Refusal to accept the Existence of a Majority Jewish State
On November 30, 2016, Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Fatah party, delivered a three-hour speech to the Seventh Congress of Fatah, the party that controls the Palestinian Authority. He made it quite clear that Fatah is not prepared to accept the existence of Israel, as a majority Jewish state. “Moderate” Fatah thus joins extremist Hamas in refusing to enter into an agreement with Israel on a lasting two-state solution. While Hamas is committed to the use of force to end Israel’s existence, Fatah seeks to attain that result through action by the United Nations. It is prepared to agree to a temporary two-state solution, but one that reserves the claim of a so-called “right of return”, the mass migration to Israel of 5,300,000 persons of Palestinian descent living in the Middle East. It expects to realize that claim through a UN directive to Israel to allow these “refugees”, more than 99% of which are not refugees but are their descendants, to settle in Israel and thus end the existence of Israel as a majority Jewish state.
In support of the Palestinian claim of a right to migrate to Israel and settle there, Abbas once again cited Resolution 194 (iii), a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in December 1948, while the Israeli War of Independence was still ongoing. As Abbas put it on November 30: “The Palestinian refugees residing in the sisterly and friendly countries are guests in these countries until their return to their homeland.”
UNGA Resolution 194 was merely a Recommendation, it did not grant a Right
The principal purpose of UNGA Res. 194 was to engage the United Nations in an effort to help end the war that was initiated in May 1948, when the newly created State of Israel was attacked by its Arab neighbors. UNGA Res. 194 created a Conciliation Commission, whose task it was, on behalf of the UN, “to assist the Governments and authorities concerned [the Arab states and Israel] to achieve a final settlement of all questions outstanding between them.” Most of the text of the resolution focused on the work to be done by the Commission to end the conflict. Anticipating success in that endeavor, par. 11 of the resolution provided that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so.”
The creation of the Conciliation Commission was an exercise by the General Assembly of its authority under Article 22 of the UN Charter to “establish such subsidiary organs as it deems necessary for the performance of its function.” Par. 11 was only a recommendation, which the General Assembly was empowered to make under Article 11, sec. 2 of the Charter. The use of the phrase “should be permitted” in par. 11 makes it quite clear that the paragraph was intended only as a recommendation. The Charter does not give the General Assembly the power to issue instructions binding on the UN membership. That power is vested in the Security Council.
Thus, as a matter of law, there simply is no Palestinian “right” of return. As for acceptance of the recommendation in UNGA Res. 194: The 1949 Arab-Israeli agreements were only armistice agreements and not peace treaties. Israel could not then be sure that returnees from countries still at war with Israel would really “live in peace with their neighbors.” That was indeed the general understanding of all parties in 1949 and the immediately succeeding years. The contention that UNGA Res. 194, par. 11 granted a “right of return” was first advanced in the 1960’s following the creation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the PLO. It is as invalid now as it was then.
The unique Definition of the Term “Palestinian Refugee”
In anticipation of a war by Arab states against the future State of Israel well-to-do Arab families left in early 1948 from areas that the UN Partition Plan of 1947 had recommended to be part of a future Jewish state. Once Arab states invaded the newly created State of Israel, in May 1948, radio broadcasts from Arab states urged Arab residents of Israel to leave their homes to get out of the way of the invading armies. Later, as the Arab armies retreated, residents of the areas of combat beyond the original partition lines fled as well. When the Israel/Jordan armistice was concluded in April 1949, about 700,000 residents of the former British Mandate for Palestine found themselves in refugee status, most of them Arabs, but also Jews, who had fled or been expelled from East Jerusalem and other areas under Jordanian occupation. About 30,000 of the Arab refugees of 1948 survive and are on the UN’s Palestinian refugee list.
At the end of World War II, there were millions of refugees in Europe: Germans who fled or were expelled by the Soviet Union from East Prussia, by Poland from Pomerania and Silesia, by Czechoslovakia from the Sudetenland. They settled in Germany. Poles were expelled from areas annexed by the Soviet Union and settled in Poland. The war between Hindus and Moslems resulted in the division of the Indian Dominion between India and Pakistan, with Hindus from Pakistan settling in India and Moslems from India settling in Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of Jews emigrated or were expelled from Arab countries. All of these refugees were resettled, many of them with UN assistance.
