There are rare moments when political leaders break with tradition and have the courage to speak the truth, even when it flies in the face of protocol. Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis recently showed that kind of courage when speaking about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA.)
UNWRA, he said last month, “has become part of the problem. It provides ammunition to continue the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict. For as long as Palestinians live in refugee camps, they will want to return to their homeland.”
Palestinian refugees are the only in the world to have their own dedicated United Nations agency.
As the global community struggles with the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, we continue to allocate international resources disproportionately to a refugee population that is neither the largest, most recent or most desperate, through an agency designed to prolong this population’s refugee status indefinitely and unlawfully.
UNWRA has a vested interest in keeping Palestinian Arabs in perpetual refugee status. UNRWA’s unique definition of a refugee allows Palestinian Arabs to claim refugee status even if they have obtained citizenship elsewhere and includes descendants of the refugees. This means that although UNRWA was established to support the 700,000 Arabs displaced during Israel’s 1948-49 War of Independence, the agency actively encourages more than 5 million Palestinian Arabs living in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria to claim a so-called “right of return” to Israel, a claim which is incompatible with Israel’s existence and international law. Only Palestinian Arabs are treated to this bizarre characterization.
The Trump administration has also been vocal in its criticism of UNRWA’s distortion of international law, and has taken concrete steps towards its reform. In January, the U.S. froze $65 million of a scheduled $125 million payment to UNRWA, saying the funds “will be held for future consideration.”
As U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said at the time, “they’re considering any Palestinian as a refugee” adding that “what they’re teaching in schools is not necessarily the right way to have things run.” Haley was referring to longstanding research into how UNWRA schools educate Palestinian Arab children to hate Jews, aspire to suicidal-homicidal violence and perpetuate conflict. UNRWA schools use textbooks that encourage suicide-bombings, jihad, anti-Semitism, and the demonization of non-Muslim cultures, all the while preaching the Palestinian Arab “right of return.” UNRWA hires teachers with ties to designated terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and allows its facilities to be used as terrorist recruiting grounds while rockets and other weapons have been hidden in UNRWA school facilities. Indeed, UNRWA’s most sinister activities consist of enabling Hamas to use the very children UNRWA claims to be protecting as human shields, child-soldiers and child suicide-homicide bombers. UNRWA has been illegally doing this with the help of U.S. taxpayer dollars.
As director of The Lawfare Project, a global network of legal professionals that defends civil and human rights and fights discrimination, we have investigated and exposed UNRWA’s dangerous activities.
We co-produced a documentary film with the Center for Near East Policy Research, on UNRWA summer camps and their programs that incite terror. In 2014, our staff attorneys met with a number of congressional offices and committees about UNRWA, providing a dossier of evidence, including discussion of potential legal implications of continued unbridled funding of the agency by the U.S. Subsequently, Congress added and continues to include language in the annual Consolidated Appropriations Acts requiring heightened oversight of UNRWA and conditioning funding on Secretary of State certification that the agency is complying with applicable laws.
Substantively reforming UNRWA — and if that proves impossible, shutting down the agency — is a necessary step in the path toward peace. Inflating the number of Palestinian refugees to over 5 million, and then teaching Palestinian youth to embrace terrorism against Israel and Jews, raises current and future generations of Arabs who will never consider coming to the negotiating table and who will never accept Israel’s existence.
The Trump administration is currently questioning whether the U.S. taxpayer should continue to bankroll an organization that permits and encourages hatred towards a U.S. ally.
“We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” President Trump tweeted in January. “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” he added.
Switzerland’s foreign minister has shown that UNRWA’s role in perpetuating the conflict is beginning to be understood beyond the U.S. and Israel. Foreign ministers, lawmakers, and others in the international community should follow his lead to demand UNRWA’s immediate reform. They must do this for the sake of Palestinian Arab children, at the very least.
UNRWA’s role in keeping the refugee status of Palestinians unresolved while allowing terrorist organizations to incite hatred and recruit Muslim children to violence is an open secret that needs continuous exposure. The international community cannot continue to preach peace on the one hand while it indulges a UN agency that aims to make peace impossible.
Brooke Goldstein is executive director of The Lawfare Project, an international human rights network.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.