Will Getting Rid of UNRWA Fix the Palestinian Problem?

President Trump seems determined to shut down UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), the organization singularly preoccupied with caring for the Arab refugees, and their descendants, of the 1947-49 war between Jewish and Arab forces for control of Mandatory Palestine.  While the idea seems good – a final nail in the coffin of Palestine dreams – there might be unintended consequences.

Long going, unresolved refugee crises are not unique to the Mideast – think of the Rohingya in Myanmar (Burma), which conflict is partially rooted in British colonial era policies, or the Lhotshampas from Bhutan.

The Mideast crisis gets more pressure because it explodes into open world politics.  The usual response given is that UNRWA aggravates the situation by promoting a right of return for Palestinians.

While complaints against UNRWA are accurate, there may be few happy alternatives.

What should UNRWA encourage these stateless people to accept?  Even were they now to be refused the term "refugee," as most were born outside the borders of Israel, that still does not get rid of their existence.  One cannot seriously expect UNRWA schoolbooks to educate them as follows: "You are a stateless people without civil rights in the countries where you now reside!  Be happy!"

Take, for example, Lebanon, a country that was once majority Christian, and where the percentage of Christians in the population seems to be rebounding.  The Muslims in Lebanon are split between violently hostile Shia and Sunni.  Into this fractious country came Hezb'allah, sponsored by Iran, to take de facto control of the country.

The naturalization of 400,000 (primarily Sunni) Palestinians into Lebanon would be a demographic disaster and would toss the country into civil war again.  Moreover, such a naturalization would bring a call by the approximately 1 million plus – primarily Sunni – Syrian refugees for naturalization.  Neither the Lebanese Christians nor the Lebanese Shia would tolerate it.

There is no way those Palestinians in Lebanon will ever be granted any rights.  If the Palestinian refugee crisis is a threat to Israel, it is an even more immediate threat to Lebanon.

UNRWA schoolbooks might start blaming the host countries for not naturalizing these Palestinians, but how long would UNRWA be tolerated after that?

Some would counter, "If Arab countries wouldn't tolerate a non-compliant UNRWA, why should Israel?"

The sad fact is, Israel gets a benefit out of UNRWA.

If, tomorrow, all funding from UNRWA stopped, would this solve Israel's problems?  Apparently, some of Israel's generals think otherwise.  According to the Likud-leaning Israel Hayom:

COGAT [the Office of the Coordinator of (Israeli) Government Activities in the Territories] objects to cuts in aid to UNRWA on practical grounds. ... [T]he defense establishment ... is afraid that if UNRWA is unable to help hundreds of thousands of needy Palestinians due to budget cuts, Israel will see rioting, an escalation in violence, and terrorist attacks.

There it is in a nutshell.  For all the complaints against UNRWA, there is a body of opinion that UNRWA keeps the pot from boiling over, if for no other reason than that UNRWA feeds the Palestinians in Gaza and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).  Remove that lifeline, and either Israel will have to feed the Palestinians or hunger-fueled violence will increase.

Many in the Zionist community howl against UNRWA, but as Israel Hayom has noted:

A decade later, [COGAT Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad], as head of the Diplomatic-Security Branch of the Defense Ministry ... coordinated with then-Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren to torpedo a congressional initiative against the [UNWRA] organization.  UNRWA might be bad, Gilad told Oren, but Hamas is worse.  Gilad's successors have kept to that line, and like the IDF they see the UNRWA as the lesser of two evils.

Israel played both sides of the debate against U.S. funding.  The U.S. was excoriated for subsidizing UNRWA, but in quiet chambers, the congressmen were encouraged to vote for it.

The sad fact is, Israel, as much as the Palestinian Authority, benefits from UNRWA, though Israel likes to pretend otherwise.  What the U.S. does not provide to keep the peace, Israel may have to provide to some degree.  This can be easily observed in Palestinian purchasing habits.  Newsweek noted that "[m]any Palestinians have little choice but to purchase Israeli products."  Cut UNRWA funding, lay off Palestinians, and it will also be Israeli manufacturers who are hurt.

Like it or not, indirectly, subsidies to UNRWA also subsidize Israel.  One can see why Israel quietly supported funding UNRWA.

All of this is a perpetual treating of the symptom, not the problem.

