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Justice, Winter 2014-2015 35 Shabtai Shavit

Shabtai Shavit is a former Director of the Mossad (1989-1996). He is Chairman of the Board of Directors, Institute for CounterTerrorism (ICT) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya

Editor's Note: Since Justice 55 is dedicated to exploring various aspects of "UNRWA," we are pleased to include this analysis by Shabtai Shavit, which is based on his presentation at the World Summit on Counter-Terrorism: Terrorism's Global Impact, IDC, Herzliya, September 9, 2014. As such, it is published here partially referenced.

Definition of “Who Is a Refugee?”

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR – UN High Commissioner for Refugees) defines refugees in accordance with the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees:

[a] refugee is a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership or a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail him- or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.2

The Convention further stipulates that:

A person may no longer be a refugee when the basis for his or her refugee status ceases to exist. This may occur when, for example, refugees voluntarily repatriate to their home countries once the situation there permits such return. It may also occur when refugees integrate or become naturalized in their host countries and stay permanently. 3

UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), in contrast, has its own, unique definition:  “UNRWA is unique in terms of its long-standing commitment to one group of refugees. It has contributed to the welfare and human development of four generations of Palestine refugees, defined as [any]’persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict’.”4 “The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, are also eligible for registration.”5 Thus, Palestine refugees eligible for UNRWA assistance are mainly persons who fulfill the above definition and descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition.

Consequently, the UNHCR definition deals with human beings as individuals, without any relation to ethnicity, nationality or territorial factor. On the other hand, the UNRWA definition deals with an ethnopolitical group that is related to a given territory in a specific and very short period of time (less than two years).

Who Ceases to Be a Refugee?

As for termination of refugee status, according to the UNHCR, a refugee’s right to this status ends when he becomes naturalized in his host country or gets absorbed there. In contrast, according to UNRWA, a Palestinian refugee will cease being a refugee only if and when he will return to his country of origin—Palestine, which since 1946 to this day has not materialized. Thus UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the problem with which it is supposed to deal.


1. This paper was presented at the ICT at IDC Herzliya, at a panel on Countering Terrorism Propaganda and the Israeli Advocacy, Sept. 9, 2014. See also Shabtai Shavit, Who is a Refugee? HAARETZ Supp., Sept. 19, 2014, at 64-66 (Hebrew).
2. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951, Art 1, Sec. A.
3. Id., Sec. C.
4. UNRWA, available at (last visited Dec. 5, 2014).
5. Id. Emphasis in the original


According to the UNHCR, a person is a refugee if he fled from his homeland, and he loses refugee status upon becoming a citizen of another country. Yet neither of these rules applies to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Palestinians acquire life-long membership as a unique class of refugees. Moreover, their refugee status is transferred to their children.

As stated by the late United States Congressman Tom Lantos, “… I am frankly baffled as to why, more than fifty years after the founding of the State of Israel, there continues to exist a UN agency focused solely on Palestinian refugees.” Lantos asked: “Why has an agency that was established on a temporary basis evolved into a permanent institution that is outside the administrative and policy jurisdiction of the other UN voluntary agencies?” Further, he noted that “…No other refugee problem in the world has been treated in this privileged and prolonged manner.”6

How Many Refugees?

All this explains how the number of Palestinian refugees increased from approximately 700,000 in 1948 to over five million in 2014. This further explains why the number of Palestinian refugees is projected to exceed six million by 2020.

If UNHCR standards were applied to count the number of Palestinian refugees worldwide, the figure would drop to fewer than 50,000. But the Palestinian refugees are not counted according to UNHCR standards; they are counted using a double standard. 7  Thus, according to the UNHCR definition, the number of refugees declines over time, while under the UNRWA definition, the number of refugees expands over time.


Funding for UNRWA comes from 27 states that donate a total of approximately $1.25 billion annually. The United States alone contributes approximately $250 million each year. This enormous sum of money is not intended for the resettling of refugees, but rather only to sustain them.

UNRWA finances food as well as health, education and employment services to millions of Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. For years, American Congressional representatives have been trying to reduce U.S. contributions to the agency, on the ground that UNRWA was born in sin and that its policies are anti-Israeli.

In 2012, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment requiring the State Department, for the first time, to conduct a “count” of Palestinian refugees. The amendment (Kirk amendment) required the State Department to specify how many of the five million Palestinians who receive aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency are refugees who were personally displaced from their homes in 1948, and how many are descendants of those refugees. 8

In 2014, a report made reference to the 2012 Kirk Amendment, and once again called on the U.S. Department of State to deliver the mandated report. As such, it referenced and reaffirmed the earlier requirement.

The Nature of Operations

UNRWA is only responsible for providing services to one group of refugees, the Palestine refugees, in its areas of operation. It is mandated to provide the Palestine refugees with humanitarian assistance. UNRWA is sui generis, as it is the only U.N. agency that reports directly to the U.N. General Assembly, and whose beneficiary population stems from one nation-group.

In contrast, UNHCR is responsible for refugees worldwide. UNHCR has the mandate to provide international protection to all refugees who fall with the scope of its Statute and to seek permanent solutions for the problem of refugees by assisting governments.


