Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

UNRWA and Refugees/ More Glorifying of Terrorism

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Update from AIJAC

June 6, 2012
Number 06/12 #02

There has been considerable comment of late, both in Australia and the UN, about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in the wake of a legislative proposal being discussed in Washington, and a recent grant of increased aid provided to UNRWA in Canberra. This Update provides some background on the controversy over UNRWA, and the idea behind the UNRWA-related legislative amendment which passed out of a Committee in the US Senate last week. 

First up is a backgrounder on the American UNRWA proposal, sponsored by Senator Mark Kirk, written by American scholars Alexander Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky (Mr. Romirowsky is currently visiting Australia to speak at the annual Limmud Oz conference of Jewish educators.) They make it clear that the intent of the Kirk legislation is not to cut off Palestinians from needed aid, but to provide some clarity about the state of UNRWA's clients, the vast majority of whom are not refugees by the standards applied to every other refugee population in the world. They also note that this effort to reform UNRWA is unique because, for the first time, there is a constinuency for reform within Israel, which has traditionally feared that tampering with UNRWA could leave Israel forced to take over responsibility for refugee welfare. For their exploration of the issues in full, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, entries in the Australian debate about increased funding for UNRWA include Greg Sheridan on the weekend, Daniel Pipes on Monday, and Israeli author David Bedein.

Next up, American columnist Cliff May discusses the critics of the American bill, especially the US State Department, and explores the implications of what they are in fact saying. He notes that they are insisting on a definition which not only defies all historical precedents, but which is apparently in violation of both the relevant international conventions and US law.  He also notes that critics who claim that UNRWA's definition of a Palestinian refugee must be accepted are in effect arguing that essential elements of long-standing US and allied policy on the peace process - that there cannot be a mass "return"  to Israel (as opposed to to a future Palestinian state) of descendants of the refugees from the 1948 war - must be changed in a way which makes peace impossible for the foreseeable future. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE.

Finally, former AIJAC analyst Arsen Ostrovsky comments on the Palestinian response to Israel's decision, as a goodwill gesture, to release to the Palestinian Authority (PA) the bodies of 91 Palestinians, most of whom died committing acts of terrorism. He notes that the PA response was to hold ceremonies honouring those who committed horrific crimes - many of which the PA publicly condemned at the time, and, in the official media, to refer to the bodies returned as of those "killed in action", thus treating their actions as legitimate military attacks. He then goes on to list many other recent examples of glorification of terrorism, and what amount to effective calls for more of it, and make the point that this ongoing incitement remains a major barrier to peace. For his argument in full, CLICK HERE. More on the Palestinian treatment of the returned bodies of terrorists and other related incitement comes from an editorial in the Jerusalem Post, and from Palestinian Media Watch, which provides even more details.

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Palestinians: Refugees forever?

by Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe

Ha'aretz
June 5, 2012

 

A couple of weeks ago the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed the Kirk Amendment as part of the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill for 2013. The bill requires the State Department to specify to Congress, for the first time, what proportion of the five million Palestinians who are supported by UNWRA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, are refugees who were actually displaced from their homes and what number are descendant of those refugees.

Every year, a sum of $240 million of US public is channeled to the assistance of Palestinian refugees via UNRWA. The Kirk Amendment challenges the notion that being a Palestinian refugee can be passed down through the generations, and thereby questions the ever-expanding numbers of Palestinians that are UNRWA's target group. The original proposal by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), would have made personal displacement from one's home necessarily for the definition "refugee" as well as the absence of any other citizenship.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and company should be commended for their sincere efforts to tackle one if not the main ingredients that ensures and exacerbates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. UNRWA claims that its services will no longer be needed when there is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it is UNRWA – set up as a temporary agency - that advocates an unending narrative of occupation and a perpetuation of refugee-hood.

UNRWA is an open-ended educational social welfare system for millions of Palestinians, primarily in the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. But in what sense are any of these individuals truly refugees, those who should fall within UNRWA's remit?