The problem is the "refugees," including their descendants.  No one wants them.  Despised and disenfranchised people tend to get angry in response, and so we have violence.

The usual response is that the Palestinians have brought it on themselves, and to a certain extent, that is true.  But a lot of that bad behavior of the Palestinians is a response to their situation.  Imperial Germany and Italy exported their poor and troublemakers to America, where, once treated better, these social problems became upstanding Americans.  The same was true of other ethnic groups.  Ironically, the complaints against Palestinians among Arabs echo the early 20th-century complaints against Jews among Europeans.

While I agree that cutting UNRWA funding might be good, that still does not get rid of the 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon, a Lebanon that could not safely absorb them.  There are roughly a half-million in Syria (or from Syria).  Syria under Alawite and Shia Baathist rule would never naturalize those Sunni Palestinians.  And so on, for the rest of the Arab world.  Nor will cutting UNRWA get rid of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, nor Gaza.

Everyone is treating the symptom, not a root cause.

To those who say the root cause is Islam, ask yourselves: if these Palestinians all became Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, would Israel take them all back?

No, Israel wants to remain a Jewish state.  Islam is a menace, but the statelessness of the Palestinians is a root cause.

I do not ask Israel to divide Jerusalem, nor to divide its patrimony, but the problem will not go away with UNRWA.  As I have said many times, the Palestinians have to be relocated and settled into other communities.  I am not suggesting Europe, as Europe is already dying out.

Strong diplomatic pressure should be put on the two areas of the world that could absorb these people: the Arab world and South America, which has a history of absorbing Arabs.  In the latter case, those wanting to go to South America must either be Christian or agree to convert.

Strong diplomatic and financial pressure should be brought to bear, with strong financial incentives for agreement.  And yes, the world Jewish community, which would be the chief beneficiary, should contribute substantially.  In 2010, the N.Y. Post reported million-dollar bar mitzvahs.  If they really wanted to celebrate their Jewish heritage, they could have gone to a kosher restaurant and used the saved money to relocate some Palestinians out of Judea and Samaria, thus making the Jewish state more Jewish.

It will cost.

This is the only solution. Anything else is Band-Aids.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish better in high school, lo those many decades ago.  He runs a website about the Arab community in South America at http://latinarabia.com.

President Trump seems determined to shut down UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), the organization singularly preoccupied with caring for the Arab refugees, and their descendants, of the 1947-49 war between Jewish and Arab forces for control of Mandatory Palestine.  While the idea seems good – a final nail in the coffin of Palestine dreams – there might be unintended consequences.

Long going, unresolved refugee crises are not unique to the Mideast – think of the Rohingya in Myanmar (Burma), which conflict is partially rooted in British colonial era policies, or the Lhotshampas from Bhutan.

The Mideast crisis gets more pressure because it explodes into open world politics.  The usual response given is that UNRWA aggravates the situation by promoting a right of return for Palestinians.

While complaints against UNRWA are accurate, there may be few happy alternatives.

What should UNRWA encourage these stateless people to accept?  Even were they now to be refused the term "refugee," as most were born outside the borders of Israel, that still does not get rid of their existence.  One cannot seriously expect UNRWA schoolbooks to educate them as follows: "You are a stateless people without civil rights in the countries where you now reside!  Be happy!"

Take, for example, Lebanon, a country that was once majority Christian, and where the percentage of Christians in the population seems to be rebounding.  The Muslims in Lebanon are split between violently hostile Shia and Sunni.  Into this fractious country came Hezb'allah, sponsored by Iran, to take de facto control of the country.

The naturalization of 400,000 (primarily Sunni) Palestinians into Lebanon would be a demographic disaster and would toss the country into civil war again.  Moreover, such a naturalization would bring a call by the approximately 1 million plus – primarily Sunni – Syrian refugees for naturalization.  Neither the Lebanese Christians nor the Lebanese Shia would tolerate it.

There is no way those Palestinians in Lebanon will ever be granted any rights.  If the Palestinian refugee crisis is a threat to Israel, it is an even more immediate threat to Lebanon.

UNRWA schoolbooks might start blaming the host countries for not naturalizing these Palestinians, but how long would UNRWA be tolerated after that?

Some would counter, "If Arab countries wouldn't tolerate a non-compliant UNRWA, why should Israel?"

The sad fact is, Israel gets a benefit out of UNRWA.

