The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), founded in 1949, provides social services and financial assistance to Palestinian refugees from Israel’s War of Independence—and their descendants. In every other case, refugee status is not inherited, and the number of refugees following a war eventually declines; but UNRWA will continue to support an ever-growing number of clients indefinitely. Richard Goldberg argues that the U.S. should stop funding the organization and demand that Palestinian refugees be treated like all others:
In truth, [UNRWA is] not a refugee agency but a welfare agency, which keeps millions of people in a permanent state of dependency and poverty—all the while feeding Palestinians an empty promise that one day they’ll settle in Israel. Yet the United States remains the agency’s largest single-state donor.
Unfortunately, every time Congress tries to expose the fiction of “the Palestinian refugee,” it runs up against a State Department fiercely protective of UNRWA and its mythology. In 2012, an amendment to the annual State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill asked the Obama administration a simple question: how many of the Palestinians currently served by UNRWA were personally displaced by the 1948 war?
The point was to confirm to the world that there is only a relative handful of true Palestinian refugees still alive who may be entitled to repatriation or compensation. The rest, the descendants, are impoverished Palestinian-Arabs who will either become citizens of a future Palestinian state or be absorbed by Arab host nations.
While an official report was eventually sent to Congress, its contents were kept classified to [prevent] the American public from knowing the truth. The Trump administration can take a giant step toward Middle East peace by declassifying that report, updating it, and formally adopting a definition for Palestinian refugees that makes a clear distinction between refugees displaced by the 1948 war and their descendants. . . .
Future funding of the agency should be tied to a clear mission of resettlement, integration, and economic self-sufficiency. A timetable and work plan should be established for UNRWA’s integration into the UNHCR (the UN’s refugee agency). Congress should put these conditions into the annual foreign-aid bill, giving Ambassador Nikki Haley the leverage she needs to force changes in the agency’s next biennial budget.