In the News

Richard Schifter, Legendary US Jewish Diplomat and Human Rights Advocate, Dies at Age 97

by Algemeiner Staff

Ambassador Richard Schifter, who died on Oct. 4, 2020, seen addressing the United Nations. Photo: UN Watch.

Richard Schifter, one of the the US Jewish community’s foremost diplomats and advocates, passed away on Sunday at the age of 97, drawing a flood of tributes for a lifetime of achievement in Jewish and international affairs.

A former assistant secretary of state during the Reagan administration who fled Nazi-annexed Austria as a teenager, Schifter would be remembered as an “American patriot and a proud son of the Jewish people,” Gil Kapen — a board member of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI), a think tank founded by Schifter — told The Algemeiner on Monday.

Born in Vienna to Polish-Jewish emigres in 1923, Schifter was the only member of his family to receive a visa to enter the US following the “Anschluss” — Adolf Hitler’s annexation of Austria into the German Reich in March 1938.

Five years after arriving in America, he returned to Europe with the US Army as one of the “Ritchie Boys” — German-speaking military intelligence officers, many of them Jews, who were trained at Camp Ritchie in Maryland in psychological warfare operations.

While serving in Europe, Schifter learned that most of his family had been murdered in the Holocaust.

After returning to the US and graduating from Yale Law School in 1951, Schifter began a distinguished career in the private sector, becoming one of the main attorneys for the Oglala Sioux tribe of South Dakota in its repeated battles with the US government. He moved into diplomacy in the 1980s, representing the US at the UN Commission on Human Rights and at the UN Security Council, achieving the rank of ambassador.

In 1985, then-President Ronald Reagan appointed Schifter as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, a position he held until 1992. During President Bill Clinton’s administration, Schifter served as a special assistant in the US National Security Council for nearly a decade.

Schifter founded AJIRI after leaving government in 2001. Much of the institute’s work focused on countering the demonization of Israel at the United Nations, such as the labeling of Zionism as a form of racism as well as the comparisons drawn between the Jewish state and the former apartheid regime in South Africa.

In a 2014 interview with The Tower magazine, Schifter argued that negative voting behavior at the UN with regard to Israel would only change once delegates were explicitly instructed to reject anti-Israel resolutions by their heads of government.

“A significant number of ambassadors in New York vote against Israel without instructions from their governments,” he  explained. “So the answer to the problem is that you reach out to heads of government. You get them to give instructions to the ambassadors on how to vote.”

Kapen praised Schifter as “a towering figure who made a huge positive impact on the world.”

“As a soldier, diplomat and fighter for freedom and human rights, he lived a legendary life,” Kapen said. “His tireless efforts on behalf of democracy and against the unfair treatment of Israel at the UN continued until the last days of his life.”

Schifter’s “wisdom and his many accomplishments were matched only by his kindness and humility,” Kapen recalled.  “He won the undying admiration and affection of all who knew him.”

Other warm tributes to Schifter came from Alfred Moses, also a former American diplomat, as well as US Jewish organizations.

“Dick Schifter dedicated his life to helping others,” Moses — chair of the Geneva-based advocacy organization UN Watch — said in a statement. “Having lost his parents and much of his family in the Holocaust, he gave of himself, professionally and personally to advance human rights and protect the dignity of people around the world.”

A statement from the Washington, DC-based B’nai B’rith International organization lauded Schifter as “an inspirational leader, accomplished diplomat, public servant, staunch advocate for human rights, a resolute defender of Israel, a strong proponent of trans-Atlantic relations and of America’s place in the world.”

The group said that it had reached an agreement with AJIRI in September to merge, in order to “continue to advance the groundbreaking work both organizations have undertaken separately in the realm of fair treatment for Israel on the world stage.”

Paying tribute from the Israeli government, Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz called Schifter  “a symbol of perseverance and strength who achieved much in his lifetime and worked endlessly on improving Israel’s position in the UN,” in a Twitter post on Sunday.


Former US Diplomat and Presidential Adviser Richard Schifter Dead at 97

(Times of Israel)

Hailed as a defender of Israel, the Austrian-born adviser to three American presidents was the only member of his family to escape the Holocaust


US President Ronald Reagan meets with Richard Schifter, US representative to the UN Human Rights Committee, in the Oval Office of the White House, February 2, 1984, in Washington. (AP Photo/White House Photo/Mary Anne Fackelman)

US President Ronald Reagan meets with Richard Schifter, US representative to the UN Human Rights Committee, in the Oval Office of the White House, February 2, 1984, in Washington. (AP Photo/White House Photo/Mary Anne Fackelman)

Former top US diplomat Richard Schifter has died aged 97, according to American Jewish organizations and Israel’s Foreign Ministry director general.

Schifter fled his native Austria to the US at the age of 15 just after the Nazi takeover of the country. The rest of his family could not obtain visas and were killed by the Nazis.

He served in WWII as an American intelligence officer, part of the US military’s German-speaking “Ritchie Boys” unit.

After his discharge in 1948, he went to Yale Law School, became an attorney, and would go on to represent Native American tribes in disputes with the US government.

US Ambassador Richard Schifter (left), special assistant to US President Bill Clinton at the time, left, with former Austrian chancellor Erhard Busek in Bucharest, November 16, 1999. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

He got his first diplomatic posting in 1981 and would spend more than 20 years in the American diplomatic service as, variously, assistant secretary of state for humanitarian affairs in the Reagan and Bush administrations, US envoy to the UN’s Commission on Human Rights and UNESCO Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, and deputy US representative to the UN Security Council.

In 1993, former US president Bill Clinton made him a special adviser to the president and the National Security Council. Since leaving that post in 2001, Schifter headed the American Jewish International Relations Institute, for which he often spoke publicly about the UN and Israel.

He was remembered Sunday as an advocate for Israel.

“Ambassador Richard Schifter was a symbol of perseverance and strength who achieved much in his lifetime and worked endlessly on improving Israel’s position in the UN,” Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Ushpiz tweeted on Sunday. “My condolences to his family and friends. May his memory be a blessing.”

B’nai B’rith mourned him as “an inspirational leader, accomplished diplomat, public servant, staunch advocate for human rights, a resolute defender of Israel, a strong proponent of trans-Atlantic relations and of America’s place in the world.

“Notwithstanding his immense achievements, Ambassador Schifter’s persona was one of humility and civility,” the organization said.

The American Jewish Committee hailed his “amazing life.”

AJIRI Vice Chair Stuart Sloame Speaks to Fifth Avenue Synagogue About AJIRI’s Mission (link to video)

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.