“As many Members know, under President Biden, the United States announced it would restore its financial support to UNRWA,” Deputy Ambassador Mills stated.
By Pesach Benson, United With Israel
US-Israeli ties took a hit at the UN General Assembly when the Biden administration abstained from a vote on a resolution reaffirming the “right” of return for Palestinian refugees on Tuesday.
The General Assembly votes on the same non-binding resolution every year, expressing its support for the socalled refugees. During the presidency of Donald Trump, the U.S. voted against these resolutions. Biden’s abstention is in line with U.S. abstentions during Barack Obama’s term.
“This year, the United States returns to a position of abstention on the text “Assistance to Palestine Refugees,” American Deputy Ambassador Richard Mills told the UNGA’s Fourth Committee.
The Jerusalem Post reported that the committee “gave initial approval to six anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian draft resolutions that will come later this year to the UNGA plenum for a final vote.”
The current resolution on which the U.S. abstained passed by an overwhelming vote of 160-1 with nine abstentions. Israel was the only country to vote against it. Joining the U.S. in abstaining were Cameroon, Uruguay, and the Pacific island nations of Micronesia, Palau, Nauru, Papua New Guinea and the Marshall Islands.
According to the Post, the U.S. voted against two other resolutions regarding the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid for Palestinian refugees.
Unspinning the Refugee Problem
The number of Palestinian refugees is a matter of contention.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees currently assists more than 82.4 million displaced people around the world. Refugee status is not passed on to descendants under UNHCR guidelines.
However, the UNRWA’s definition allows refugee status to be passed on to descendants. According to the UNRWA, there are roughly 5.4 million Palestinian refugees. In 2018, a classified State Department document reportedly indicated that there are only 30,000 true refugees.
While international law has provisions for compensating refugees for lost property, it contains no sweeping requirements or “rights” for refugees to return to their previous homes. What Palestinians call the “right” of return is a hope to destroy Israel’s Jewish character by overturning the demographic balance.
Israeli officials further argue that Israel has already taken in more than 820,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands, which amounts to a population exchange. Their absorption into Israeli society came with little to no assistance from the UN.
In contrast, the definition of “refugees,” according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), has created another absurdity — roughly 63 percent of Gaza’s population is considered refugees.
Israel and the Trump administration maintained that UNRWA has perpetuated and politicized the Palestinian refugee situation, which is why many have called to eliminate UNRWA.
The number of Palestinian refugees has been largely inflated by the fact that refugee status is passed on to succeeding generations and is unaffected by citizenship from other countries, in contrast to every other refugee population.
For instance, according to a 2017 study conducted by the Abba Eban Institute of International Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, the vast majority of the “refugees” in Jordan, more than two million, are citizens of Jordan who identify as Palestinian.
Although the U.S. voted against two of the UNRWA resolutions, Deputy Ambassador Mills made clear that Washington is pivoting back to UNRWA.
“As many Members know, under President Biden, the United States announced it would restore its financial support to UNRWA, which we do believe is a vital lifeline to millions of Palestinians across the region,” Mills told the Fourth Committee.
“Since April, the U.S. government has provided more than $318 million to UNRWA in Fiscal Year 2021, including critical support for education, health, and social services benefiting millions of Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA,” Mills said.