Recently, the presidential adviser Jared Kushner has been working to reform, cut funding for, and possibly dismantle the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). This agency, founded in 1950, works independently of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and, unlike that organization, sees its goal as keeping its wardens in a state of permanent refugeehood, rather than arranging for them to find citizenship and employment where they reside. Thus, of the five million people who receive its support, only some 30,000 are refugees by the standard definition; the rest are descendants of refugees. UNRWA also engages in Islamist indoctrination in many of its schools and has collaborated with Hamas in Gaza. Dave Harden writes:
UNRWA primarily provides health, education, and social services; make no mistake, this assistance is life-saving to the most vulnerable. But after 70 years, the structure and incentives have ossified to create welfare dependency. Most Palestinians would prefer the dignity of a state, a job, and the potential of a real future than food-basket deliveries, generation after generation. While one can acknowledge its good work in tough places, UNRWA subsidizes dysfunctionality and an unsustainable status quo in most of the Levant. Here are three suggestions. . . .
First, set a ten-year exit strategy. . . . With an [immediate] UNRWA withdrawal from the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority or, if it collapses, the Israeli government will have to finance health and education for potentially a million people. A ten-year exit requires the parties to begin a purposeful, planned wind-down and, in so doing, will place inevitably severe stress on the status quo.
Second, begin UNRWA’s exit plan in Jordan. . . . Most of the two million Palestinian refugees in Jordan are [already] politically, economically, and socially integrated into the Hashemite kingdom. . . . Third, shift refugee operations in Syria and Lebanon from UNRWA to the UNHCR, which has the mandate to protect refugees and assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration, or resettlement to a third country. . . .
Kushner is right to demand a fundamental re-ordering of UNRWA. The UN agency serves as a welfare and humanitarian-relief provider which after 70 years subsidizes despair and continued conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis.
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