In the News

David May: United Nations Not Thrilled About Middle Eastern Nations Uniting (Washington Examiner)

(Washington Examiner, August 24, 2020)

The United Arab Emirates and Israel took the historic step of normalizing diplomatic relations this month. But you would never know how positive this development is for regional peace based on the United Nations’ tepid response, which focused on the Palestinians. The U.N’s continued perseveration about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict underscores how the international organization, whose mission is to promote “international peace and security,” has become an overt champion of one side of a conflict and a detractor of another side. To uphold its mission fairly and justly, this must change.

This was not the first time the U.N. promoted the Palestinian agenda to the detriment of regional peace initiatives. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat shocked the Arab world in September 1978 when he became the first Middle Eastern leader to sign a peace agreement with Israel. Three months later, in resolution 33/28A, the U.N. General Assembly condemned Egypt for bypassing the U.N. and for not resolving the Palestinian issue. The General Assembly followed up in December 1979 with resolution 34/65, which again argued that regional security, somehow subordinate to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, would deteriorate with an Egyptian-Israeli deal. Both resolutions drew heavily from reports produced by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

That committee is part of an infrastructure of pro-Palestinian institutions within the U.N. system. To be sure, Palestinians deserve international support. Even while their situation today in part results from decades of rejectionism by failed leaders who have openly engaged in terrorism against Israel and others, Palestinians need humanitarian assistance. However, the U.N’s unconditional acceptance of the one-sided Palestinian narrative has served to unfairly malign Israel and harm prospects for peace.

The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was created in 1975, in the same session as the infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution, which vilified the movement for Jewish autonomy. When the resolution passed, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Daniel Patrick Moynihan proclaimed, “A great evil has been loosed upon the world.” To this day, the committee produces a steady stream of anti-Israel resolutions that the General Assembly rubber-stamps.

The U.N. created additional bodies to assist in the committee’s work. The Division for Palestinian Rights, with an annual budget of nearly $3 million under the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, serves as the committee’s secretariat. The U.N. Information System on the Question of Palestine operates under the Division for Palestinian Rights as a pro-Palestinian propaganda arm. Tellingly, the U.N. has no other similar network of bodies devoted to promoting one people’s narrative, or to refuting that of another.

But the U.N’s pervasive anti-Israel bias does not end there. In December 1968, the U.N. created the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People, whose mandate is to investigate alleged Israeli abuses.

That U.N. committee is reminiscent of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s commissions of inquiry following Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. These commissions presumed Israeli guilt and were directed to focus only on Israeli actions. Indeed, the U.N. Human Rights Council has a rapporteur whose mandate exclusively calls for exposing Israeli crimes and not Palestinian ones. Systematic bias is hard to deny, as this flawed forum has produced about as many resolutions criticizing Israel as resolutions criticizing every other country in the world combined.

The U.N. also operates the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, a refugee agency devoted exclusively to the Palestinians. The agency maintains a broader definition for refugees than that of the U.N’s actual refugee agency, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, allowing an initial refugee population in the hundreds of thousands to balloon to well over 5 million by allowing descendants of refugees to claim this status. The Relief and Works Agency also indulges a fictional Palestinian “right of return” to Israel, which has emerged as one of the primary obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peace, particularly as it has encouraged Palestinian obstinacy at the negotiating table. Remarkably, the Relief and Works Agency has three times as many employees as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and spends considerably more per refugee.

In recent years, the United States has begun to push back against these biased U.N. bodies. The U.S. cut funding to the Relief and Works Agency and left the Human Rights Council. The U.S. can do more, however. It should reduce its contributions to the U.N. by an amount proportional to America’s share of the budgets for the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Division for Palestinian Rights, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, and any other Palestinian-specific body. For example, the U.S. should withhold some $600,000, its share of the Division for Palestinian Rights’ budget.

Other countries are beginning to express concern about the U.N’s Palestinian bias, too. In recent years, the United Kingdom has opposed all Human Rights Council resolutions presented under an agenda item dedicated to castigating Israel. And, recognizing the discriminatory nature of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, Ukraine departed the committee in early 2020. To build on this, the U.S. should encourage committee members with close ties to Israel, such as India and Cyprus, to follow suit.

New possibilities are emerging in the Middle East. The UAE has broken the taboo of normalization with Israel, while other countries, such as Bahrain, Oman, and Morocco, may soon follow. The U.N. should encourage this instead of promoting the false notion that Palestinian grievances should supersede support for peace and security efforts. When the U.N. encourages maximalist Palestinian demands, it makes regional peace less likely. Systemwide changes are needed.

Ambassador Schifter Interviewed on “Community Matters” Radio Show (with link)

Ambassador Schifter was interviewed recently by Leon Goldenberg for the popular “Community Matters” radio program, heard weekly in the New York area on WSNR, AM 620.


Why Palestinians can’t sign an end-of-conflict pact by Eric R. Mandel (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinian Arabs cannot sign an agreement that ends all claims and recognizes the right of a Jewish state to exist and live unmolested on land that was ever Muslim.