6. Letter from Tom Lantos (D-CA), Ranking Democratic Member of the House International Relations Committee, to Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary-General (May 13, 2002), available at &L=paldev&T=0&F=&S=&P=3111 (last visited Dec. 5, 2014).
See Isabel Kershner, The Refugees’ Choice, THE JERUSALEM REPORT, Aug. 12, 2002, at 24.
7. Benjamin Sharoni, First Secretary, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nov. 7, 2013.
8. See Daniel Pipes, History of the Kirk Amendment concerning UNRWA, available at (last visited Dec. 5, 2014); Barak Ravid, Israeli MK, AIPAC behind Senate bid to cut total number of Palestinian refugees, HAARETZ, June 12, 2012. See also details in the article (Appendix) by Steven J. Rosen in this issue of JUSTICE. 36 No. 55


According to Gina Benevento, Chief of the UNRWA Public Information Office in Gaza City,

UNRWA’s mandate [is] strictly limited to the delivery of humanitarian services, and then moved progressively into basic and preparatory education, and health and relief assistance... Issues such as the promotion of resettlement and the resolution of the refugee problem clearly do not fall within this mandate; they are political rather than humanitarian. 9

Benevento explained that “UNHCR is mandated to offer refugees three options: Local integration, resettlement in third countries, or return to their home countries.” However, in her view,

Such choices are not feasible in the Palestinian context, since the first two options are unacceptable to the refugees and their host countries, while the third is consistently rejected by the State of Israel... any one of these options must be accepted voluntarily by the refugees under UNHCR’s care, a principle shared by UNRWA’s mandate.10


UNRWA is now effectively a Palestinian organization controlled by Hamas, under the thinly veiled guise of the U.N. It is dedicated entirely to the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the refugees serving as the primary means of achieving this goal. Hamas controls UNRWA through the appointment of the organization’s staff, with 25 of 27 members of the management team serving as Hamas representatives. The organization has 30,000 employees, of who 10,000 are in Gaza. While the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is involved in solving the problems of refugees throughout the world, which result from conflicts between states, UNRWA in practice perpetuates and intensifies the conflict in the Middle East.

UNRWA maintains a school system (700 schools with half a million students) that perpetuates and sanctifies the right of return and the culture of martyrdom. There are two “industries” in Gaza today – welfare and terrorism – and both are interconnected.

The recent international donor conference in Cairo (October 2014) on the reconstruction of Gaza was a depressing display of farce and hypocrisy. Pledges by the participants have reached the sum of more than $5 billion. It will be very interesting to find out how much of that money will actually reach Gaza.

What percentage of this sum will be allocated to civil reconstruction? What percentage will be allocated to renew and replenish the terrorists' military capabilities and what percentage will disappear on its way down through the bureaucracy?

As The New York Times noted: “What is the point of raising and spending many millions of dollars to rebuild the Gaza Strip just so it can be destroyed in the next war? It’s a harsh question. Given the region’s tragic history, it is also inevitable.” 11  Less than two months after Israel’s 2014 summer campaign in the Gaza Strip ended, Hamas militants in the coastal enclave were rebuilding their attack tunnels.12

“The situation has become so dire that thousands of residents are willing to risk death to escape the travails of the present, and the hopelessness of the future... This sad development was widely reported by the international media.” 13   Haaretz quoted one Gaza resident as declaring that “It’s better to die at sea than to die of despair and frustration in Gaza…” Haaretz also reported that “one woman survivor of [a] ship that sank off the coast of Alexandria related that Egyptian smugglers had rammed it and that they saw people were drowning and offered no help. But, she was quoted as saying: ‘I don’t think even such a terrible incident will stop the phenomenon because people are desperate and want to leave... Gaza’.” 14

“It is time to devise a humanitarian approach to Gaza, in particular, and the Palestinian question, in general, which places the individual and his or her welfare at the center of focus…” 15  “As long as Gaza remains intact, it will be a source of aggression against the Jewish state, and a source of misery for its civilian population. Throwing money at it, over and above the vast amounts already spent there, will do nothing to change the situation. In all likelihood it will only exacerbate the problem.” As was so vividly demonstrated in the past:

Nothing could be more humane, liberal and conducive to stability. Nothing could be less so than compelling the people of Gaza to remain trapped in a tiny enclave, doomed to unending despair deprivation and devastation. The call should go out to the international community regarding the Palestinian Arabs in Gaza: Let their people go! 16


9. Gina Benevento, Chief, UNRWA Public Information Office Gaza City, Cited in Martin Sherman, “The Refugees”: UNRWA vs. UNHCR: The Tale of Two Organizations (March 2008) slide 9.
10. Id.
11. Editorial Board, Having to Rebuild Gaza, Again, N.Y. TIMES, Oct. 10, 2014.
12. Martin Sherman, Into the Fray: Let Their People Go! THE JERUSALEM POST, Oct. 23, 2014.
13. Id.
14. Jack Khoury, Thousands of Gazans fleeing to Europe via tunnels, traffickers and boats, HAARETZ, Sept. 17, 2014.
15. Sherman, supra note 12.
16. Id. Winter 2014-2015 37


Human nature drives all human beings to improve their situation and standard of living, reach personal achievements, provide education for their children, and improve the well-being of their family and their society.

UNRWA created a unique humanitarian tragedy in the world: it created a people that exists as professional human parasites from birth until death, dependent on welfare, lacking ambition, lacking prospects and the desire for self-fulfillment, with a fake and delusional dream that has no chance in the world of being realized, namely, the right of return.