If, tomorrow, all funding from UNRWA stopped, would this solve Israel's problems?  Apparently, some of Israel's generals think otherwise.  According to the Likud-leaning Israel Hayom:

COGAT [the Office of the Coordinator of (Israeli) Government Activities in the Territories] objects to cuts in aid to UNRWA on practical grounds. ... [T]he defense establishment ... is afraid that if UNRWA is unable to help hundreds of thousands of needy Palestinians due to budget cuts, Israel will see rioting, an escalation in violence, and terrorist attacks.

There it is in a nutshell.  For all the complaints against UNRWA, there is a body of opinion that UNRWA keeps the pot from boiling over, if for no other reason than that UNRWA feeds the Palestinians in Gaza and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).  Remove that lifeline, and either Israel will have to feed the Palestinians or hunger-fueled violence will increase.

Many in the Zionist community howl against UNRWA, but as Israel Hayom has noted:

A decade later, [COGAT Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad], as head of the Diplomatic-Security Branch of the Defense Ministry ... coordinated with then-Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren to torpedo a congressional initiative against the [UNWRA] organization.  UNRWA might be bad, Gilad told Oren, but Hamas is worse.  Gilad's successors have kept to that line, and like the IDF they see the UNRWA as the lesser of two evils.

Israel played both sides of the debate against U.S. funding.  The U.S. was excoriated for subsidizing UNRWA, but in quiet chambers, the congressmen were encouraged to vote for it.

The sad fact is, Israel, as much as the Palestinian Authority, benefits from UNRWA, though Israel likes to pretend otherwise.  What the U.S. does not provide to keep the peace, Israel may have to provide to some degree.  This can be easily observed in Palestinian purchasing habits.  Newsweek noted that "[m]any Palestinians have little choice but to purchase Israeli products."  Cut UNRWA funding, lay off Palestinians, and it will also be Israeli manufacturers who are hurt.

Like it or not, indirectly, subsidies to UNRWA also subsidize Israel.  One can see why Israel quietly supported funding UNRWA.

All of this is a perpetual treating of the symptom, not the problem.

The problem is the "refugees," including their descendants.  No one wants them.  Despised and disenfranchised people tend to get angry in response, and so we have violence.

The usual response is that the Palestinians have brought it on themselves, and to a certain extent, that is true.  But a lot of that bad behavior of the Palestinians is a response to their situation.  Imperial Germany and Italy exported their poor and troublemakers to America, where, once treated better, these social problems became upstanding Americans.  The same was true of other ethnic groups.  Ironically, the complaints against Palestinians among Arabs echo the early 20th-century complaints against Jews among Europeans.

While I agree that cutting UNRWA funding might be good, that still does not get rid of the 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon, a Lebanon that could not safely absorb them.  There are roughly a half-million in Syria (or from Syria).  Syria under Alawite and Shia Baathist rule would never naturalize those Sunni Palestinians.  And so on, for the rest of the Arab world.  Nor will cutting UNRWA get rid of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, nor Gaza.

Everyone is treating the symptom, not a root cause.

To those who say the root cause is Islam, ask yourselves: if these Palestinians all became Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, would Israel take them all back?

No, Israel wants to remain a Jewish state.  Islam is a menace, but the statelessness of the Palestinians is a root cause.

I do not ask Israel to divide Jerusalem, nor to divide its patrimony, but the problem will not go away with UNRWA.  As I have said many times, the Palestinians have to be relocated and settled into other communities.  I am not suggesting Europe, as Europe is already dying out.

Strong diplomatic pressure should be put on the two areas of the world that could absorb these people: the Arab world and South America, which has a history of absorbing Arabs.  In the latter case, those wanting to go to South America must either be Christian or agree to convert.

Strong diplomatic and financial pressure should be brought to bear, with strong financial incentives for agreement.  And yes, the world Jewish community, which would be the chief beneficiary, should contribute substantially.  In 2010, the N.Y. Post reported million-dollar bar mitzvahs.  If they really wanted to celebrate their Jewish heritage, they could have gone to a kosher restaurant and used the saved money to relocate some Palestinians out of Judea and Samaria, thus making the Jewish state more Jewish.

It will cost.

This is the only solution. Anything else is Band-Aids.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish better in high school, lo those many decades ago.  He runs a website about the Arab community in South America at http://latinarabia.com.