According to the usual international peace negotiators, everyone knows the end game to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, exactly what each party must concede for a final treaty. They say all that is needed is for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines with minor adjustments, with east Jerusalem as the capital of the new Palestinian state. If only Israel offered that, peace would reign.

 But diplomats twist themselves into knots, finding ways to rationalize Palestinian intransigence, trying to explain away the fact that all those concessions were already offered to the Palestinian Authority in 2001 and 2008 and were soundly rejected. In 2008 the Israelis offered 94% of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) with land swaps to make up for the 6%, east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, while Israel even conceded giving up exclusive sovereignty of the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, and the City of David, not to mention billions in international investment in a new Palestinian state. The Palestinians only had to give up the right of return, sign “an end-of-conflict and end-of-claims” agreement for perpetuity and be demilitarized.

If the Palestinians’ goal was truly two states for two peoples, and they truly wanted an independent Palestinian state living side by side a Jewish state, as UNGA Resolution 181 called for, why has this conflict not been resolved?

 A recent article in The Hill by Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, two veteran peace negotiators and advisers who should know better, referred to a “two-state solution” and a “viable two-state outcome” in their attack on the Trump peace plan. Those terms mean completely different things to the Palestinians than they do to Western negotiators. To Palestinians, two states mean an Arab state in the West Bank and a binational state in Israel that will become Arab-ruled with time, because the Palestinians will never give up the right of return, as well documented in the new book The War of Return by Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf, a former Knesset member from the Center-Left Independence and Labor parties. The Palestinian demand is that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants in perpetuity have the right to move into Israel at any time of their choosing. In other words, this is the demographic destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.
Western negotiators and politicians of both American political parties have never fully understood or let on that they understood what the Palestinians really want, believing the answer to bridge the divide was leaving any documents between the parties ambiguous, so both could claim victory.

The only logical approach to truly ending this conflict is to write the most clear, unambiguous and specific documents, with every possible “i” dotted and “t” crossed, so no party can ever claim it still has outstanding issues in the future. Even contingencies should be included in the agreement, with a mechanism to respond to any violations.


Because Palestinian Arabs cannot at the present time sign an agreement that ends all claims and sign an end-of-conflict resolution that recognizes the right of a Jewish state to exist and live unmolested on land that was ever Muslim. I brought this up with president Bill Clinton in 2004, a man who truly gave his all to solve the conflict. Surprisingly, despite his sincere personal investment in the conflict, he didn’t seem to appreciate the essential importance of signing an end-of-conflict resolution, but he did tell me that prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak insisted upon it, as did Ehud Olmert in 2008. This is the eternal blind spot of Western negotiators and American presidents who seem to just want a deal signed, and inexplicably believe ambiguity will build trust. That was the failure of the Oslo Accords, giving away tangible assets for unfulfilled promises.

Western peacemakers have claimed without a credible basis that acknowledging the Palestinian right to return is just a needed gesture for Palestinian dignity, and say that the Palestinians will never take advantage of it, knowing that only a token number of refugees can be allowed. Just listen to what Palestinian leaders from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas say, that vehemently contradicts this.

There is no international right for the return of refugees, certainly not descendants of refugees. In fact every other refugee in the world aided by the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) is to be rehabilitated in the country where they received refuge. This is especially true for refugees from the 1948 War of Independence, who were active participants in the war to annihilate the Jewish inhabitants, joining five Arabs armies whose goal was the complete annihilation of the Jewish state. The most the pro-Palestinian world can argue is that UNGA Resolution 194 calls for the right of return. However as with all General Assembly resolutions it has absolutely no force of law.

If peacemakers truly want a sustainable peace, they have to acknowledge that Israel has legal rights over the 1949 armistice lines if an eventual deal includes land swaps. Just like with the refugee issue, if it is not completely spelled out, no matter what agreement is signed, Palestinians will always have a pretext to say Israel stole Palestinian land with land swaps, and once again, preach and prepare for a new war.

The pro-Palestinian Middle East Monitor said it the best. “ Palestinians will continue to seek a just peace that will provide future generations with their birthright; their land will be returned, one way or another.” Naïve Westerners hear the words “just peace” and assume it means two states for two peoples. What it actually means is the unlimited right of return for every Palestinian forever to Israel, as no Palestinian government can give up an individual Palestinian descendant’s claim to be a displaced owner of what is now Israel.

The annexation debate has obscured the true paradigm of the conflict. The question is not if Israel annexes 30% of the West Bank, would it end the dream of a Palestinian state. The question to ask is, would the Palestinians accept the West Bank with land swaps that ensure Israel’s security, sign an end-of-conflict resolution and accept a Jewish state? The answer for the foreseeable future is no. This is not a territorial conflict or else this would have ended long ago.

If this hill for a comprehensive agreement is too high to climb at this time, so be it. What is needed is honesty, so a putative peace agreement is not just a recipe for fruitless concessions by Israel.