The “right of return” is a logical concept when referring to the return of a refugee to his homeland. The 700,000 refugees who were expelled from their homes in 1948, and the four million refugees who were born since then not in the Mandatory land of Israel, but in Arab states (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and PA-controlled areas), never had a homeland in the form of a sovereign state. In practice, their return to Israel can be realized only after the State of Israel is wiped out, and so there is no chance that this idea will ever materialize.

For the sake of history and transparency, the fact should be recalled that vis-a-vis the 700,000 Palestinians refugees, there were 860,000 Jewish refugees, who were expelled from various Arab states at the same period, deprived of their belongings and properties. All of them were absorbed in the newly founded State of Israel, without any ado.

Hamas exploits UNRWA infrastructure for hiding weapons, arms storage, rocket launchers, training, tunnels, booby-traps, and more. This is the main reason for the vast destruction caused to Gaza and to the victims on both sides.


It would be extremely irresponsible and ineffective to invest in rebuilding the ruins of Gaza and enable UNRWA to sustain another generation of refugees without humanity or future. Now is the time to take advantage of Operation “Protective Edge” as a springboard for a fundamental historic change of the situation.

The principles of the plan to change the situation should be:

1. The United Nations should decide to shut down UNRWA over the course of three years.

2. The 27 states that donate to UNRWA will establish a body whose role is to finance the resettlement of refugees, who choose to do so of their own free choice, in states around the world that accept migrants.

Many surveys conducted over the years show that, according to the statistical average, at least 50% of refugees were willing to resettle with financial support. A recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion during the period of June 16-24, 2014 (i.e., before Operation Protective Edge), covering a random sample of 1012 Palestinian respondents representing the various demographic groups of adult Palestinians (eighteen years and above) living in the “West Bank,” East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, showed that 70% of the Palestinians would like to emigrate if given the opportunity.

3. Donations from these states should be gradually diverted from their current goal of preservation alone, to the goal of resettlement. In other words, the funds should foster the transformation of refugees from parasites with no future to people who create and contribute to their families, communities and society—people who stand tall.

Go to
Trump threatens to cut off US aid to Palestinian Authority   CNBC 3 Jan 2018

Trump’s Move to Slash Aid for Palestinian Refugees Will Lead to Tragedy  
The Nation 24 Jan 2018

(These videos illustrate Palestinian publicity of effect on them if US reduces how much their donations)


Jerusalem Institute of Justice

This report analyzes the contrasting histories and track records of UNRWA and UNHCR. UNRWA’s original mission has been fatally compromised by a combination of systemic corruption and intervention into the internal political affairs of host countries. Most recently, this has included growing acquiescence, if not outright support, of ideological hostility to Israel and regional terrorism.  

By comparison, UNHCR remains faithful to its original mission, demonstrating a track record of substantive assistance to refugee communities.

Therefore, we recommend the dissolution of UNRWA by its absorption, where useful, into UNHCR.


In 1950, the United Nations created two organizations: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Both agencies work with displaced persons, aka ‘refugees’. The UNRWA was established to help refugees of the 1948 war with Israel (Palestinian Arabs). The UNHCR was charged to care for refugees throughout Europe in the aftermath of World War II. This was later broadened to include refugees worldwide.

UNRWA’s mission expanded from the resettlement of refugees in their country of origin to their integration within the economies of their host countries. UNRWA foresaw this leading to refugee independence of relief rolls. Accordingly, sources noted that UNRWA “has not resettled or repatriated any significant number of these refugees.”

“UNRWA is not mandated with permanent resettlement or repatriation. The UNRWA served goal is provide aid until other parties find the solution.”

On the other hand, the UNHCR has developed a great track record for resettling or repatriating refugees.

Not surprisingly, UNRWA and UNHCR define the nature and status of a ‘refugee’ in markedly different ways which mirror their different goals – integration vs repatriation. These definitions shape, critically, how, even whether, UNRWA and UNHCR can fulfill their distinctive missions.

UNHCR defines a ‘refugee’ as:

“a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence, has a well founded fear of persecution because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.”3

UNRWA defines a refugee as:

“… any person whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.

Palestine refugees eligible for UNRWA assistance, are mainly persons who fulfil the above definition and are descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition.”

The population of Arab refugees has (and will) increase over time. Thus, UNRWA’s decision to grant equal program access to their descendants imposes a dramatic and ever-growing strain on the agency’s capacity to provide humanitarian assistance.

The UNHCR, by contrast, limits the number of total refugees accepted into their program. In addition, refugees must choose from one of three options to receive aid:

1) local integration into their host country

2) permanent resettlement to a third country or

3) a return to their home country.

By tying financial aid to the decisions and commitments of refugees, UNHCR can transition recipients to become productive members of their chosen home. None of the choices envision or permit refugees to remain such indefinitely, let alone permanently.


‘Mission drift’ refers to the common tendency of organizations to change or even transform the purpose for which they were formed.

UNHCR has remained faithful to its assigned mission of facilitating refugee resettlement (repatriation) as well as local integration.

UNRWA, however, no longer promotes resettlement, thus dropping a key element of its original mission. UNRWA also insists that host countries integrate refugees living within their borders on terms set by the organization. Intervention within host countries was wholly absent from UNRWA’s founding charter.

