The truth about UNRWA 

by Ted Belman

Not all refugees are the same.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), created in 1951, is dedicated to the resettlement of all refugees except the Palestinian refugees, who fall within the purview of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

According to UNCHR, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home because of persecution, war or violence and who crosses an international border.

UNRWA, on the other hand, defines a Palestinian refugee as “persons 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, and their descendants.”

Unlike UNHCR, UNRWA does not seek to resettle its refugees, but rather is dedicated to preserving their status as “refugees”. In addition, it includes their descendants which UNCHR doesn’t. Finally, they need not have been “forced to flee”.

In August 2017, Pres Trump challenged UNRWA by rejecting UNRWA’s estimate of over 5 million refugees suggesting that the number was more like 500,000. In effect he was saying that a new definition should be operative. If he was to exclude descendants, there would be less that 20,000 people still living who fled in 1948

On Aug 31, 2018, The State Department announced that the US would make no further contribution to UNRWA. Therefore the pressure will build to find an alternate solution.

In 1920, the British Government’s Interim Report on the Civil Administration of Palestine stated that there were hardly 700,000 people living in Palestine. By 1948, the population had risen to 1,900,000, of whom 68% were Arabs, and 32% were Jews (UNSCOP report, including Bedouin).

This population growth took place under the Palestine Mandate pursuant to which, Great Britain was responsible to “facilitate Jewish immigration” in line with the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

Rather than doing so, she hindered it, while at the same time, she encouraged Arab immigration. She went so far as to prevent Jewish immigration, even during the Holocaust, when it was desperately needed.

The end result was that the Jews in Israel in 1948, were millions fewer in number than would otherwise have been the case and the Arabs were far greater in number than they should have been.

This great injustice to the Jews must be born in mind when crafting the Deal of the Century.

The vast majority of the Arab inhabitants of Mandatory Palestine in 1948 were economic migrants who entered Palestine illegally right up until the War of Independence in 1948.

The vast majority of Arabs who fled Israel or remained West of the Jordan River were illegal migrants and their children.

Joan Peters, after considerable research, made this case in her opus, From Time Immemorial.

Daniel Pipes, in his 1984 review of her book, wrote “In the course of research on this subject, she came across a “seemingly casual” discrepancy between the standard definition of a refugee and the definition used for the Palestinian Arabs. In other cases, a refugee is someone forced to leave a permanent or habitual home.  In this case, however, it is someone who had lived in Palestine for just two years before the flight that began in 1948.”

Had the standard definition been used, there would have been few refugees to deal with. Furthermore, by rejecting the standard definition, the Arabs who didn’t flee, who are registered as refugees under UNRWA, now number 2 million west of the Jordan River and 1.3 million in Gaza.

In 1948, though living in Palestine, they considered their home of origin to be Syria, in the main, but including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.

Not only were their numbers greatly inflated due to this new definition, but the Arab League prevented their naturalization in the countries they fled to, including their true countries of origin. Furthermore, the Arabs living outside of Israel as defined by the 1949 ceasefire line, yet still within the Mandatory lands, were also prevented from being naturalized.  This applies to Jordan also where there are currently 2 million registered Palestinian “refugees”.

Pipes concludes his review by stating “Thus, the “Palestinian problem” lacks firm grounding. Many of those who now consider themselves Palestinian refugees were either immigrants themselves before 1948 or the children of immigrants. This historical fact reduces their claim to the land of Israel; it also reinforces the point that the real problem in the Middle East has little to do with Palestinian-Arab rights.”

It is now 34 years after Pipes wrote his review. Like it or not, these Palestinian Arabs have put down roots making it more problematic to dispossess them. But one thing must be kept in mind. The reason that they consider themselves to be refugees is because they all claim the right of return to Israel as currently delineated. The corollary to this is that they do not claim the right to stay where they are. They can’t have it both ways.

Since Israel will not permit them to return, whether to Israel as it now stands or to Israel when its eastern boundary is extended to the Jordan River, the best option open to them is to relocate them in Jordan. Because Jordan was part of Mandatory Palestine, to which they originally migrated, these people should be considered as internally displaced persons (IDP) who fled their residences but never crossed an international border.

King Abdullah is dead set against this but his days as king are numbered. When Mudar Zahran, the Secretary General of the Jordanian Opposition Coalition, becomes the leader of Jordan in the not too distant future, he will invite all these Palestinians to relocate in Jordan where they will be naturalized along with the 2 million “refugees” already there. In addition, over 75% of Jordan’s population of 9.7 million are Palestinian.

According to Zahran, they will be provided with housing, jobs and social security.

In my article International Law and the State of Israel, I discuss the issue of population transfer and its legitimacy.

“After WWII and the crushing defeat of Germany and its allies, the victors changed borders and moved populations. It was their right.

Der Spiegel reported;

“But the people fleeing the Red Army were unaware that the Allies had already agreed with the Polish government-in-exile to hand over large parts of eastern Germany to Poland and resettle the Germans who were living there.

“All those who didn’t manage to escape in time fell victim to the frenzied expulsions that were carried out until July 1945. The organized resettlement of Germans and ethnic Germans from Germany’s former eastern areas and the Sudetenland began in January 1946. In all, some 14 million Germans lost their homes.”

“These expulsions were often done in a brutal manner and were carried out as part of a broader program of nation-building pursued by the new communist government between 1945 and 1949. “The centre-piece of this programme was an attempt to achieve the ethnic homogenization of the state, to ensure as close a match as possible between its ethnic and political borders.”

At no time did the allies object to this “ethnic homogenization”.

The flight of the Arabs from the Palestine Mandate and Israel, whether voluntary or forced, must be viewed in this context. It happened at the same time. The hypocrisy of the West is glaring. In post war Europe, they insisted on the ethnic cleansing as the path to stabilization and peace whereas in the case of the “Palestinian refugees”, the UNGA passed Res 194 in Dec 11/48 even before the war was over in which they recommended that the “Refugees” should be permitted to return. Fortunately for Israel, a recommendation has no binding affect and can be ignored.

President Trump, in configuring his Deal of the Century, should embrace the idea of ethnic homogenization as fundamental to establishing peace and assist in the relocation of as many Arabs as possible to Jordan which will be considered the Palestinian State. There can be no objection to him doing so because of Zahran’s intention to provide them with housing, jobs and social security. Besides, no one is suggesting that they should be forcibly expelled. Instead they should be induced to relocate or emigrate of their own free will. It will be for their benefit.

Originally published in 2019

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