If all the Palestinians are capable of doing is negotiating a better status quo with more economic development and investment in exchange for nonviolence, then that should be the path for this generation.

The Trump peace plan or any other agreement will never have any staying power if it doesn’t include an end-of-conflict agreement, a recognition of two states for two peoples that clearly states that one of those states is Jewish, and an absolute end of any right for descendants of original Palestinian refugees to return to the State of Israel.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report/ Jerusalem Post, and writes for The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld and Defense News.


Destructive Western indulgence of the Palestinian dream

Refugee issue has no legitimate historical precedent or international parallel.

The U.N. Agency for Palestinians Is Even Worse Than You Imagine

Wall Street Journal

A report alleges sexual misconduct, nepotism and retaliation by several Unrwa officials.

 (August 6, 2019)

A corruption scandal involving sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation against whistleblowers and lots of business-class travel has gripped the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. It represents a new low for Unrwa and an indictment of the idea of an international agency dedicated to a single interest. But it’s also a unique opportunity to see behind the curtain of a billion-dollar U.N. bureaucracy and phase it out.

The allegations come from a leaked Unrwa ethics report completed in December 2018 exposed last week by Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse. The published account accuses Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl of appointing Maria Mohammedi, with whom he had a relationship “beyond the professional,” to a newly created and fast-tracked role as senior adviser and flying her around the world in business class. The U.N. says it’s still investigating.

According to the report, Ms. Mohammedi’s new job allowed her to join Mr. Krähenbühl onhis busy and expensive travel schedule. Current and former Unrwa officials describe him as perpetually absent from Jerusalem, a submarine who “surfaces for a couple of days” of public meetings then “disappears into the unknown for protracted periods.” Unrwa, which complains it’s strapped for cash, would have footed the bill for all of it.

The commissioner-general’s travel, the report explains, left chief of staff Hakam Shahwan in control of Unrwa’s operations in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, Mr. Shahwan himself stands accused of bullying staff, acting like a “thug,” bypassing procedures for procurement and other financial decisions, and excessive partiality to the Palestinian Authority. Unrwa says he was “separated” from the agency after writing anonymous emails to journalists trying to discredit the report. Mr. Shahwan says he’s on paid leave and hasn’t commented on specific allegations.

The 10-page report also accuses Deputy Commissioner-General Sandra Mitchell of using her power to get her husband, Robert Langridge, promoted to a more senior position. She stepped down but remains on staff. Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Langridge deny the allegations, as do Mr. Krähenbühl and Ms. Mohammedi.

In the past, Unrwa has been accused by Israel and independent researchers of employing Hamas members and using anti-Semitic textbooks. Rockets have also been found hidden at Unrwa schools on several occasions. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that an organization so corrupt at the bottom is even more corrupt at the top.

The report’s timing is especially damaging. Thanks to the Trump administration’s cuts in American funding to Unrwa earlier this year—reducing the U.S. contribution to zero—the agency’s fortunes have plummeted. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who sat on the ethics findings for months, indicated in July that he is “committed to acting swiftly on the full report.” Now Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands have suspended their funding pending an investigation. Excessive business-class travel probably didn’t sit well with donors who have been showered with stories about the dire state of Unrwa’s finances.

Completely reliant on donors, Unrwa is always living on the edge, with uncertain funding and a culture of secrecy. The agency regularly assesses its management, but it publishes uniformly positive reports. The imperative is always to support calls for future funding and avoid lending ammunition to critics, namely the U.S. and Israel.

One lesson is that funders must demand internal controls, external audits and public access to information. Assurances regarding Palestinian needs aren’t enough. Scrutiny is also needed for the Palestinian Authority, which uses foreign aid to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in pensions to terrorists and their families.

A second lesson concerns the danger of devoting an international organization to a single population. Unrwa was effectively taken over by Palestinians decades ago. Politicization began at the bottom with school curricula, but crept upward with senior managers calling for the Palestinian right of return.

The U.S. funding cuts were the first serious challenges to a long overripe status quo. This latest scandal is an opportunity for the U.S., joined by other angry donors, to demand a phaseout plan for the entire organization.

Unrwa’s 30,000 employees could join the Palestinian Authority, which would take over its health, education and welfare responsibilities like the state it claims to be. Unrwa’s expensive international cadre, including lobbyists in Washington and Geneva, should be disbanded. And Palestinian residents of Arab states—all of whom are considered refugees by Unrwa—should become citizens of those states, as they are in Jordan, or of the Palestinian Authority. If Palestinians truly desire a state, they should join the call for Unrwa’s abolition.

Mr. Joffe is a fellow at the Middle East Forum. Mr. Romirowsky is executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. Both are senior nonresident scholars at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Palestinian ‘right of return’ is really about ending Israel’s existence

Washington Examiner, February 4, 2020

by Sean Durns

On Jan. 28, President Trump revealed his administration’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. As several commentators noted, the proposal explicitly states that there shall be no “right of return” — a key phrase with a very particular meaning that few analysts have carefully parsed out.