Furthermore, UNRWA insists that host responsibilities do not end with their provision of basic needs and services to refugees who choose integration. Instead, integration must be conceived as a “dynamic, two-way process that places demands on both the refugee and the receiving community.”  The host country, not UNRWA, assumes the financial and legal burden required to build an environment that supports the long-term economic stability of refugees.

As of 2014, the UNHCR has effectively resettled tens of millions refugees in its 65-year history. The UNHCR boasts, accurately, “10 out of every 100 refugees are resettled every year.” Unsurprisingly, the UNRWA shows few measurable results, beyond helping some Palestinian refugees obtain work within their host countries.

UNRWA labels the continual influx of Palestinians who have never been displaced from their homes as ‘refugees.’  This compromises the identity and prospects for 90% of so-called UNRWA ‘refugees’. Worse still, UNRWA promises that refugees will return someday to their ‘ancestral’ homelands. This unrealizable vision, enforced at the highest levels as formal ‘mission’, ripples down the relief chain. Refugees endure the systemic corruption that ensues when mission drift lacks internal integrity.

UNRWA’s ability to foster reintegration in the West Bank and Gaza has declined as “restrictions on access and movement in the region…” to ensure Israeli security have grown.  10 People on the ration rolls in areas other than the West Bank or Gaza face impending unemployment. UNRWA’s educational training programs do qualify refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria to secure full-time jobs. However, societal discrimination based on their defined status as transients compels refugees in these countries to orient their lives around UNRWA.

Throughout the region, the structural unemployment of refugees, linked to their indefinite dependence upon social services, remains the main inhibitor to UNRWA’s success.


UNRWA’s first budget (1950) approximated $41 million dollars, with 711,000 refugees registered for assistance..Annual budgets have grown, enormously, to $982,179,000, to underwrite support for today’s roughly 5.2 million refugees. The vast majority are descendants of those registered in 1950. One might expect UNRWA efficiency and productivity to have grown over time to match its increased resources. Sadly, the situation of UNRWA refugees reveals scant, if any, substantive improvement in recent decades.

By contrast, UNHCR’s starting budget consisted of a mere $300,000 to care for nearly one million Europeans uprooted at the end of World War II.  UNHCR now deals with 33.9 million people: 14.7 million internally displaced people, 10.5 million refugees, 3.1 million returnees, 3.5 million stateless people, more than 837,000 asylum seekers and more than 3.1 other persons of concern. UNHCR, with a 2013 budget of $2.3 billion, continues to resettle four times as many refugees annually as the UNRWA and is present in over 126 countries. UNRWA operates in only the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.


At its founding, UNRWA numbered 6,140 employees, including 140 non-regional (international) staff. The vast majority (6,000 or 98%) were refugees themselves. By the end of 2010, this number swelled to nearly 31,000 employees – with a whopping 30,677 comprised of refugees. Again, by stark contrast, UNHCR started with 34 employees of varied international origins.19 This increased to 8,600 employees by 2014, about one/fourth as many as UNRWA.

UNRWA’s refugee-centric employees nurture increased staff affiliation with Hamas and similar terrorist groups. This provokes pressing concerns. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, at least 16 UNRWA staff have been detained, and another 3 have been convicted for terrorism-related activities.

As far back as 2004, then-Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Peter Hansen, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, tellingly, “I am sure there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll, and I don’t see that as a crime. Hamas, as a political organization, does not mean that every member is a militant...”   Furthermore, the UNRWA “makes no attempt to weed out individuals who support extremist positions.”

Hamas, before 2004 and since, boast of their explicit activities aimed at destabilizing the region through terror. Yet, UNRWA’s public statements illustrate knowing consent and acceptance for terrorists to serve as paid staff employees in the hope that a few Hamas employees might not, after all, be ‘militant’.


UNRWA has received billions of dollars in both American and European taxpayer payouts for presumed “relief and support” of the Palestinian people.23 Yet, its reintegration policies for refugees must be judged a failure. Its education programs have been co-opted to serve ideological goals; it fosters a culture of systemic corruption and, above all, UNRWA has redefined its mission along lines which make large-scale refugee reintegration impossible.


UNRWA’s health, relief and social services, micro-finance and micro-enterprise, infrastructure and camp programs and, especially, its education services, rely upon UNRWA-adopted textbooks supplied by host governments with “a bitterly hostile attitude to Israel.”

Does the ‘curriculum’ taught children by UNRWA teachers from these government textbooks promote regional stability or contribute fresh fuel for a world-view that glorifies terrorism? This question yields a self evident answer.


Corruption has become the norm at UNRWA. “The UNRWA maintains a staff that is over 4X the size of the UNHCR, and requires half the budget, but only operates in 4% of the countries that UNHCR does and is concerned with only 13% of the number of people the UNHCR handles.”

UNRWA has been subject to minimal public scrutiny and offers very limited transparency. Its main website does not contain specifics to describe where contributed funds have gone nor how they have been spent. The author of this article spent almost 15 hours investigating by phone, email, and diligent search of UNRWA’s website for employee and budget numbers with little success. When queried, an UNRWA representative in Brussels explained, unhelpfully, that, “UNRWA maintains its transparency, but does not have the resources needed to upload every  single document to the web regarding its 65 year history.”

Interestingly, the author received prompt and useful feedback, upon request, from UNHCR staff.


