by Hugh Fitzgerald
The United States will no longer contribute to the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees, the State Department announced Friday [August 31], amid widespread Palestinian outrage charging that the decision violates international law and will aggravate an already dire humanitarian situation, particularly in Gaza.
The Washington Post should explain to readers, if it can, what “international law” the “Palestinians” claim has been violated. I do not think there is any. Contributions to UNRWA are voluntary. In any case, the invocation, without more, of a vague and unexplained “international law” should be noted by the reporters.
The statement called the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, an “irredeemably flawed operation” and criticized other countries for not sharing the burden of supporting the Palestinians.
Nowhere in this report is there any information about other donors to UNRWA. One would like to know, for example, how much the Gulf Arab states, with their hundreds of billions received annually from an accident of geology, have contributed to UNRWA. But nothing is said in the Post article about what Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar have given to UNRWA over the years. Would it not be relevant to point out that of the top fourteen contributors to UNRWA, all but one — Saudi Arabia — are non-Muslim Western countries? If, as the “Palestinians” claim, “international law” requires the funding of UNRWA, why are the Muslim Arab states not contributing? Why has UNRWA been almost entirely funded by non-Muslims?
Blaming UNRWA and other international donors for failing to reform the organization’s “way of doing business,” the statement said the United States remained “very mindful of and deeply concerned regarding the impact upon innocent Palestinians, especially school children.”
Among the administration’s many complaints about the agency — to which the United States contributed about one third of a $1.1 billion 2017 budget — is the way the United Nations calculates the number of Palestinians officially recognized as refugees. It would like to decrease the number from the more than 5 million who are counted today to the few hundred thousand alive when the agency was created seven decades ago, according to U.S. officials.
There is a serious error in this paragraph. It misstates how the American government thinks the number of legitimate “Palestinian” refugees should be calculated. It is not a matter of “the few hundred thousand alive when the agency was created,” but rather, of how many who were refugees in 1949 are still alive today. There are no longer “a few hundred thousand” such survivors, but rather, at most between 20,000 and 40,000 legitimate refugees, and it is only these whom the Administration thinks merit its support.
The administration has generally tried to cut back foreign aid, refocusing its attention on those countries and organizations that match “U.S. policy priorities,” officials said. The UNRWA pullback is also a response, in the words of Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to Palestinian hostility toward the United States, which intensified after U.S. policy changes that Palestinians deem pro-Israel.
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the pro-Israel bias of President Trump’s administration has disqualified it from any role in the peace process.
If the “Palestinians” refuse to deal with the United States, then there will be no “peace process.” That’s not a bad thing. For Israel, that can be a good thing. Israel keeps the peace in only one way, through deterrence — the same way that NATO kept the peace with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. As long as Israel is perceived by Muslim Arabs as overwhelmingly more powerful, they will not try a full-scale onslaught. Putting an end to all this peace-processing is not something to lament, but to welcome. For such a “peace process” with Muslim Arabs could only lead to a treaty — like the disastrous Oslo Accords — whereby Israel would give up something tangible, such as control of land important for its defense, in exchange for promises from “Palestinians” that will be broken at the first conceivable opportunity, on the model of Muhammad’s treaty with the Quraysh at Al-Hudaibiyya in 628 A.D.
“By cutting aid, the U.S. is violating international law,” Erekat said, speaking several hours before the State Department announcement. He argued that “UNRWA is not a Palestinian agency” but was established by the United Nations, “and there is an international obligation to assist and support it until all the problems of the Palestinian refugees are solved.”
UNRWA is a “Palestinian” agency insofar as it is staffed almost entirely by “Palestinians,” distributes largesse only to “Palestinians,” and lobbies governments worldwide to contribute ever larger amounts to those same “Palestinians.” There is no “international obligation” to assist and support UNRWA “until all the problems of the ‘Palestinian’ refugees are solved.” We know what Saeb Erekat means by that: he means that such aid should continue indefinitely until the “Palestinians” get what they want, and what they want is the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, and its replacement by a Muslim Arab one.
“Erekat added: “Some may argue that it is U.S. taxpayers’ money and that it is up to them how it is spent. But by the same token, who gave Trump the damn right to steal my land and my capital and my future and my aspirations and my freedom by deciding to blindly support the occupying power called Israel?”
Erekat has it partly right: it is up to American taxpayers, and their government, to decide if they want to keep funding this unique class of “refugees” — consisting not just of real refugees, but of their ever-increasing number of descendants.