The Palestinian Authority, the entity that governs the West Bank, has continually demanded a “right of return” in nearly every negotiation that has occurred since the PA was created a quarter century ago. To understand the origin of this so-called “right,” one must first understand the history.

In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a partition plan for British-ruled Mandatory Palestine: Resolution 181, which called for the establishment of both a Jewish state and an Arab state. Arab states and Palestinian Arab leaders rejected it out of hand, choosing war over statehood. They violated Resolution 181 by attacking the fledgling Jewish nation. In the combat that followed, hundreds of thousands of Arabs and Jews fled. In some cases, they were forced from their homes in Mandatory Palestine and beyond.

Estimates of the original number of Arab refugees vary. The British Foreign Office suggested the number was between 600,000 and 760,000. A 1950 report by the U.N. Conciliation Commission for Palestine endorsed an estimate of 711,000 refugees by an “expert of the Statistical Office of the United Nations.”

Many of these initial Arab refugees were set up in camps in Arab nations that typically refused to grant them citizenship or give them equal rights. Rather, they were treated as political pawns and overseen by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.

In retaliation, some Arab nations punished their native Jewish populations by seizing their property and expelling them or forcing them to flee under threat of death or torture. Of the more than 800,000 Jewish refugees, nearly 600,000 settled in Israel.

In the years since, Palestinian leadership has promoted the idea of a “right to return.” Not, of course, for the Jewish refugees — for whom no recognition or compensation has been offered. Nor is this “right” just for the original Arab refugees, the people who actually left Israel as the Arab states made war against it. Rather, the term “refugee,” as UNRWA and Palestinian leadership define it, includes people who are several generations removed from the conflict, people who are citizens of new states, and people who reside in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — places that the Palestinians themselves claim as part of a future Palestinian state.

According to UNRWA, any Palestinian Arab descendants from the 1948 conflict are considered “refugees” until they “return” to Israel.

Thanks to this dubious definition, UNRWA considers there to be more than 5.3 million “Palestinian refugees” who have a “right to return.” In an Oct. 28, 2018, speech, PA President Mahmoud Abbas even claimed that there were 6 million. The actual number of surviving refugees from the 1948 war is closer to 30,000, according to an unreleased State Department report.

Demanding that 6 million Palestinian “refugees” have a “right” to “return” to a place where most of them never lived runs counter to Palestinian claims that they want to have their own independent state. As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis noted in the Washington Post, this demand negates the idea of Palestinian statehood — unless that state means, by its definition, the demographic end of the Jewish nation of Israel. As the American Jewish International Relations Institute observed, such a move would “end the existence of the majority-Jewish state” in Israel.

In their unguarded moments, Palestinian leaders and their state-controlled media have said as much. Palestinian Media Watch, which monitors Arab media in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has highlighted that official PA television promotes the “right of return” by showing a map of “Palestine” that simply erases Israel. PA-approved textbooks also hail that demand.

Defenders of the “right of return” often cite U.N. General Assembly Resolutions 194 and 394 and Security Council Resolution 224 to buttress their claims. But the Arab states voted against 194 in part because it did not establish a “right to return.” Indeed, it only “recommended” that original refugees from the conflict, not descendants, be permitted to return, and only after they agree to live “at peace with their neighbors.” (It should also be noted, as the late historian Martin Gilbert has documented, that these resolutions can be applied to the Jewish refugees as well.)

For decades, Palestinian leaders have rejected offers for statehood and peace while citing a “right” that doesn’t exist. Both the press and policymakers should speak honestly and openly about what it would truly mean and perhaps reflect on why Palestinian leaders continue to demand it.

Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.


The Real Problem With UNRWA

photo:Shareef Sarhan
International Policy Digest


Removing a Prime Obstacle to Middle East Peace

The Trump administration was more than justified in ending U.S. support for the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) last year. American taxpayers had been shelling out $360 million a year (by far more than any other donor) to fund this extremely flawed and counter-productive organization. It has been pointed out, correctly, that UNRWA, incredibly, the largest UN agency by budget, is seriously infested by corruption, links to Hamas terrorists, and a hate-promoting educational agenda.

But there is a more fundamental and utilitarian reason that it deserves to be shut down. The very maintenance of UNRWA is meant to undermine the existence of Israel, and constitutes the most serious obstacle to any hope for an Arab-Israeli peace agreement. Unlike refugees from any other conflict in the world, Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants have in UNRWA, their own private agency and are not settled and relocated, but, by design, are kept in “temporary” refugee camps. Though they live in communities of people of the same ethnicity, the same religion, and the same language, they are kept deliberately segregated.

In these camps, children are taught that they have been dispossessed and that they will one day “return” to their homes in what is now Israel. This imagined “right of return” has no basis in international law and does not exist for any other refugees in the entire world. If implemented, this scheme would overwhelm the state of Israel, ending its character as a majority-Jewish state, and effectively ending the very existence of Israel.

