporary shelters and providing essential food to the Palestinian families that left their homes during the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. Sixty years and billions of dollars later, UNRWA has become an entrenched permanent, overstaffed, affluent bureaucracy. Hardly any traces of the original mandate can be found in its current operations. In a surprising and unprecedented move for any emergency aid organization, UNRWA launched in September 2008 a two-year global celebration entitled: "UNRWA at 60". The celebrations are taking place at the UN headquarters (NY), Vienna, Geneva, Brussels, the Gulf States, and in the donor countries, among others. In the 60th celebration announcements UNRWA expresses the hope that its operations will grow and flourish for many more years to come.[1] The lavish events put an additional financial burden on the donors that astonishingly did not stop to ask: is UNRW's 60th anniversary a cause for celebration, or is it a testimony of failure? We will show that "UNRWA at 60" is indeed a testimony of failure.

While the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for the Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) was established in 1948 as a temporary relief agency, it has for 60 years enjoyed broad support from the entire United Nations community, including even Israel and the United States. UNRWA is treated as the protector and advocate of what are known as millions of Palestinian refugees who claim that for four generations they have lacked a homeland, citizenship, and a government to serve their needs.[2] UNRWA's mandate has been renewed repeatedly by the UN General Assembly albeit with restrained criticism demanding more transparency and additional budget controls.[3] The purpose of this paper is to explore three questions: (1) Are most of the Palestinians in the Middle East in fact "refugees", and does treating them as "refugees" contribute to solutions or prevent them? (2) Is UNRWA, on balance, the agency that is the most able to address the issues facing these populations most effectively, or does it create more problems than it solves? (3) If UNRWA is a problem, is it the least bad of the alternatives, or are there, on the balance of costs and benefits, other solutions with a better probability to bring the issue to a just and rightful resolution?

UNRWA claims that about five million Palestinians are refugees. We will show that most are not. Most Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan have been integrated in the local communities, and many in Jordan have acquired Jordanian citizenship. In the West Bank and Gaza the residents carry PA official documents. Others have immigrated to the US and Europe where they are either legal residents or citizens. For most Palestinians, the transition from refugee camps to urban dwellings occurred decades ago. As early as 1950, the majority of the original 1948 refugees and their families began to move out of the camps and resettle in neighboring states and regions. Simultaneously, non-refugees began to move into the camps for economic advantages, especially to receive UNRWA's free services.[4] UNRWA's bureaucracy soon adapted to the situation and moved away from its original relief mandate to providing non emergency, civil services. [5] Yet UNRWA has been perpetuating the myth of "millions of 1948 Palestinian refugees"; a myth that provides the raison d'etre for UNRWA's oversized bureaucracy[6]. Moreover, UNRWA has succumbed to major bureaucratic pathologies. It has become an ineffective self-serving, work-creating agency suffused with favoritism and patronage. UNRWA is definitely not a typical international humanitarian aid organization. The UN agency is the largest non government employer in the region, employing over 29,000 Palestinians with a superstructure of 120 international advisors. Because UNRWA's international staff is very small, the operations are planned, executed and controlled by tens of thousands of Palestinian employees. Consequently, UNRWA's operations follow its own institutional imperatives rather than its international mandate. [7]

In the particular case of the West Bank and Gaza, UNRWA has created unique political and administrative dilemmas. UNRWA has become a non-territorial administration, taking on national-governmental responsibilities, though the Palestinian Authority rather than UNRWA has the legal jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants. Operating as a "non-territorial, Palestinian government" UNRWA provides non-emergency, civil services (education, health, welfare, microfinance, etc) to an assorted population regardless of their refugee status. Ironically, the PA, that is the legal governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza, is forced to compete with UNRWA in providing civil services to its own citizens.[8] Regrettably, the PA is no match for the bureaucratic network and expertise UNRWA has accumulated during 60 years of operation. Thus, as a result of UNRWA's operation the PA's credibility, legitimacy, and ability to gain the respect of its citizens are greatly diminished, causing the weakening of the PA's authority and most likely playing a role in the rise of Hamas.[9]

The existence of UNRWA after the 1993 creation of the Palestinian Authority creates an anomaly. While the residents of the West Bank and Gaza are citizens of the PA and have enjoyed full political rights, including suffrage (as have most Palestinians of Jordan), they are at the same time international wardens of a UN governing authority that provides them with non-emergency civil services. UNRWA has created a de facto "state within a state" albeit with ambiguous legal status. Normally, no government would accept the presence, beyond its control, of an autonomous international organization that provides substitute services to its citizens. However, the PA lacks effective authority over either the "refugee camps" or UNRWA's operation in these areas. This is an abnormal situation.

Are UNRWA's Clients "Refugees"?