The exceptions to this generally accepted policy were the Palestinian refugees. Their fate was entrusted to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which adopted a policy opposing resettlement. These refugees were to be kept in reserve for the effort to end the existence of the State of Israel. To make sure that this threat to the continued existence of Israel would be maintained, UNRWA arranged for “refugee” status to be inherited. That is why the current number of Palestinian refugees on the UN rolls is 5,300,000. Today, UNRWA’s non-resettlement policy is the principal obstacle to an Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement.
UNRWA’s Non-resettlement Policy
UNRWA is now the largest subsidiary of the United Nations. It employs 30,000 people who provide education, health care, and social services to about 5,300,000 so-called “Palestinian refugees” who reside in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Most of the 30,000 employees of UNRWA are themselves “Palestinian refugees.” That state of affairs in the 21st Century was certainly not expected by the great majority of members of the United Nations who adopted UNGA Resolution 302(iv) in December 1949, creating UNRWA. The key paragraph in that resolution read as follows:
“The General Assembly … Establishes the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
- To carry out in in collaboration with local governments the direct relief and works program recommended by the Economic Survey Mission,
- To consult with the interested Near Eastern governments measures to be taken by them preparatory to the time when international assistance for relief and works projects is no longer available. (Emphasis supplied.)
It is clear that UNRWA was founded as a temporary program to provide immediate relief as well as job opportunities in works programs for the refugees from the war of 1948/1949. It covered people who had found a place of refuge both in the Arab states and in Israel. (In 1952 Israel took responsibility for Jewish and Arab refugees within its borders and helped them find permanent homes.) The long-term solution was left to the “interested Near Eastern governments”, which were expected to arrange for the resettlement of the refugees. Given the experience in Europe and India/Pakistan as well as in Israel, that was a reasonable expectation.
It was also the experience in other geographic settings. As many additional refugee problems arose worldwide, the United Nations created, in 1950, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who was given responsibility for dealing with the refugee problem worldwide, except for the area of responsibility of UNRWA. Resettlement is the top priority of the High Commissioner and refugee status is not inherited from generation to generation.
But that is not how UNRWA discharged its tasks. The forces that were committed to the extinction of the State of Israel were able to control UNRWA’s policy and operations, so that it would provide assistance, job opportunities, health and education services, but take no action for resettlement. Instead, to keep alive this threat to the very existence of a majority Jewish State, a policy was adopted under which refugee status is inherited along the male line. That is how we now have the claim advanced for 5,300,000 Palestinian refugees of whom only 30,000 are survivors of the War of 1948/1949.
About one-third of the people served by UNRWA live in communities designated as “refugee camps,” but which are under the sole jurisdiction of the authorities of the country or territory in which they are located. Most of the others live in areas in which residents of Palestinian origin have been fully integrated into the general community. In Jordan they are entitled to citizenship and are by and large integrated. In Syria they have equal rights regarding employment. (Many of them are now genuine refugees from Syria, who now live in Europe.) Only Lebanon imposes limitations imposed on Palestinian residents. In addition, there are large communities of “Palestinian refugees” on the rolls of UNRWA, who live in such “foreign countries” as the West Bank and Gaza.
What distinguishes all of the “Palestinian refugees” from all other refugees is that they are encouraged by UNRWA personnel to continue to claim the right to migrate to the State of Israel, usually referred to as the “right of return”. It is UNRWA’s deliberate policy to inspire those it serves, particularly school children, with the claim of a “right of return” and to discourage them from considering their current places of residence their permanent homes or to consider settling in another country.
The Solution: Place UNRWA under the Jurisdiction of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
UNRWA’s way of handling its mission is clearly an obstacle to an Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement. It also victimizes the millions of Palestinians who remain in refugee status for the sole purpose of ending the existence of a majority Jewish state. Its 30,000 employees serve more than 5 million people, including not only the survivors of the original group but their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, at a cost of more than $ 1 billion annually, to which the United States contributes about $400,000,000. If Israel remains in existence, UNRWA is now destined to grow indefinitely, at an ever greater cost to the international community. It has no plans to resettle anyone.
As noted earlier in this report, there exists a UN agency, created in 1950, which has served and continues to serve all other refugees worldwide: the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR now serves about 16 million refugees, including the huge number of Syrians fleeing the brutal war in their country. It does that with a staff of 10,700, located in 128 countries. Their principal mandate is to facilitate resettlement of the actual refugees, not keeping them and their descendants on its rolls. UNHCR’s work has been highly successful.
It is thus quite clear how the problem of the Palestinian refugees can best be resolved: by placing UNRWA under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees with a mandate to proceed with the resettlement of the small number of real refugees and the millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees. It would be a humanitarian solution to the problem and would greatly advance the cause of peace.