Needless to say, no government of Israel would ever agree to such a suicidal proposition, but the UN, through the operation of UNRWA, and through annual budgetary authorizations for two institutions which endorse the “right of return,” undermines the prospects of peace by encouraging this most extreme of Palestinian demands. These two UN bodies, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and the Division on Palestinian Rights (DPR) in the UN Secretariat, presume to promote the “inalienable rights” of the Palestinians. Explicitly spelled out as one of these supposed rights, is the “right of return.”

No other country or people enjoy the dubious “honor” of having such offices currently dedicated to undermining their very existence within the UN system. The DPR is especially anomalous. Housed within the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, it shares billing with such offices such as “Africa,” “Middle East,” “Europe,” and “Electoral Assistance.” Only one other country in the history of the United Nations was singled out for similar treatment: apartheid South Africa. This is precisely the point: Israel’s enemies believe that Israel is a unique pariah, and that, just as South Africa was forced by sanctions and international pressure to submit to its opponent’s demands, so too will Israel.

Every year, these biased UN offices must be reauthorized and funded. Every year the necessary resolutions accomplishing this pass by large majorities. Many countries vote to approve these bodies by rote, without realizing that they are essentially voting to put an end to the State of Israel. There is, however, some good news on this front. Just last month, twelve European countries, led by Germany, voted against the Division on Palestinian Rights for the first time. There appears to be, at long last, a growing recognition that singling out Israel in this manner is not constructive for peace.

The more important point is that European countries especially have failed to face the problem that the official Palestinian position—for the Palestinian Authority led by Fatah, no less than for Hamas—is to claim a “right of return” for over five million Palestinians to Israel proper. If Europe, as well as much of the international community, continue to ignore this extremist position, any prospect of a settlement will be undermined. Why should Palestinians give up this maximalist claim when the UN encourages them to hold onto it? As long as the Palestinians cling to this nefarious pipe dream, and are encouraged to do so, they have no incentive to negotiate in good faith. A fair and hoped-for peace agreement—and a two-state solution—is thus made impossible by destructive and misguided UN meddling. The “Clinton Parameters,” issued by the United States after the failure of the “Camp David II” talks between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak in 2000, recognized the centrality of this issue and explicitly stated that Palestinians would be allowed to return to a Palestinian state, but not to Israel itself without the latter’s consent.

All people of goodwill would be happy to see Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side, at peace, and in mutual security. Certainly, the United States has used its good offices and diplomatic resources repeatedly to try to achieve such an outcome. It is now unclear when, if at all, the Trump administration will be able to introduce its own long-awaited Mid East peace initiative. By the time Israel holds its third round of the until-now inconclusive national elections, the U.S. presidential campaign will be in full swing, making any bold initiative unlikely. But one thing is certain, when this president or any future president returns to the task of Arab-Israeli peacemaking: without making it clear to the Palestinians that the “right of return” is a non-starter, and that the international community does not support it, any attempt at forging a lasting agreement will be futile.

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

From the Jewish Policy Center: The UN General Assembly as an Obstacle to Peace

Ambassador Richard Schifter


At the Bahrain Conference of last June, the United States recommended approval of a program that would invest $ 50 billion in the improvement of the economies of the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.  The major beneficiaries of this program would be the more than 5 million people living in the area whom the UN lists as “Palestinian refugees” and the more than 2 million Palestinian Arabs living in these five territories and states who are not on the refugee list.  A large proportion of these more than 7 million people is in desperate need of economic assistance.  Yet the Palestinian leadership rejected the U.S. proposal.  Why?

The answer is obvious.  Since the end of Israel’s war of independence in 1949, Palestinian leaders have emphasized a single goal: the end of the existence of the State of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state “from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea.”  They believe that this result, the one-state solution, can be reached through the mass migration of about 5.5 million “Palestinian refugees” to Israel, which would result in the Jewish population being in a minority, and would then lead to the dissolution of the State of Israel.

What needs to be fully understood is that a better standard of living for their own people is not the foremost goal of the Palestinian leadership.  They are committed to an ideology which puts the extinction of the State of Israel at the top of their agenda.  If their own people have to suffer as a result, that is the price that they have to pay to attain the result desired by their leaders.  The Bahrain proposal was rejected because it provides help for people of Palestinian descent in the places where they now live.  It does not contemplate their mass migration to Israel.

Who are the Palestinian Refugees?

To answer this question, we need to go back to 1947, when the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Resolution 181(II), which proposed the partitioning of the UN Mandate of Palestine, administered by Great Britain, to create a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a corpus separatum, consisting of Jerusalem and environs.  The effort to persuade the Arab leaders to negotiate a partitioning failed.  They had been heavily influenced by the anti-Jewish ideology of the Grand Mufti al-Husseini and were not prepared to accept the existence of a Jewish state in the Near East.

It was in light of that fact that the British decided to end their administration of the Mandate of Palestine.  On May 15, 1948, as the British were getting ready to leave, the Jewish community in the Mandate created the State of Israel.  Israel was promptly attacked both by Arabs in the Mandate and by the neighboring Arab states.  At the very outset of the war, the message was sent by the Arab states to Arabs living in the areas of intense combat to move quickly to Arab territory.  Many followed that advice.  To be sure, there were also those who were expelled or forced to flee as a result of Israeli military operations.

