Ambassador Schifter Letter to the Editor, Washington Jewish Week

In “UNWRA’s corruption runs deep” (Editorials, Aug. 15), you have correctly pointed to the problem of UNRWA corruption and noted that it is not likely that this problem will be solved soon, given present conditions in the UN system.
A point needs to be added concerning the very reason for UNRWA’s continued existence. With strong support from the U.S., the UN created the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in 1949. As its name implies, UNRWA’s purpose was to provide relief and “works” for the Palestinian refugees. “Works” were construction projects that would help integrate the refugees into their new surroundings. Given the fact that they were in Arab territory in which the population was of the same ethnicity, spoke the same language, and adhered to the same religion, that should not have been difficult.
But integration, the process initiated by the UN for millions of other refugees, was not what the Palestinian refugees or their hosts wanted. They rejected the works programs that would lead to integration. UNRWA tried to make progress with resettlement programs, but failed.
By 1960 the UN officials in charge of UNRWA had given up on the goal of integration. UNRWA’s leading officials then made a fundamental change in the initial UNWRA goal. They moved to a deliberate program of keeping Palestinian refugees segregated, providing them with social and health services, and above all educational services. All these segregated services, but particularly the educational services, were designed to have the original refugees and their descendants to continue to consider themselves as Palestinians and claim what they call their “right of return”, their mass migration to Israel. The goal of that migration is to reduce the Jewish population of Israel to a minority and end the existence of the State of Israel. This claim of a “right of return”, supported by UNRWA, has been and remains the major obstacle to an Israeli/Palestinian peace. UNRWA engages in a continuing effort to use its school system to instill hatred of Israel in its students.
It is worth noting that the proposal submitted to the recent Bahrain Conference would call for a program of economic development in the Arab territory adjacent to Israel that would foster the integration, at long last, of the Palestinian “refugees”, 99% of whom are the descendants, including the great-grandchildren, of the original refugees. The Palestinian leadership has rejected that proposal.
Richard Schifter