Notice the hysterical blaming of America: how did Trump “steal my land and my capital and my future and my aspirations and my freedom”? Doesn’t the PA right now have the ability to mold much of its own destiny? Wasn’t it the “Palestinians” themselves who by making incessant war have done so much to destroy their own futures? Was it Trump who caused the “Palestinians” to destroy the greenhouses that in 2005 had been handed over to them intact by the Israelis, in the hope that the Arabs would continue with the business, and even expand it, only to find that the “Palestinians” in Gaza ruined them all? It is Trump who has caused Hamas to divert so much money, time, and energy to the digging of terror tunnels from Gaza into Israeli territory, where terrorists might travel through them into Israel, and attack Israeli civilians, or might tunnel, in the other direction, into the Egyptian-held Sinai, in order to smuggle weapons back in to Gaza? Blame Trump, blame Israel, blame the West for all the supposed ills endured by the “Palestinians,” who for 70 years have been the most spoiled of all refugees in modern history, taken care of by UNRWA, a special U.N.agency devoted entirely to lavishing support on every descendant, no matter how distant, of every original Arab refugee. No other group of refugees has a U.N. Agency devoted solely to its indefinite care and feeding.
Erekat also predicted that the potential end of UNRWA, if other funding is not forthcoming, would spell disaster for places where large numbers of Palestinian refugees reside, leaving them at risk for recruitment by extremist groups such as the Islamic State.
Erekat makes hysterical claims. He promises that without America’s $360 million contribution to UNRWA, there will be “disaster.” Then he offers a bit of standard blackmail. Give us the funding we “Palestinians” are used to getting, he insists, for otherwise some of our refugees may join the Islamic State and similar groups. If that reasoning were to be accepted, then Muslims everywhere could join in, with similar threats — give us more aid money (in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Nigeria, you name it), or else “extremist groups” may prevail. There is no logical end to this kind of threat. And the biggest blackmailer has been UNRWA, for if America and the West decrease the amounts they give or, worse still, cease to contribute to UNRWA at all, it will supposedly collapse (not the slightest hint is dropped that rich Arab donors could easily replace the Americans) and — so the threat goes — the “radicalization” of “Palestinian” refugees will inevitably follow. Thy will have no alternative except to join the ranks of the “extremists.”
UNRWA provides aid, mostly in the form of education, health care, food security, and other essentials, to some 800,000 Palestinians registered as refugees in the West Bank and 1.3 million people in the Gaza Strip, as well as 534,000 in Syria, 464,000 in Lebanon and 2 million in Jordan.
The United Nations, both among Palestinians and others, defines refugees as anyone who has been driven from their homes by war, persecution or violence. Descendants of refugees are included, as long as the displacement continues.
This is the single most misleading statement in the entire piece. The United Nations does not define refugees as including their descendants for any group other than the “Palestinians.” People who fled India, or Pakistan, during Partition in 1947, may be refugees, but for the U.N., their descendants are not. The children born in South Korea to refugees from North Korea are not considered to be refugees. The children of Vietnamese boat people, born in the United States, are not considered by the U.N. as refugees. Nor are any of the tens of millions of descendants of other refugees from the many conflicts that have been waged since World War II.
All U.N.-registered refugees maintain an internationally recognized “right of return” to their land and homes, an issue that has long been one of the core points of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reducing the number of eligible refugees — as the administration would like to see happen, although only the U.N. General Assembly can do it — would drastically change the dynamic as the White House prepares to release its own peace plan to resolve the conflict.
Separately, the Trump administration said last week that $200 million slated for direct U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority would be “redirected” elsewhere.
The loss of funds will be hard on the Palestinians, said Ghassan Khatib of the West Bank’s Birzeit University, but will do little to change these people’s status as refugees, he said.
“It is only the U.N. that is entitled to give legal status or a description of refugees, and not individual countries,” he said. “The change in the American position will not have an impact on the international understanding of refugees.”
If the American government not only ceases to support UNRWA, but explains, at every conceivable occasion, and at every forum — as, at the U.N., the indomitable and articulate Nikki Haley can be counted on to do — that there is no reason to have one definition for “Palestinian refugees” and another that is to be used for all other groups of refugees, whoever they may be.
In Gaza, Amal Khalil, a 53-year-old widow, is worried. She has relied on aid from UNRWA to feed herself and her family for many years.
“It has already been reduced more than once. I do not know that it will be further reduced or stopped completely,” she said.
