Jerusalem, Washington Working to Abolish ‘Eternal’ Palestinian Refugee Status

Israel is launching a diplomatic effort, in collaboration with the Trump administration, to change the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA), the veteran UN agency that deals with the so-called “Palestinian refugees,” Makor Rishon reported on Friday.

A senior official at Israel’s Foreign Ministry visited the US a few weeks ago and presented to administration officials for the first time alternative solutions to the refugees issue. On Saturday night, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) traveled to Washington, where she will meet with Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex), who is working on the similar issues.

The Israeli initiative to change the Palestinians’ 70-year-old refugee status takes advantage of a window of opportunity created by the current administration’s rigid and often hostile approach to the UN and its agencies.

Two months ago, following several revelations of UNRWA employees who are members of Hamas and have used UNRWA to terror ends, including storing explosives and other weapons in facilities owned by the agency in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested to the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley that the Agency should be dismantled altogether.

Following Netanyahu’s comments, a Foreign Ministry legal team examined the proposal, concluding that since a vote at the UN General Assembly would be required to revoke UNRWA’s mandate, the automatic pro-Arab majority on such issues would guarantee a loss.

But while the agency could not be dismantled, the Foreign Ministry team recommended leveraging pro-Israel American legislators to change the status of the “Palestinian refugees.” The Palestinians are the only children of refugees—going down several generations—who have “inherited” their refugee status. As a result, they are the only group of 20th century refugees who have not been rehabilitated, but continue their lives as a non-productive, dependant population in UNRWA’s refugee camps.

“The time has come to cancel the status of Palestinian refugees,” Hotovely said in a statement. “It is inconceivable that seventy years after the establishment of the state of Israel, a child born in a refugee camp receives a refugee card. UNRWA educates the young Palestinian generation to think that their problem has to do with the 1948 borders. It teaches them that they should return to Jaffa, Ramleh and Haifa, and nothing perpetuates the conflict more than this.”

“It is especially unacceptable that the funds donated by our great friend the United States are paying for this education,” Hotovely added.