The United States has taken the welcome step of cutting half of our planned $125 million in funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. UNRWA, which provides aid to Palestinians displaced by the Israeli War of Independence and their descendants, has been referred to as “one of the greatest obstacles to peace.” Despite the jeremiads of people who who believe U.S. aid is charity untethered to policy outcomes, this is a peace-encouraging development toward dismantling UNRWA entirely, folding its operations into those of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and ending international maintenance of the Palestinian “refugee crisis” now reaching into its fourth generation.
UNRWA says its mission is “to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees.” UNRWA claims it “protects and assists Palestine refugees, seeking to help them achieve their full potential in human development.” According to its website, “when the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.”
That last sentence should shock you. Its name notwithstanding, UNRWA has not “relieved” the refugees’ situation. It has encouraged and exacerbated it. No other program to assist refugees has overseen and, in fact, helped create a 650% increase in the population it serves. Unfortunately, UNRWA has made Palestinian refugee status hereditary. Rather than moving on with their lives, UNRWA has locked generations of Palestinians in permanent victimhood. UNRWA’s definition of a Palestinian refugee as including descendants is partly a strategy to ensure organizational continuity, but it also serves the Palestinian victimization narrative both within their society and beyond. What it does not do is create any incentive for Palestinians to resettle, move on, or build the kind of institutions necessary for statehood.
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