Here we have the personal stories of individual hardship, designed to appeal to our sympathies and to close off our reason. If Amal Khalil — a “widow” — has relied on UNRWA “all of her life,” why was nothing done to teach her, or her children, during all those decades, some skill by which they might end their apparently total dependence on aid from UNRWA? Why is the culture of permanent dependence encouraged by UNRWA, if not to keep alive the “refugee” question, rather than to help solve it? Part of the political plan is to prevent “Palestinian”refugees from integrating into the societies they now live in. Millions of them are forbidden to buy housing in their host countries; they are forced to live in refugee camps, where they also find certain professions are not open to them.
Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for UNRWA in Gaza, told a local radio station that if funds to the organization were suddenly stopped, the entire education system would be in danger of collapsing, with only enough money to last through September.
More of the same Dire Warnings. As Saeb Erekat insists that the cuts in American aid would end in “disaster,” and others speak of “catastrophe,” a spokesman for UNRWA in Gaza claims that “the entire education system would be in danger of collapsing” without that all-important funding from the Americans. But why? Aren’t there 57 Muslim countries, including four states that are fabulously rich (Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar) that could easily make up for any shortfall caused by an end of American aid to UNRWA?
Hit particularly hard would be Jordan, where the 2 million Palestinian refugees — a fifth of the country’s population — use UNRWA’s services. Providing them all health care, education and shelter would fall to the cash-strapped Jordanian government.
Again, the Post report misses the main point about Jordan. That country is hardly without rich friends it can count on. Just this June, Jordan received a new commitment of $2.5 billion from Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Kuwait. This might have been mentioned, as well as the likelihood that the amounts given to UNRWA by those three countries could easily be raised by 10-15% (which would more than offset the decrease in America’s contribution to UNRWA in Jordan), but of course, the “Palestinians” don’t want any of this to be mentioned: for them, it is important that the West be made to feel guilty, the West that should come up with whatever funds are now needed. The world’s non-Muslims owe us, the “Palestinians,” a living, and we mean to shame or terrify them into providing it.
On Friday, Germany and Japan pledged to donate more, but it is unlikely the increases will cover the U.S. withdrawal.
Again, we see Western nations stepping in to make up the shortfall created by America’s ending its contributions. But why should they? Seventy years after the “Palestinian” refugees were created — at the same time, many more Jews, leaving behind far more property, had to flee Arab lands as Jewish refugees — the assumption still seems to be that the West should be supporting this group of Muslim Arabs and all of their descendants till the end of time, through UNRWA. Why? On what theory? Let the Deep-Pocketed Big Four in the Arab Gulf — Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar — come up with a few hundred million dollars more per year for UNRWA, sums the donors will hardly miss — so that a much greater proportion of the contributions to “Palestinians” through UNRWA are supplied by other Muslim Arabs. Otherwise, these payments to UNRWA from the West may come to be regarded by their “Palestinian” recipients, or more likely are already, as a kind of proleptic jizyah.
The American government has done a very useful thing. It has, by its forthright policy of ending its entire contribution to UNRWA, raised in the public consciousness the question that needs to be asked of the propagandists for UNRWA: why should the “Palestinian” refugees have been treated, over the last 70 years, so differently from how all the other hundreds of millions of refugees since World War II have been treated? The world deserves an answer, something a bit more helpful than Saeb Erekat’s vague reference to “international law.” Why is it only the “Palestinian” refugees who get to include, in their ever-expanding number, all of their descendants, no matter how distantly removed they may be, by both time and place, from the land their ancestors felt they had to leave? Why are the “Palestinians” the only refugees whose numbers always increase? And why do so few of the dead “refugees” ever get taken off the rolls?
Let the “Palestinian” leaders warn of “disasters” and “catastrophes” and a “doomsday scenario” for their people all they want. Let Saeb Erekat mutter darkly about the violation of “international law,” but note that he is unable to cite any such international law that requires either the United States, or indeed any other country, to support any particular group of refugees. And above all, let the marvelous Nikki Haley and others similarly situated keep asking aloud, at the U.N. and at every other forum, why there is only one group of refugees in the world, the “Palestinians,” who have been allowed to constantly increase their numbers by counting all the descendants of the original refugees as refugees themselves. Eventually, if asked repeatedly and loudly, someone is going to have to answer that unanswerable question.
First published in Jihad Watch.
What reason does Japan have to increase funding to the UNRWA?