The United Nations plays a supporting role in every war between Hamas and Israel. U.N. spokesmen routinely issue statements, accusations, and denials about everyone’s conduct, including their own. (Most recently they had to account for why they returned rockets, discovered in a U.N. school, to Hamas.) Israel was denounced worldwide for an “attack” on a U.N. school said to be housing 3,000 civilians that was actually an attack on particular terrorists on the adjoining street.
It’s time to reconsider the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
The UNHCR defines a refugee as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable . . . or . . . unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” Since its foundation, the UNHCR has helped to resettle some 50 million people.
UNRWA, by contrast, defines a refugee as someone “whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab–Israeli conflict” and as their descendants.
Imagine if the American loyalists who fled to Canada after our revolution had been supported by an international agency whose charter specified that they and their descendants would remain refugees until they were able to return to an America governed from London?
Though the normal course is for refugee numbers to spike during conflict and then decline with time, because of UNRWA’s unique definition, the number of Palestinian refugees has expanded from half a million to more than five million.
While UNHCR is currently attempting to serve 50 million refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons, it employs only 7,600 relief workers. UNRWA employs 29,000, only 200 of whom are not Palestinians. The per capita budget of UNRWA, underwritten to a large extent by the U.S., is twice that of UNHCR.
Syria alone has generated 2.5 million refugees in the past three years. Seventy-five thousand refugees have fled Libya since February. The funds used to keep Palestinians in permanent mendicant status are badly needed elsewhere.
Every Palestinian “refugee” is guaranteed a free education up to age 15, courtesy of the United Nations. Controversies have flared from time to time when UNRWA has been accused of using inflammatory textbooks and teaching materials that encourage hatred of Jews and Israelis. Credible reports have shown UNRWA textbooks that feature maps without Israel. UNRWA has hosted summer camps called “Camp Jihad.”
There are many reasons for Palestinian intransigence on accepting a two-state solution to their predicament. It was offered three times: first in 1948, with the UN partition plan; next in 2000, at the Taba negotiations, and again in 2008, with the Olmert plan. The original refusal to share the land with Jews was a mistake, founded on the belief that the Arab nations could defeat the nascent Israel. But since then the Palestinians have become infantilized by 66 years of victim status. UNRWA has run their schools, clinics, hospitals, banks, construction projects, after-school programs, immunization drives, and emergency services.
Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon eventually gave up the fantasy of destroying Israel. Perhaps if the UNRWA umbilical cord were snipped, Palestinians would be readier to face reality as well.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. © 2014 Creators Syndicate, Inc.