UNRWA “has become part of the problem” by “suppl[ying] the ammunition to continue the conflict,” charged Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis.
By: United with Israel Staff
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is a stumbling block to peace in the Middle East, hindering the integration of Palestinians who have lived in Jordan and Lebanon for decades, according to Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis.
Several Swiss newspapers on Thursday quoted Cassis as saying that as long as Palestinians live in so-called refugee camps, towns which they have lived in for years, they still retain the dream of “returning home,” flooding Israel with Palestinians.
Some five million Palestinian “refugees” live in such camps in Jordan and Lebanon and Syria, with millions in aid and services provided by UNRWA.
“It is unrealistic that all of them can fulfill this dream. Yet the UNRWA keeps this dream alive,” Cassis said. “For a long time the UNRWA was the solution to this problem, but today it has become part of the problem. It supplies the ammunition to continue the conflict. By supporting the UNRWA, we keep the conflict alive. It’s a perverse logic.”
He called for the integration of these long-term “refugees” in their countries of residence. Instead of UNRWA schools and hospitals, he said Switzerland could support Jordanian facilities to promote the integration of Palestinian refugees.
UNRWA was founded in 1949 following Israel’s War of Independence and is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member states.
The US this year cut its contribution from $360 million to $60 million. “This is our largest funding crisis ever,” said UNRWA’s Swiss head Pierre Krähenbühl in April.
The Swiss foreign affairs ministry says it is set to pay 21.2 million Swiss francs ($21.2 million) for 2018.
Cassis was essentially repeating a similar statement made previously by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that UNRWA is perpetuating the Palestinian problem.
Speaking in January, Netanyahu said that he completely agrees with President Donald Trump’s “sharp criticism of UNRWA” and his decision to cut the US funding to the body.
“UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem. It also perpetuates the narrative of the right-of-return, as it were, in order to eliminate the state of Israel; therefore, UNRWA needs to pass from the world,” Netanyahu stated
“This is an agency that was established 70 years ago, only for Palestinian refugees, at a time when the UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) deals with global refugee problems. Of course this creates a situation in which there are great-grandchildren of refugees, who are not refugees but who are cared for by UNRWA, and another 70 years will pass and those great-grandchildren will have great-grandchildren and therefore, this absurdity needs to stop,” the Israeli premier added.
Netanyahu offered a proposal: “UNRWA support funds need to be gradually shifted to the UNHCR, with clear criteria for supporting genuine refugees, not fictitious refugees as happens today under UNRWA.”
“I have brought this position to the attention of the US. This is how to rid the world of UNRWA and deal with genuine refugee problems, to the extent that such remain,” he concluded.
Palestinian Refugees’ Unique Status and Legacy
The Palestinians have a unique definition of “refugee” that survives the grant of citizenship by third party nations and permits them to pass the status on to succeeding generations, in contrast to the definition of refugee status for every other refugee population in the world. With this unique and expansive definition, UNRWA and the Palestinians grossly inflate the number of Palestinian refugees in the world.
For instance, the vast majority of the “refugees” in Jordan, more than two million, are citizens of Jordan who identify as Palestinian.
Israel has argued for years that the UN and the Palestinians are working to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem and oppose any attempt to seek a solution.
Furthermore, the Palestinians’ status as refugees ensures an endless flow of international aid and has other financial ramifications.
A so-called Palestinian refugee receives quadruple the amount of aid that a Syrian, Iraqi or African refugee receives from the United Nations.
A study released in September shows that in 2016 UNRWA, which provides assistance solely to Palestinians, spent an average of $246 for each of the 5.3 million Palestinians it defines as refugees, while the UNHCR spent only a quarter of that, $58 per refugee, on non-Palestinians.
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