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The United Nations and Israel

Abolish UNRWA

April 15, 2002

As pictures of the destruction in Palestinian areas beam out across the world, it is not surprising that US Secretary of State Colin Powell would see fit to meet with relief agencies and pledge US assistance to help relieve the Palestinians' plight. What is less understandable is America's choosing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as the conduit for $30 million in additional aid.

UNRWA was founded 52 years ago as a temporary agency to help the Palestinian refugees from the first Arab war to destroy Israel, in 1948. In a report he submitted in November 1951, UNRWA director John Blandford Jr. stated he expected the Arab governments to assume responsibility for relief operation by July 1952. The international community assumed the refugees should be resettled as soon as possible because, as Blandford put it, "Sustained relief operations inevitably contain the germ of human deterioration."

While Blandford's innocence is somewhat touching, he should have suspected foul play from the moment of UNRWA's creation.

The UN, after all, already had an agency dedicated to helping refugees – the venerable UN High Commission on Refugees. On its own Web site, UNRWA explains why all the world's refugees have one agency and the Palestinians have another: "UNRWA is mandated to provide the Palestine refugees with humanitarian assistance, whereas UNHCR has the mandate... to seek permanent solutions for the problem of refugees by assisting governments."

With this, UNRWA admits its sister agency is in the business of solving refugee problems, while its job is to perpetuate one. As Ralph Garroway, a former UNRWA director, explained in August 1958: "The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die."

Follow the money and it tells the same story. In its first 20 years, the US provided more than two-thirds of UNRWA's budget, while the contribution of the Arab states was miniscule. As recently as 1994, Israel gave more to UNRWA than all Arab countries except Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Morocco.

As if this weren't bad enough, UNRWA has now become a de facto accomplice in terrorism. Food storage areas have been allowed to become munitions' depots and weapons' factories, as the incursion last month into the Balata refugee camp showed. And UN administrators have ceded effective control of the camps to Palestinian gunmen – a fact not lost on the IDF as it attempts to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in Operation Defensive Shield.

It needn't be this way. If there is one thing that Israelis, Americans, Palestinians, and Europeans can ostensibly agree on, it is that the suffering of refugees should be alleviated both for humanitarian reasons and in the interest of peace and stability. Accordingly, on his last visit to Washington, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged his support for a "Marshall Plan" for the Palestinian areas. And Israeli governments of all stripes have been the driving force behind proposals to build proper housing for those stuck in refugee camps and joint industrial parks to provide Palestinians with jobs.

Yet the Palestinian embrace of the sword has put these efforts in jeopardy. Nothing could illustrate this nexus more starkly than Friday's terror attack at the Erez crossing. The Palestinian terrorist started firing indiscriminately at Israelis and Palestinians, killing border policeman Sgt. David Smirnov and a Palestinian worker. The Palestinian worker who was murdered was one of about 3,000 who work in the industrial area, one of the few examples of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation that has survived from Oslo's heyday.

In 1947, 8 million Hindus fled Pakistan and 6 million Muslims fled India upon the creation of those two countries. The following year about 600,000 Arabs fled Israel and an equal number of Jews fled the Arab countries to Israel. The Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish refugees were all resettled by the war-torn countries they fled to, despite the poverty of those countries and the fact that no refugee agency was created to help them.

Far from providing "relief," UNRWA's mission has added to the burden of Palestinians and Israelis alike. Rather than pledging more money to UNRWA, Powell should have yanked the US contribution and found a way to spend it on solving, rather than perpetuating, the Palestinian refugee problem.

©2002 - Jerusalem Post

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