By 1949, when the military conflict ended and armistice agreements were signed, an estimated 700,000 Arabs who had been residents of what had become the State of Israel found themselves in Arab territory.  Under the armistice agreements, the West Bank was administered by Jordan and Gaza by Egypt.  For many of the Arabs who fled from their homes in the new State of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza were their places of refuge, but others had fled to Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon as well.

Most of the Arabs that fled from Israel in 1948 found places of refuge in countries in which the long-time residents were of the same ethnicity as the refugees, spoke the same language, and were of the same religion.  As a matter of fact, in many instances they were back in the country in which they or their ancestors had lived.

There were also Jewish refugees.  To start with, there were 17,000 from East Jerusalem and the West Bank, who had been expelled by Jordan.  They were quickly resettled in Israel.  But there were many more.  Beginning with the outbreak of the conflict with Israel, the Arab states compelled Jews to leave.  As distinct from the Arabs in the Palestinian Mandate, many of whom had been recent arrivals at the Palestinian Mandate from neighboring areas, the Jews in the Arab states descended from families that had been residents of these states for centuries.  The number of those expelled was about 800,000.  They soon found new homes, about 600,000 of them in Israel.  Many from Northwest Africa settled in France.  Others settled in the United States.

General Help for Refugees

The number of people displaced in the Middle East as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict did pose a humanitarian problem, but it was much smaller than the problem posed in Europe by the millions of Germans, Poles, and Ukrainians who were expelled from the areas in which they had made their homes for generations.  Germans were expelled from areas which had been predominantly German for many centuries.  Poles were expelled from East Galicia, Ukrainians from West Galicia.  All of these refugees were resettled among people of the same ethnicity.  There were also Jewish refugees who had survived the Holocaust and did not want to go back to the countries that they had come from.  They were resettled as well.

The United States had been in the lead at the United Nations in the post-World War II period to deal with the refugee problem.  Organizations with broad mandates were created.  It led to the establishment of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, created in 1950.  Before establishing the High Commissioner’s Office, the UNGA, acting in December 1949, adopted Res. 302(IV), which established the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  (It is today the largest organization within the UN system, with about 30,000 employees, 99% of whom are Palestinian.)

The initial assumption on the part of the major financial contributors to UNRWA, particularly the United States, was that the Agency would lay the economic foundation for the integration of the refugees into the countries in which they were living.  That is what was being done with the great majority of other refugees.  UNRWA, as its name indicates, was to provide not only relief, but “works,” namely economic opportunities in the places in which the refugees lived.  It would help them get resettled.

From 1951 to 1963 UNRWA was under the leadership of three Directors, all of them U.S. citizens.  Two of them had had experience working on the Marshall Plan.  The third had been an Assistant Secretary of Agriculture.  They tried their best to use their experience to encourage economic development for the benefit of the refugees.  But as the years passed, it became clear that UNRWA would not be able to discharge its economic development mission.  The 1960 UNRWA Annual Report contains the following observation: “Ten years of UNRWA history bear out the fact that major development projects designed with the specific purpose of resettling refugees are unacceptable to refugees and host governments alike.  It is the Director’s opinion that major development projects in the Middle East should proceed independently of UNRWA and without direct reference to the resettlement of refugees.” (Emphasis supplied.)

The Role of the UN in Preventing an Israeli/Palestinian Peace Agreement

It was thus in 1960 that UNRWA, which had been created to make a major contribution to peace, gave up on that goal.  By 1960 it had become clear that Palestinian refugees could not be resettled in the countries in which most of them lived.  They were a unique exception from the generally successful resettlement effort that had been undertaken for the millions of refugees of the late 1940’s.  Given that realization, UNRWA gave up the goal of providing economic assistance and committed itself to the creation of a system of segregated governmental services for the Palestinian refugees.  These services were to be provided in the fields of education, health, relief and social services and were to be completely separated from the services provided to the fellow-Arab population among whom they lived.  That program of segregated services was the program to which the United States was the major contributor until 2018.

Special attention needs to be paid to UNRWA’s educational services.  They were designed to instill in “refugee” children early in life the basic concept that the State of Israel does not have a right to exist, that they had a “right of return” and needed to be ready to migrate to Israel and help end the State’s existence.

As the years passed, the people exercising influence over UNRWA became concerned that as the refugee population got older, it would start shrinking and thus become less of a demographic threat to Israel.  It was to deal with that issue that the term “Palestinian refugee” was re-defined in 1965 to include not only the children of refugees but the grandchildren along the paternal line as well.  In 1982, the demographic issue was considered once again, and the decision was made that Palestinian refugee status would be inherited along the paternal line in perpetuity.  That is how we got to the present 5.5 million.  (Mahmoud Abbas claims it is 6 million.)