In 2007, a prominent Australian Member of Parliament, Michael Danby, protested UNRWA funding support by that nation. He termed UNRWA “a notoriously corrupt” institution that participates in activities related to “arms purchase, terrorist operations, and anti-Israel incitement, as well as (lining) the pockets of the PA leadership.”

On July 22, 2014, a Jerusalem Post article reported that terrorist rockets were found in an UNRWA facility in Gaza. UNRWA authorities agreed to release the rockets to a “rocket pickup” team but was vague on what ultimately happened with the rockets.” UNRWA has been accused, consequently, of committing a war crime, given the potential that these weapons have been or could be handed over to Hamas.


The United States underwrote 65% of UNRWA’s annual budget through the 1960s. This percentage had decreased to 24% by 2013, revealing U.S. hesitancy to fund UNRWA’s dramatically-changed mission, especially in light of its diminished transparency. Even discounting UNRWA’s lack of transparency, the agency locks Palestinian refugees into perpetual refugee status across generations.

As the United States pushes for a full audit of UNRWA, it must “end the UNRWA dependency culture” 30 by encouraging individual empowerment, private investment, and free enterprise. These will give refugees an actual, not theoretical, opportunity to succeed in the world economy. Ironically, perhaps, but appropriately, this will lead to the gradual elimination of UNRWA.

By contrast with UNRWA, the UNHCR has demonstrated transparency and proven that refugees will respond to reasonable requirements for their accountability. UNHCR’s definition of ‘refugee’, its requirements for realistic decisions by refugees and its refusal to intervene or take sides in the internal affairs of host governments ensures its continued success at the mission for which both organizations were founded.

This report, therefore, recommends the dissolution of UNRWA as a chartered U.N organization and the absorption of those UNRWA employees and/or programs consistent with a resettlement (repatriation) mission into UNHCR.

Critics may argue that our recommendation overlooks the enormous political difficulties and financial costs of managing severance for UNRWA’s 30,000 Palestinian employees or, alternatively, that absorbing UNRWA into UNHCR might result
in a ‘reverse acquisition’ of UNHCR by an ideologically-focused and media-savvy UNRWA.

We believe these criticisms can be answered persuasively,
but doing so goes beyond the remit of this report.

fanack  Chronicle of the Middle East & North Africa, January 2018

n the latest manifestation of his bull-in-a-china-shop foreign policy approach to the Middle East, American President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off aid for Palestinians unless the Palestinian Authority (PA) returns to the negotiating table with Israel.

If the Trump administration follows through on its threats, it could mean the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from the United States (US) that goes to education, health care and food aid for Palestinian refugees via the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

In a pair of bellicose posts on Twitter, Trump wrote, ‘We pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?’

Trump did not specify which US-funded programmes might be cut. But when asked about future funding for UNRWA, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told reporters, “The president has basically said he doesn’t want to give any additional funding … until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiating table.”

According to the Axios news site, a payment of $125 million that the US was expected to send to UNRWA by 1 January 2018 has not yet been released. The site also reported that a State Department official said deliberations are ongoing as to what to do about the funds.

The US is UNRWA’s biggest donor. In 2016, it provided $368 million, about one third of the agency’s $1.1 billion budget, according to figures posted by UNRWA. The second largest donor, the European Union, gave less than half as much, about $160 million. The US also provides aid to the PA – primarily for security – and for development projects via the US Agency for International Development. Total US aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip averaged about $400 million a year between 2008 and 2016, according to a December 2016 US Congressional Research Service report, while US contributions to UNRWA averaged $250 million since 2007.

Israel has long had a contentious relationship with UNRWA because it supports the ‘‘right of return’ for refugees who fled their homes in Palestine. Israel considers that concept to be an existential threat.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting following Trump’s threats to cut funding that continuing to treat the descendants of Palestinians who fled as refugees generation after generation is “absurdity”.

“UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the problem of the Palestinian refugees,” he said. “It also perpetuates the narrative of the so-called ‘right of return’ with the aim of eliminating the State of Israel, and therefore UNRWA must disappear.”

In spite of the US’ substantial financial leverage, after the widespread outrage and protests in Palestine and throughout the Arab world in the wake of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it would be politically untenable for Palestinian officials to take part in a US-brokered peace process.


A Palestinian teacher gives a class during a protest by children and teachers against the reduction of educational programs given by UNRWA at the Deheisheh refugee camp, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on August 30, 2015. Photo AFP

PA President Mahmoud Abbas said in December 2017 at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states, “It will be unacceptable for [the US] to have a role in the political process any longer since it is biased in favour of Israel.”

Palestinian leaders reacted with defiance to Trump’s threats, with a spokesman for Abbas saying, “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine, and it is not for sale for gold or billions.” Meanwhile, Palestinian Liberation Organization representative Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement on Twitter that Trump’s decision on Jerusalem had ‘singlehandedly destroyed the very foundations of peace’. ‘We will not be blackmailed,’ Ashrawi wrote. ‘President Trump has sabotaged our search for peace, freedom and justice. Now he dares to blame the Palestinians for the consequences of his own irresponsible actions!’

The Israeli leadership has sent mixed signals about the proposed UNRWA cuts. According to Israeli news reports, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in an internal report that cutting funding could ‘lead to catastrophe, especially in Gaza’ and would put more burden on Israel, which would have to deal with the fallout of the humanitarian crisis. Officials with the Israeli Army also believe cutting the budget could worsen the security situation, the report said.