Publicly, UNRWA defines a Palestinian refugee as anyone whose "normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict." In reality UNRWA has continually expanded the definition to include "the children or grandchildren of such refugees are eligible for agency assistance if they are (a) registered with UNRWA, (b) living in the area of UNRWA's operations, and (c) in need." The best estimates are that perhaps 700,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1948-1949. By UNRWA's accounting, however, virtually every Palestinian born since that time is also a refugee. That number now reaches into the millions.

This is unprecedented in the history of refugee crises. In no other situation has a group been extended specific status that has been continually expanded to include subsequent generations over a period of decades. The result of this 60 year long process is that incentives for the refugees to resettle in Arab countries and elsewhere are minimal, as are those for UNRWA itself to ever end its operations.

UNRWA states that the Palestinians are occupied - indefinitely. UNRWA has financial and political interests in maintaining this fiction: as long as the Palestinians are refugees, UNRWA is in business. Of the 30,000 people that UNRWA employs, the vast majority are Palestinian: UNRWA is the largest single employer of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Contrast this to the UN High Commission for Refugees, that only employs 5-6,000 people globally, and which focuses far more clearly on resettlement and rehabilitation of refugees and building new lives, and not on maintaining services that prop up the status quo.

In 2009, then U.S. Congressmen Mark Kirk (R - IL) and Steve Rothman (D - NJ) introduced provisions for UNRWA Accountability into appropriations bills. They called for transparency and responsibility from UNRWA and sought to ensure that the monies funneled to UNRWA from the United States did not fund acts of terrorism in any way, thereby bringing the funding of Palestinians into compliance with the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The provisions died in committee.

Now, for the first time, Israeli politicians are proposing that UNRWA adopt limits on the numbers of refugees it serves. Inspired by Kirk, Israeli MK Einat Wilf (Independence) has launched a new, international parliamentary campaign to restructure UNRWA and "combat the inflation of numbers of refugees" in order to make a two-state solution possible. Wilf has called for the international community to address the continual inflation in refugee numbers, and plans to appeal to parliamentary committees that are responsible for approving budget contributions to UNRWA.

It is long past the time that limits should be set on the never-ending expansion of Palestinian refugees. With initiatives in play in the US Congress and internationally addressing the core of UNRWA's rationale and operations, there is finally a possibility that the international community can take a serious look at UNRWA's role in helping perpetuate the Palestinian refugee number question, which will have a decisive role in any future negotiations towards a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Asaf Romirowsky is an adjunct scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Middle East Forum. Alexander Joffe is a historian and writer in New York.

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Whose Middle East Policy Is It, Anyway?

By Clifford D. May

National Review, May 31, 2012

If we set up an organization to provide health care, over time more people should get well. If we set up an organization to assist the poor, over time more people should earn a living. If we set up an organization to resettle refugees, over time more displaced persons should find permanent homes, acquire citizenship, and cease being refugees.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency was set up in the late 1940s after Palestinian Arab forces, backed by the armies of five Arab nations, rejected a U.N. partition plan — what we now call a two-state solution — and launched a war to destroy the fledgling State of Israel. Initially, UNRWA’s mission was to “reintegrate” Palestinian Arabs displaced during the fighting into the normal life of the Middle East.

That mission changed about 1960. In a paper soon to be published in The Middle East Quarterly, Steven J. Rosen, Washington director of the Middle East Forum, documents how UNRWA, for the past half-century, has sought not to diminish the Palestinian-refugee problem but to enlarge it — even while Israel was resettling hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab and other Muslim lands.

I first wrote about this a few weeks ago, noting Senator Mark Kirk’s plan to cut not a dollar of American support for UNRWA but simply to stimulate an honest discussion based on reliable data. He has now done that: Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee, on a unanimous and bipartisan basis, approved legislation requiring the State Department to tell Congress how many of the 5 million Palestinians currently receiving assistance from UNRWA were among the approximately 750,000 individuals displaced during the war against Israel, and how many are their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

A statement from Kirk’s office explained, “With U.S. taxpayers providing more than $4 billion to UNRWA since 1950, the watershed reporting requirement will help taxpayers better understand whether UNRWA truly remains a refugee assistance organization or has become a welfare agency for low-income residents of the Levant.”

