Founded in 1949, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was tasked with the admirable mission of providing humanitarian assistance for some 700,000 Palestinians displaced by Israel’s War of Independence. The organization now serves the millions of descendants of these refugees, prevents their successful integration into the lands in which they now live, and educates their children to hate Israel and yearn for return to “Palestine.” Noting that the question of these refugees and their “right of return” is now regarded as the biggest impediment to a two-state solution, Sol Stern calls on Donald Trump to defund UNRWA:
Less than 5 percent of UNRWA’s clients ever lived in Israel, but the agency’s regulations state that all patrilineal descendants of the original displaced persons shall retain their refugee rights in perpetuity. Nor does UNRWA seem to be troubled by the fact that 40 percent of its camp residents are citizens of Jordan and Lebanon, and shouldn’t even be considered refugees under accepted international law and practice.
The unchecked growth of UNRWA is a classic case in international politics of the economic principle of “moral hazard.” By providing a social-welfare safety net, the UN enables the Palestinian leadership to undermine efforts to solve the underlying conditions that created the refugee problem in the first place. Palestinian rejectionism is thus rendered risk-free. In turn, UNRWA nurtures Palestinian extremism, yet never is held accountable by the agency’s donor nations, including the United States. . . .
As president, Trump can do a big favor for the Palestinians by disabusing them of their fantasy of return. He should begin by immediately cutting off all American funding of UNRWA. (This will be quite easy to do, because UNRWA isn’t financed out of the UN budget, but rather through voluntary contributions from many member states.) Instead, the president can announce that the $400 million that usually goes directly to UNRWA will be set aside for a fund available for permanent resettlement of the Palestinian residents of the refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza. Trump should also lobby the other nations funding UNRWA (mostly our European allies) that it’s time to end this destructive 66-year venture that breeds hate and violence.
Finally, Trump should read the Palestinian president the riot act. He should tell Mahmoud Abbas that it’s time to end the 1948 war and let the 5.6-million alleged Palestinian refugees know that they are never going back to Israel. If Abbas is agreeable to this new path to peace, President Trump can assure the Palestinian leader that the U.S. will do everything it can to facilitate negotiations for a two-state solution. If Abbas refuses to renounce the right of return, Trump should warn him that the U.S. will end all aid programs to the Palestinians.