Defining the populations to whom services are administered by UNRWA as "refugees" is in most cases both misleading and harmful to the search for a solution. UNRWA's refugee registration process was profoundly flawed from its inception, and the original mistakes have been compounded over the succeeding decades. In the beginning, to gain the status of a "protected refugee" and qualify for an UNRWA refugee ID card entitling the holder to benefits, applicants must have been resident in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and to have lost both their homes and their livelihoods as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. UNRWA itself reports that its original registration figures are based on information voluntarily supplied by applicants primarily for the purpose of obtaining access to Agency's services and hence can't be considered statistically reliable "demographic data."[10] A simple declaration by the applicant was accepted as sufficient. UNRWA later granted benefits eligibility to the descendants of these self-declared 1948 refugees. As a result of these financial incentives, the number of putative "refugees" swelled from an estimated 914,000 in 1950 to over 5 million in 2009. UNRWA itself admits that the agency's "registration records do not necessarily reflect the actual refugee population owing to the factors such as: unreported deaths; false registration; and undetected absence from area of UNRWA operation".[11] Thus, for six decades, UNRWA's vast budget is based on enormously inflated numbers of clients that have never been refugees. It is important to acknowledge the fact that for decades, UNRWA has been evading the donors numerous requests to replace the 60-year old refugee ID cards with a new picture ID cards. Such a process would have required UNRWA to execute a census, a process that UNRWA never conducted. The census and the demand for the refugees to come to UNRWA's offices, be photographed and get a bone fide UNRWA ID card would have resulted in a big embarrassment for the agency. Most probably the majority of the "registered refugees" will turn up to be non-existent or settled.

A review of UNRWA's history reveals the unacceptable fact that for decades, UNRWA has thwarted all efforts to settle the issue and terminate its operations. UNRWA was created to provide short-term, emergency, humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees, just as the newly formed United Nations sought to assist millions of refugee populations in other parts of the world created by the upheavals of World War II and its aftermath. The UNRWA operation was expected to be completed within two or three years, once the emergency conditions were resolved and the refugees resettled. The Palestinian refugees were at the time but a small percentage of the tens of millions of refugees worldwide receiving various forms of United Nations assistance. Dag Hammeskjold, the second UN Secretary General (1953-1961), initiated a plan for the reintegration of the Palestinian refugees in their host countries. Under his leadership, the UN General Assembly specifically instructed UNRWA to work to reintegrate the refugees in the places of their refuge.[12] At the time, the refugee camps in the West Bank were under Jordanian authority and the refugee camps in Gaza were under Egyptian authority. The premise was that these two states would absorb the refugees through a process of reintegration financed by the international community.[13] With the exception of Jordan, the Arab host countries' rejected the resettlement and reintegration proposals, and UNRWA instead, became a permanent, self-perpetuating bureaucracy.

By the early 1950s, UNRWA's original 1948 emergency humanitarian mission was completed. However, due to the agency's autonomous status, UNRWA was able to shift its operational agenda and began providing non-emergency, regular, daily social benefits to anyone registered with the Agency who it decided to give assistance, whether refugee or not.[14] UNRWA and other reliable sources data show that the majority of the descendents of the original 1948 families ceased to be in need of relief assistance many decades ago. A 1987 General Assembly report found that, only 10% of UNRWA budget was dedicated to emergency relief, while the bulk was devoted "to educating children and furnishing advanced training, maintaining effective public healthcare services and providing basic welfare services to a largely industrious and self supporting [so-called] refugee population." [15] Already 30 years ago, it was reported that 95 percent of registered Palestinian refugees were self-supporting. A 2003 GAO report found that less than a third of the registered "refugees" live in designated so-called "refugee camps," some only because they prefer to build their homes in territory exempt from local taxes. Two thirds are integrated in the cities and states in the Middle East and beyond. Over two million are resettled in Jordan, most of whom are Jordanian citizens paying taxes and eligible to receive social services from the Jordanian government.[16] All the same, these millions of people are, inappropriately, holders of UNRWA refugee cards and enjoy all of UNRWA's giveaway programs.

Once we realize that UNRWA is not actually in the refugee business at all, but is a social welfare agency distributing benefits to a body of preferred clients whether they qualify as needy or not, the real issue becomes clear: If the world community wants to provide economic and development assistance to Palestinians, is UNRWA the best way to select the Palestinian beneficiaries and the best agency to channel the assistance? A systematic review of UNRWA and other existing government and non-government organizations shows that it is not.[17]

Alternatives for Better Education Opportunities

Education is UNRWA's single largest area of activity, accounting for half its budget and two-thirds of its staff. UNRWA provides education to over 500,000 students in 684 schools, and this is often cited as one of its supreme achievements. Commissioner General Ms. Abu-Zayd stated recently: "Education has been central to UNRWA's human development agenda throughout its sixty-year history. Today, more than half of our budget is devoted to the primary education of refugee children, with equal opportunity given to boys and girls".[18] However, UNRWA's extensive and costly educational activity is neither humanitarian nor consistent with UNRWA's mandate.[19] The students of UNRWA's schools come from a largely undistinguished and unidentified population, who could hardly be considered "refugees". Moreover, recent scholastic achievement reports show that the same students could be better served by educating them