The UN General Assembly Endorsement of the Claim of a “Right of Return”

Though the UNRWA leadership had by 1960 reached the position that its activities would be based on the proposition that Palestinian refugees should be helped to exercise a “right of return” to Israel, this had not been the UN system’s formal policy until 1974.  An entirely new developments at the UN took place in 1974 as the result of an informal and carefully hidden understanding reached between Fidel Castro of Cuba and Muammar Qaddafi of Libya, under which they would work together to use the Non-Aligned Movement to create a majority coalition at the UNGA, a coalition that would pursue the goals of weakening the international position of the United States (Castro’s objective) and ending the existence of Israel (Qaddafi’s objective).

It was in keeping with that new approach that the UNGA, at its 1974 session, granted the Palestine Liberation Organization observer status, and then invited the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, to address the Assembly, which he did, at great length, on November 13, 1974.  In his speech he declared that “Zionism is an ideology that is imperialist, colonialist, racist.”  He also made it clear that he was committed to the one-state solution, the end of the State of Israel.  Nine days later the UNGA adopted Res. 3236 (XXIX), which declared it to be “the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they had been displaced and uprooted” and called for their return.  The reality is that the UNGA does not have the legal authority to establish a “right.”  The UN Charter provides in Article 10 that the UNGA may only “make recommendations.”  Thus Res. 3236 just pretends to establish a legal right.

In 1975 the UNGA, under its new de facto leadership, adopted the “Zionism is Racism” resolution, Res. 3379 (XXX), which attained a great deal of attention.  But it also adopted Res. 3375 (XXX), the resolution which established the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which did not receive the attention it deserved.  It was Res. 3375 which institutionalized within the UN system the commitment to end the existence of the State of Israel through the mass migration to Israel of all Palestinian refugees living in adjacent territory.  Although not legally binding, it has since 1974 served as a recommendation to the UN Security Council to accomplish that result.

To make sure that the Committee would be able to get its message out internationally, the UNGA established in 1977 the Special Unit on Palestinian Rights in the UN Secretariat, which was enlarged in 1979 to become the Division for Palestinian Rights in the UN Secretariat.  The Division, consisting of close to twenty UN employees, has the function to get the pro-Palestinian message out to the international community in the name of the United Nations.

The Information Note on the UN website articulates explicitly the position CEIRPP and thus of DPR states with regard to the engagement of CEIRPP and thus of DPR: “The Committee considers that a durable solution to the Palestine refugee problem can only be achieved in the context of the inalienable right of return to the homes and property from which the Palestinians have been displaced over the past decades.”

The establishment of CEIRPP and DPR in 1975 made it clear that the UNGA was not committed to an effort to help Palestinian refugees but was committed to ending the existence of the State of Israel.  To make sure that this commitment would not be affected by a shrinking of the Palestinian refugee population through the death of the original refugees but would in effect be expanded, the original definition of Palestinian refugees, which included their children, was initially changed to include grandchildren, but was in 1982 expanded to cover descendants along the paternal line in perpetuity.  That is how we get to 5.5 million in 2019.

Most observers of international affairs are well aware of the fact that the United Nations system has for many years engaged in programs to defame and delegitimize one of its member states, the State of Israel.  But very few of them are aware that the UNGA has gone beyond that.  It has created and has maintained an apparatus that contravenes the efforts to attain an Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement.  In violation of the basic principles of the UN Charter, the UNGA has endorsed the one-state solution.  That goal is to be achieved through the exercise of the so-called “right of return”, compelling Israel to accept the mass immigration of more than 5,500,000 Arabs of Palestinian ancestry, people now living in states and territories adjacent to Israel.  Their arrival in Israel would reduce the Jewish population to a minority and thus end the existence of the State.

How can the “Right of Return” Obstacle to Peace be Overcome?

The fact that the UNGA has created and continues to renew annually the mandates of the apparatus that seeks the end of a Jewish-majority state is not generally known, even by some of the officials responsible for votes cast by their countries in the UNGA.  But it is certainly well known to the Palestinian leadership.  How can these leaders be expected to engage in serious peace negotiations with Israel, when they are well aware of the fact that the UNGA has endorsed and continues to endorse annually the claim of a “right of return,” a claim to end Israel’s existence?

There is no doubt that there are member states of the UN that want to see an end to the existence of the State of Israel.  There are others that vote for CEIRPP and DPR, motivated by a desire to oppose the US position.  But there are many states whose heads of government would be surprised or even shocked if they were made aware of the fact that their country has voted Yes or has voted Abstain on resolutions that commit the UN to ending the existence of Israel through the mass migration to Israel of 5.5 million residents of the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

Adoption of CEIRPP and DPR resolutions require a two-thirds vote because the resolutions have budgetary consequences.  The two-thirds majority would not be there if heads of government that have no animus against Israel or the United States were fully aware of the fact that they are failing to oppose UN resolutions that seek to end the existence of Israel.  There may not even be a simple majority. That is why it is so critically important to get the message to these high-level decision-makers, state by state, that they are allowing the UN to place a major obstacle on the road to an Israeli/Palestinian peace and thus cause the UN to violate the very principles on which the UN was founded.  Given their friendly outlook toward Israel and the United States they need to give instructions for a change in their countries’ votes.