Netanyahu said publically that UNRWA’s funding should gradually be taken away and transferred to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to support “real refugees, rather than fictitious refugees”.

It remains to be seen how serious the Trump administration’s threats are. However, a withdrawal of aid would undoubtedly have a major effect on UNRWA, which is already on shaky financial ground.

The agency was formed in 1949 to provide services to the more than 700,000 Palestinians displaced as a result of the Arab-Israeli War. Initially envisioned as a temporary programme, its mandate has been extended again and again in the absence of a political solution for Palestine, and it now serves several generations of the original refugees’ descendants as well.

Today, it provides services including schooling, healthcare and basic food aid to about 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Yet the agency has struggled with its funding. In recent years, it has run substantial deficits, ending 2015 with a $128 million shortfall and 2016 with a $48 million shortfall, according to financial statements. In 2015, it proposed postponing the start of the school year for some half a million Palestinian students across the region due to budgetary constraints.

In the end, after donors provided additional emergency funding, the schools started on time, but as expenses have increased while revenues have remained stagnant, aid has been spread increasingly thin. The situation has been exacerbated by the war in Syria. According to UNRWA, up to 280,000 Palestinian refugees are internally displaced in Syria and another 120,000 have fled to neighbouring countries and Europe.

The situation of Palestinian refugees in Syria before the war had been relatively good, particularly compared to conditions in Lebanon, where many have since taken refuge. Although not granted citizenship, Palestinians in Syria had the same rights to work, education and social services as Syrian citizens. In Lebanon, on the other hand, Palestinians are restricted from working in many skilled professions and from owning property.

Also in Lebanon, where Palestinians have protested against UNRWA aid cuts in recent years, including reductions in housing subsidies, teaching staff in schools and healthcare assistance, and where Palestinian camps have sometimes served as a recruiting ground for extremist groups, the loss of US aid and additional funding cuts would likely further destabilize the political situation.

In Palestine, particularly in Gaza, where the movement of people and goods is severely restricted under a decade-long Israeli blockade, aid cuts could have a devastating impact. Eighty per cent of the population is dependent on international assistance, and unemployment stands at more than 40 per cent, according to UNRWA.

The US threats have put the PA in an impossible position. The withdrawal of aid would devastate already vulnerable populations and likely lead to more unrest both in Palestine and outside, while participation in a US-led peace process would destroy much of its remaining legitimacy. Whatever the outcome of this political game, the Palestinians will again be the ones to pay the price.

Anti Defamation League  

(Editors Note - The UN has two refugee agencies.    UNHCR which has a world-wide role and UNWRA which only deals with the Palestinians.  

Each has its own definitions of ‘Refugee’ .  The Palestinian problem only exists because of the existence of UNWRA.  If it had not existed the Palestinians would nave been resettled in Arab countries. Approximately 1,600,000 Jews left Arab countries between 1948 and 2012. Of these 856,000 left in 1948.  They have all been resettled. Today there are very few Jews left in Arab countries see Expulsion of Jews From Arab Countries     This was set up due to pressure from Arab oil producing countries.  If the Arabs had no oil there would probably have been no UNWRA)     

See     VIDEOS    Jewish vs Palestinian Refugees AND Why Are There Still Palestinians REFUGEES?

One result is that that they have often become political pawns.  An example is Lebanon where 455,000 are registered with UNWRA and live in the country’s 12 refugee camps while at least 1,500,000 Syrian refugees come under UNHCR (see A Tale of Two Organizations UNRWA and UNHCR in Lebanon’ by Lucie Mackova) and Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Live in Fear of Deportation by Olivia Alabaster |

After the 1948 war, around 156,000 Arabs remained in Israel and became full Israeli citizens with representatives in the Israel Knesset (parliament).

The UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine estimated that the number of Palestinian refugees displaced from Israel was 711,000.  The Arab League instructed its members to deny Palestinians citizenship "to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right of return to their homeland."

The United Nations established UNRWA as a relief and human development to provide them with humanitarian assistance.

Refugee status was passed on to their descendants, who were largely denied citizenship in Arab states, except in Jordan.  More than 1.4 million Palestinians still live in 58 recognized refugee camps, while more than 5 million Palestinians live outside Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian refugee problem and debate about the Palestinian right of return are  major issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Palestinians and their supporters have staged annual demonstrations and commemorations on 15 May of each year, which is known to them as "Nakba Day".

In 2012, the number of registered patrilineal descendants of the original "Palestine refugees", based on the UNRWA registration requirements is estimated to be 4,950,000, of which an estimated 1.5 million live in UNRWA camps. The number of original refugees "who meet UNRWA’s Palestine Refugee criteria" has declined from 711,000 in 1950 to approximately 30,000 to 50,000 in 2012.

Gatestone Institute, International Policy Council - click on link to go to full article

If the entire Palestinian Authority leadership lives off an international welfare check that arrives only because the conflict still exists, there isn't much incentive for ending the conflict.

The Palestinian people, according to a recent study by the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, have received per capita, adjusted for inflation, 25 times more aid than did Europeans to rebuild war-torn Western Europe under the Marshall plan after the Second World War

Most of these funds, according to the study, reached the Palestinian people through The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

UNRWA is the only UN refugee agency dedicated to a single group of people, and the only agency that designates individuals as original refugees if they have lived in areas effected by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, for a minimum of only two years, before being displaced. UNRWA is also the only UN agency that designates the descendants of the original refugees as refugees as well – even though 90% of UNRWA-designated refugees have never actually been displaced

UNRWA, furthermore, violates the UNHCR Refugee Convention by insisting that two million peopht of return.

