Bogus refugees (70 years after the fact) receive non-bogus funding. The US says: No more. No surprise.
The State Department said earlier this week that it put a hold on $65 million, roughly half of the $125 million it has pledged to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the UN agency dedicated to assisting Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
This move should come as no surprise.
President Trump has said that the US would cut aid to the Palestinians if they continued to reject peace efforts with Israel. On Sunday, at a meeting of Palestinian leaders, Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas stated that he would not accept any peace plan from the US.
The Trump administration in December said it would be “taking names” of those that didn’t support the US at the UN, when an emergency session was called to condemn the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The administration made it clear it was getting tired of being expected to support — financially and otherwise — nations who weren’t reciprocating.
Is that unreasonable? Witness Imran Khan, cricket player turned politician, who is running for prime minister of Pakistan. He told AP on Jan. 13 that meeting Donald Trump would be a bitter pill to swallow, but added, “I would meet him.” How magnanimous! Is this the way for a potential head of state to speak of a president whose country has provided billions in aid? If Khan chooses to speak this way, is it any surprise if the Trump administration rethinks its aid? Aid is not charity. Strings are attached. Expectations.
The Trump administration is re-thinking its policy on foreign aid. That’s good, because the unfettered flow of aid dollars has rarely proven a long-term solution. The flow to UNRWA has been both long-term and unfettered. It is long past due for a serious review.
Here are some key facts about UNRWA. You decide whether it still deserves $125 million, annually, from the US.
• UNRWA was created as a temporary agency in 1949 to support the approximately 700,000 Arabs who fled Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Today UNRWA provides aid to 4.9 million Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars and to their descendants.
• UNRWA is the only UN agency dedicated to helping refugees of a specific region or conflict.
• UNRWA is separate from the UN agency aiding refugees worldwide (UNHCR).
• UNRWA is the only agency to designate descendants of original refugees — including legally adopted children — as refugees themselves. UNRWA accepts patrilineal descent only.
This definition was presumably adopted because the Islamic faith is transmitted by the father. Why the UNchose — and continues to use — a gendered theological classification to define descent has, to our knowledge, never received any serious attention. It’s not the religious classification that is problematic; it’s the UN’s use of religious criteria to define a refugee.
There is more evidence that Palestinian refugees are treated differently from all other refugees around the world, who are not defined theologically.
• UNRWA classifies as refugees Palestinians living in the Palestinian territories (Gaza and the West Bank), including those areas under Palestinian control. Normally, a key condition of being classified as a refugee is living outside of one’s “country of nationality.” How can you be a refugee at home?
• UNRWA classifies as refugees two million people who have acquired citizenship in adopted countries, including Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and residents of Europe and North and South America.
This group of people, who hold foreign citizenship, constitutes 40% of UNRWA’s beneficiaries.
By contrast, UNHCR does not recognize someone as a refugee if that person “has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality.”
• UNRWA has over 30,000 employees, nearly all of whom are Palestinian refugees.
• During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, stockpiles of weapons were found at UNRWA schools in Gaza.
• The US funds almost 30% of UNRWA’s budget, which last year was $370 million.
The US is the single largest donor to UNRWA. In second place is the EU, a body comprising 28 countries.
Only in third place is an Arab country, Saudi Arabia. It takes a further nine places before another Arab country appears, United Arab Emirates, in 13th place.
Yet it is the US that is criticized for withholding funds to these 4.9 million “refugees.”
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