Amb. Richard Schifter chairs the American Jewish International Relations Institute and is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs and special assistant on the National Security Council.  

 (Reprinted from the Jewish Policy Center Website)


Ambassador Schifter in the Times of Israel: The Bahrain Conference and the “Right of Return”


Richard Schifter
Times of Israel
July 3, 2019

The Bahrain conference: What many have overlooked

The PA has no interest in the $50 billion of aid to Palestinians if it means giving up their claim of ‘right of return’


White House senior adviser Jared Kushner talks to the audience during the opening session of the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25, 2019. (Bahrain News Agency via AP)

Discussions of last week’s Bahrain conference have stressed the point that the conference was designed to deal only with economic issues. It was to be followed by a conference that would be attended by representatives of Israel and the Palestinian Authority at which the political issues would be discussed and, hopefully, a peace agreement would be reached.

What appears to have been overlooked is that the Bahrain conference directly addressed the most important political issue in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, an issue that must be resolved if peace is to be attained: the Palestinian claim of a “right of return.” That is the claim that calls for the mass migration to Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria of about 40,000 surviving Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 Arab wars against Israel plus about 5,500,000 children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Palestinian refugees. All of them are now served by the UN Relief and Works Agency, which keeps them classified as Palestinian refugees, who are deliberately segregated from other members of the Arab communities among which they live. Their mass migration to Israel would end Israel as a majority-Jewish state and thus end the existence of the State of Israel. The claim of a “right of return” is thus designed to attain the long-term objective of the anti-Zionists: the end of a Jewish state in the Middle East.

The goal of the Bahrain conference was to make a major initial contribution to the cause of peace. That would be done by providing significant help for the economic development of the above-mentioned five political entities, West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.  New job opportunities would be created through investments, totaling $50 billion, that would help all their residents, including the “Palestinian refugees,” who would become fully integrated into the communities in which they have lived for all or most of their lives.  

Mahmoud Abbas and his colleagues in the Palestinian Authority leadership have rejected the proposed assistance program. They have made it clear that they are not interested in a program designed to provide a better life for the millions of Palestinians who are classified as “refugees” if it means giving up their plan to end the existence of the majority-Jewish state through mass immigration.

On the other hand, it appears that the leadership of some Arab states and also some Palestinian businessmen are sympathetic to the Bahrain conference proposals and are indeed prepared to accept the existence of the State of Israel in the Middle East. The question that is open now is whether these supporters of economic progress will be prepared to assert themselves in the period ahead, help keep the basic concept of a two-state solution alive and ultimately lead to its implementation. We’ll have to wait a while and see whether the Bahrain conference does have such positive results.

What is clear, however, is that there is no point to entering into a discussion now of borders, the status of East Jerusalem, and other political issues, if the Palestinian Authority continues to insist on its claim of a “right of return.” It should be quite obvious that no government of Israel will sign a peace agreement that embodies a program to end Israel’s existence as a State.

It so happens that in the Camp David negotiations of 2000, in which Prime Minister Barak and PLO leader Arafat represented the two sides, President Clinton, in his “Clinton Parameters,” came up with a similar proposal for the “right of return” issue, a proposal which also called for a program of substantial financial assistance to the “Palestinian refugees.”  The Parameters made it clear that the proposed peace agreement would not compel Israel to accept Palestinian immigrants based on the “right of return,” but that President Clinton would help get the cooperation of a number of countries throughout the world that would accept Palestinian refugees as immigrants and that he would seek to raise the billions needed to resettle the migrants. As we know, Arafat did not accept the Clinton proposal, which would indeed have provided the two-state solution.

In analyzing the problem that we continue to face in any effort to attain an Israeli/Palestinian peace, we need to note that it was close to a hundred years ago that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini developed the ideology of most emphatic rejection of Jewish migration to the Palestinian Mandate. The State of Israel has now been in existence for 71 years, but the Palestinian leadership continues to adhere to al-Husseini’s ideology: no Jewish-majority state. As we in AJIRI have noted, this outlook, which rejects peace, is supported by the UN General Assembly through its annual enactment of the resolutions that extend the mandates of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR). CEIRPP and DPR are committed to advancing the Palestinian claim of a “right of return.” How, indeed, can we expect the Palestinian leadership to give up a claim that the UNGA endorses year after year?

What the outcome of last week’s Bahrain conference demonstrates is that it is critically important for all relevant decision makers on the international scene to understand that to attain an Israeli/Palestinian peace we need a Palestinian leadership that accepts the existence of the State of Israel and gives up the idea of ending Israel’s existence through a large-scale population transfer. Votes against the CEIRPP and DPR would play an important role in achieving that result. That would be an important step forward in realizing the promise of the Bahrain conference.

Former Ambassador Richard Schifter, Chairman of the Board of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI), has had a distinguished career as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. and in government. Since 2005 he has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of AJIRI.