Although, since World War II, fifty million people have been displaced by armed conflict, the Palestinian people are the only ones in history to receive this special treatment

Before describing why UNRWA is a body that drastically reduces any chance of a lasting peace, let's take a look at which citizens are funding UNWRA. After all: "There is no such thing as public money, there is only taxpayers' money.

The total 2012 UNRWA budget was $907,907,371. Although the permanent supportive rhetoric for the "Palestinian case" from the Muslim world might lead one to expect that UNWRA is funded mainly by Muslim countries, in fact UNRWA is almost entirely funded by Western taxpayers: The USA, EU, UK, Sweden, Norway, Germany, The Netherlands and Japan pay $644,701,999, or 71% of the annual UNRWA budget. The funds from the second largest donor, the EU, are of course already composed of EU taxes from its member statesle (40% of UNWRA's beneficiaries) who have been given full citizenship in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, are nevertheless still classified as refugees, and by encouraging them to act on a "rig.

UNHCR was launched on a shoestring annual budget of US$ 300,000 in 1950. But as our work and size have grown, so too have the costs. Our annual budget rose to more than US$ 1 billion in the early 1990s and reached a new annual high of US$ 7.5 billion in 2016. For up to date information about UNHCR’s financial needs visit our Global Focus website.     We work in 128 countries

(Many of the 5,000,000 + UNWRA refugees are children, grandchildren etc of the original refugee)

REUTERS,    Maayan Lubell, Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Potter,
June 11 2017

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Sunday for the dismantling of the U.N. agency that aids millions of Palestinian refugees, accusing it of anti-Israeli incitement and saying he had conveyed his message to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Adnan Abu Hasna, a Gaza-based spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said Netanyahu was pursuing a “fantasy”. The United States, Israel’s main ally, was the biggest donor to UNRWA last year, pledging $368 million.

In public remarks to his cabinet at its weekly meeting, Netanyahu said UNRWA perpetuated, rather than solved, the Palestinian refugee problem and that anti-Israeli incitement was rife in its institutions, which includes schools.

“It is time UNRWA be dismantled and merged with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” Netanyahu said.

Referring to a meeting he held in Jerusalem on Wednesday with Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Netanyahu said: “I told her it was time the United Nations re-examine UNRWA’s existence.”

UNRWA was established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1949 after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war that followed Israel’s creation.

It says it currently aids five million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East.

Chris Gunness, UNRWA’s chief spokesman, said in an email to Reuters that only the General Assembly, by a majority vote, could change the agency’s mandate.

“In December 2016, UNRWA’s mandate was extended for three years by the General Assembly by a large majority,” he added.

Netanyahu made his comments two days after UNRWA said it had discovered part of a tunnel running under two of its schools in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

UNRWA said it had protested to Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the enclave and which had used a network of cross-border tunnels to launch attacks inside Israel in a 2014 war. UNRWA condemned the tunnel as a violation of neutrality. Hamas denied it was responsible for building it.

Abu Hasna, speaking in Hebrew on Israel Radio, cautioned that if ”UNRWA is gone“ in the Gaza Strip, where its food, educational and health services are crucial, ”two million people will turn into IS (Islamic State) supporters.

For the sake of peace, reform of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)
is urgently needed,

Fathom, Einat Wilf

One of the greatest obstacles to peace, and certainly the least acknowledged, is the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem and the inflation of its scale by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Whereas the actual number of Arabs who could still claim to be refugees as a result of the Arab-Israeli war of 1947-1949 is today no more than several tens of thousands, the number of those registered as refugees is reaching 5 million, with millions more claiming to have that status.


Since the Second World War the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has been responsible for the welfare of all refugees in the world and has assisted in their resettlement and relocation – so that nearly all of them are no longer refugees – with one exception: the Arabs from Palestine. By contrast, UNRWA, the organisation created specifically to handle the Arab refugees from Palestine from the 1947-1949 Arab-Israel war, has collaborated with the Arab refusal to resettle the refugees in the areas where they reside, or to relocate them to third countries. Worse, UNRWA has ensured that the refugee issue only grows larger by automatically registering descendants of the original refugees from the war as refugees themselves in perpetuity, For Palestinians, uniquely, refugeeness is an hereditary trait.

For several decades UNRWA has been engaging in an act of bureaucratic self-aggrandisement, inflating the numbers of those in its care, ensuring the growth of its budget. If the descendants of the Arab refugees from the Arab-Israeli war were treated like all other refugees, including the Jewish ones, they would not quality for refugee status because almost all of them (upward of 80 per cent) are either citizens of a third country, such as Jordan, or they live in the places where they were born and expect to have a future such as Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians born in the West Bank and Gaza are not fleeing war and are not seeking refuge. They are considered citizens of Palestine by the Palestinian Authority itself, just like all other Palestinians born in these territories. No other people in the world are registered as refugees while being citizens of another country or territory. Moreover, if the European Union has adopted the policy that Gaza and the West Bank are territories to be allocated to Palestine – and some EU countries already recognise Palestine as a state – then it makes no sense for it to argue that people who were born and are living in Palestine are refugees from… Palestine.