Kirk’s legislation was strenuously opposed not just by UNRWA but also by the State Department. When it passed anyway, State communicated its displeasure in both a letter to the senators on the committee and a statement to Josh Rogin, a staff writer at Foreign Policy. By doing so, State dramatically shifted U.S. policy. Back in 1965, the U.S. government objected to UNRWA’s decision to award refugee status to the descendants of refugees. Now, State is saying it supports that decision and, what’s more, it sees no reason for Congress even to have access to basic information about those receiving American aid.

Rogin pointed out that the State Department’s views “appear to conflict with the United States Law on Derivative Refugee Status,” which specifically prohibits extending refugee status to grandchildren. In other words, a Palestinian could not seek admission to the U.S. as a refugee on the grounds that his grandfather was a refugee.

There is a larger issue here: As Rosen explained to Rogin, by calling all 5 million UNRWA aid recipients “refugees,” State is suggesting that this entire population has a “right of return” not to the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza), but to Israel.

One State Department official complained that the “Kirk amendment, based on commentary surrounding it, is meant to set a stage for the U.S. to intervene now with the determination that 2nd and 3rd generation descendants have no claims and in fact aren’t even Palestinians.”

But Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama all “intervened” with “determinations” that a two-state solution can succeed only if most displaced Palestinians become citizens of a Palestinian state rather than the Jewish state; and only if, as President Clinton phrased it at Camp David in 2000, there is “no specific right of return to Israel itself.” These and other American leaders understood that for Israel to grant citizenship to millions of anti-Israeli Palestinians would mean national suicide. American policy, by tradition, has not been to suggest that allies kill themselves.

As for the “commentary” surrounding Kirk’s measure, I’m not aware of any — certainly not mine or that of my colleague Jonathan Schanzer in Foreign Policy magazine, or that of Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post — that questions who is a Palestinian.

But there are 1.8 million Palestinians who hold Jordanian citizenship and yet are counted as refugees, despite the fact that under international law — specifically, the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Article 1C, the “Cessation” Clause) — a person stops being a “refugee” once he “has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality.”

Would anyone suggest that a Pakistani citizen, the descendant of a Muslim who left India following the post–World War II partition of the subcontinent into two states, should be classified as a refugee?

It should be obvious that UNRWA’s beneficiaries are being used as cannon fodder. They have been told by their own leaders that they will be denied Palestinian citizenship even in a future Palestinian state. “They are Palestinians, that’s their identity,” Abdullah Abdullah, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, stated last year. “But . . . they are not automatically citizens. . . . Even Palestinian refugees who are living in [refugee camps] inside the [Palestinian] state, they are still refugees. They will not be considered citizens.”

Why not? Because statelessness makes them more lethal weapons of war. Ambassador Abdullah explained: “When we have a state accepted as a member of the United Nations, this is not the end of the conflict. This is not a solution to the conflict. This is only a new framework that will change the rules of the game.”

That the State Department would provide support for such rejectionism — disregarding the policy of three administrations and failing to comprehend how this undermines any possible “peace process” — is breathtaking. In the days ahead, it will be instructive to see whether President Obama insists that the State Department follow his policies — or whether he permits Foggy Bottom to overrule him.

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No Peace Until Palestinians Stop Glorification of Terror

Arsen Ostrovsky

Huffington Post
,  06/01/2012 

This Thursday, Israel released the bodies of 91 Palestinian terrorists to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a 'goodwill gesture' to President Mahmoud Abbas. However, Abbas' decision to honor these murderers shows that Palestinian glorification of terror remains the key obstacle to peace with Israel.

Included amongst the bodies turned over to the PA are suicide bombers responsible for some of the most gruesome acts of terror over the past decade, killing hundreds of innocent Israelis and many foreign citizens, including American.

They include Ramez Aslim, the suicide bomber who in 2003, blew up the crowded Cafe Hillel in central Jerusalem, murdering 7 people and injuring over 50. Amongst the dead were Dr. David Applebaum, a world renowned doctor and head of the emergency room at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and his daughter, Nava, aged 20, who was to have been married the next day. They were both dual Israeli and American citizens.

