On Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu publicly advocated the shuttering of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), created in 1949 to tend to Palestinian refugees displaced during the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war. The prime minister was responding to the recent discovery of a Hamas military tunnel underneath an UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip—the most recent example of the organization’s facilities being used for terrorist purposes. But, writes Dore Gold, the problem goes much deeper:
Unlike the millions of refugees after World War II, who were resettled in the countries in which they now resided and became citizens, the Palestinian-Arab refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war maintained their refugee status. . . .
Successful refugee programs, like that of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), have led to a diminution of the refugee problem in different parts of the world. UNRWA has had the exact opposite effect. The heart of UNWRA’s problem is definitional. . . . Unlike other UN refugee agencies, . . . UNRWA added “the descendants of Palestine refugee males” [to its mandate]. . . . UNRWA has now reached the fourth generation of refugees. . . .
There are 58 Palestinian refugee camps in the Middle East. With the implementation of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, 26 of these camps fell under Palestinian control. Yet there was no indication that a single Palestinian camp was about to be closed. It was clear that the Palestinian Authority wanted these camps to be retained . . . to keep their grievance with Israel alive. In other words, they wanted to perpetuate the conflict. . . .
[T]he Palestinians’ preparedness to . . . resolve this issue is probably the best litmus test of their intentions—of whether they are ready to end the conflict once and for all. If a new peace initiative is to start, it should include at the outset a program to dismantle the refugee camps and promote a massive international effort for the construction of new housing. This initiative should begin in the West Bank but also should include Jordan, which hosts the largest Palestinian refugee population in the world.