The remaining 20 per cent of the descendants who are not Jordanian citizens or citizens of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank, are inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon who are by law denied the right to citizenship granted to all other Syrians and Lebanese. Yet, UNRWA does nothing to fight for the right of these Lebanese and Syrian-born Arabs to citizenship, collaborating in their discrimination and the perpetuation of their refugee status.

Why does this matter for peace? Because if millions of Arabs who are citizens of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, or inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon, claim to be refugees from what is today Israel, even though they were never born there and never lived there, and demand that as a result of this refugee status they be given the right to relocate to Israel (‘the right of return’), then the whole basis for peace by means of two states for two people crumbles. If Israel with its 6 million Jews and more than 1.5 million Arabs has to absorb between 5 and 8 million Palestinians then the Jews will be relegated again to living as a minority among those who do not view them as equals; the only country in which the Jews are a majority and can exercise their right to self-determination would be no more.


Even more absurd is that UNRWA is funded by countries who support two states for two peoples. The United States, the EU, Canada, Japan and Australia fund 99 per cent of UNRWA’s annual budget of over $1 billion, whereas the 56 Islamic countries who supposedly grieve for their Palestinian brethren supply only a few million dollars.

If the policy of Western countries towards the Jewish settlements in the West Bank were to take its cue from their policy towards the Palestinian refugees as shaped by UNRWA, it would go as follows: ‘Go ahead Israel, build as many settlements as you want and keep expanding them in perpetuity. We will accept the settlements as a natural expansion of Israel. We will even support the expansion effort financially. Don’t tell the settlers that they will ever need to leave their homes, teach them that it is their legal right to be there. We trust that when the day comes to negotiate peace with the Arab world you will do so in good faith and in a way that guarantees the existence of a sovereign and contiguous Arab state in Gaza and the West Bank.’

As it stands right now the policy of Western countries towards UNRWA is precisely that – it is essentially telling the Arab world: ‘Go ahead and keep inflating the numbers of refugees in perpetuity by registering descendants of refugees as refugees themselves. Register them as refugees from Palestine even though they were born and are living in the Palestinian Authority. Allow them to maintain both a refugee status and citizenship from a third country. Keep telling them that even though they were born in Gaza and Ramallah, they are actually from Ashdod and Ashkelon and can realistically expect to live there soon. Keep them in a discriminated-against state in Syria and Lebanon, where their basic human rights are denied, just so they can keep the conflict alive. We trust that when the day comes to negotiate a final settlement with Israel, you will do so in good faith in a way that guarantees the coherence and existence of a Jewish state.’

If the first policy appears preposterous to Western governments who support peace by means of a two-state solution, then so should the second. If Western countries truly want to remove obstacles on the road to peace they cannot condemn the growth of settlements on one hand and condone the manufactured growth of the number of refugees on the other. Either both the growth of settlements and the inflation in the number of refugees should be treated as obstacles to peace, or neither should be. Moreover, whereas Israel has demonstrated time and again that for peace with Egypt – and for much less than peace in Gaza and the northern West Bank – it will ruthlessly and effectively uproot settlements, the Palestinians have yet to demonstrate that they are willing to take even the smallest steps to give the refugee issue its true and proper proportions.


If the West truly wants to promote a coherent policy that supports a two-state solution and does not favour one side over another, it should use its power as the financial supporter of UNRWA to steer its practices along a more constructive path. The welfare, education and health services provided by UNRWA could continue and even be expanded, but their provision should be based on need, not refugee status.

In Gaza, where there is no Israeli presence and which is clearly part of Palestine, the continued registration of Palestinians living in Palestine as refugees should be discontinued. In the West Bank, in the areas under Palestinian Authority control, the funds currently going to UNRWA should go to the Palestinian Authority for the provision of services, while the designation of the citizens of the Palestinian Authority as refugees should also be discontinued. Finally, outside the West Bank and Gaza, UNRWA’s work should be merged with that of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and operate on the same basis as all other refugees in the world, with efforts directed at securing the equal rights of the descendants in Lebanon and Syria where they were born and have lived their entire lives.

A first effort in this direction was taken in 2012 when the US Senate, acting on the initiative of Senator Mark Kirk, introduced an amendment to the budget bill, requesting that UNRWA report ‘on the number of refugees that it services separate from their descendants.’ The US Senate Appropriations Committee asked for nothing more than information and transparency in reporting in return for the 250 million dollars of US taxpayers money that it supplies UNRWA annually. It did not ask for aid to be cut. It did not call for cessation of services to the millions of descendants; it only asked for transparency in numbers. Even though the amendment did not go through, given that the budget bill as a whole did not move forward, the US Senate sent out a powerful message for peace in that the attainment of a two-state solution cannot be congruent with UNRWA’s practice of inflating the number of refugees. And if the EU wants its recent stringent steps against Israeli settlements to be taken as genuine efforts to keep the two-state solution alive as the path to peace, it must pursue policies that address all obstacles to peace.

Go to






A Tale of Two “Refugee” Organizations: UNRWA vs. UNHCR

UNWRA Continue to

Israeli PM Calls for Dismantling of UN
Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNWRA)

Fate of Palestinian Refugee Agency Uncertain as US Threatens to Cut Funding




an obstacle to peace?