Also released is Raed Abdel-Hamed Misk, the Hamas suicide bomber who carried out an attack on Israel's No.2 bus in Jerusalem in 2003, killing 23 and injuring over 130. The dead included seven children and Goldie Taubenfeld, 42, of New York, and her 3-month old infant son Shmuel. Most of the passengers were religious Jews returning from prayers at the Western Wall.

At the time of the No.2 bus attack, Abbas said: "I announce my strong condemnation of this horrible act." Today, President Abbas and the Palestinian leadership attended a reception ceremony honoring Misk and 90 other cold-blooded killers like him. Abbas even laid wreaths on their coffins, which were draped in Palestinian flags, at his headquarters in Ramallah.

The most disturbing aspect, though, of this transfer is that the official PA news agency, WAFA, described the Palestinians being released as having been "killed in action."

These three sickening words -- 'killed in action' -- singularly convey that as long as Palestinians glorify terrorism, incite hatred and reward the murder of Israelis, peace will remain unattainable.

Abbas never wastes an opportunity to tell the world he is a 'partners for peace,' while the media blindly continues to label the PA as 'moderates.' But what so-called 'partner for peace' refers to the barbaric murder of children as being "killed in action"?

Equally disturbing is the fact that the honoring of this latest batch of terrorists is only one of many recent examples of official PA glorification of terror and violence -- including from Abbas himself.

In October last year, Abbas honored the 1,027 terrorists Israel released in exchange for abducted soldier Gilad Shalit by saying to them: "You are freedom fighters and holy warriors for the sake of God and the homeland." He then rewarded each one with a financial grant.

According to the respected Palestinian Media Watch, which monitors PA incitement and anti-Semitism, only two weeks ago on the anniversary of the founding of the modern State of Israel, an op-ed published in the official PA daily reiterated the PA's denial of Israel's right to exist and its hope and expectation for Israel's destruction.

Meanwhile in March this year, at an event attended by three PA ministers, Abbas' Minister of Social Affairs, Majida Al-Masri, stated a unity deal with Hamas was needed in order to focus Palestinian efforts on the destruction of Israel, calling on Palestinians "to turn to the struggle for the liberation of Palestine -- all of Palestine."

Sadly, one need not look too wide, or far back, for more such examples. In the past 12 months alone, the PA has continued to pay the salaries of some 5,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails (most of whom are terrorists), aired television programs teaching kids how to make model maps turning all of Israel into 'Palestine', while naming public squares and sponsoring kids' summer camps in honor of infamous terrorists.

In 2010, President Obama called on Abbas to "do everything he can to prevent acts of incitement or delegitimization of Israel." Abbas however, has no intentions of stopping this. To the contrary, he has only ramped up his efforts.

In the meantime, the U.S. government continues to pour money to the PA ($3 billion in the last five years alone) with very little to show in return -- except more terror and corruption. Moreover, it is doing so in direct breach of U.S. law, which explicitly requires the Secretary of State to certify that funds will not be used for the purposes of recognizing or otherwise honoring individuals who commit, or have committed acts of terrorism. One would have to ask whether the release of the bodies was the direct result of U.S. pressure on Israel in the first instance.

Today's transfer comes on the same day as 21 teenagers were killed and 120 were wounded when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Dolphinarium disco, on Tel Aviv beach, in 2001. Incidents like this do not occur in a vacuum. Such acts of pitiless slaughter are the direct result of a pervasive infrastructure indoctrinating hate, inciting violence and instilling a world view justifying such gruesome acts. It is also in clear violation of the Oslo Accords, the Roadmap for Peace and U.S law.

Only when the Palestinian leadership unequivocally renounces terrorism and roots out and condemns all those who preach violence against Israel and hatred of the Jewish people, can there be hope for real peace.

As the PA continues to insist that the world recognize a Palestinian state, one must ask exactly what type of state it wants. One that teaches the virtues of peace, or glorifies terrorism?

Arsen Ostrovsky is an international human rights lawyer and currently a Legal Fellow at the American Center for Democracy.

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