When US President Donald Trump announced that the United States was recognizing the reality of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, many people argued that the move was much more than it was: the anti-Israel camp stated that it gave Israel something for nothing, while the pro-Israel camp celebrated the end of Jerusalem as a negotiating point in the Arab-Israel conflict.
Both points of view were incorrect.
The US decision was a simple matter of realizing the reality that Jerusalem has held all of the key government functions of the State of Israel since its founding. The Trump administration clarified that its decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem did nothing to preordain the borders or status of Jerusalem in a mutually-agreed upon peace between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority.
But maybe it is time to take some actions that take a critical issue off of the table, namely the “Right of Return” of Palestinian “refugees.”
On December 11, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 194 which included a clause which Palestinian Arabs hold as a sacred truth in Article 11:
“Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;
“Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations;”
As of this time, there are fewer than 30,000 refugees related to UNGA resolution 194 that remain alive, nearly 70 years after the resolution’s passing. UNRWA, the UN agency tasked with providing services to the 1948 refugees (and later on, their descendants) was established one year later, on December 8, 1949. That UN agency ultimately created a completely unique distorted definition of a “refugee” to allow UNRWA to survive past its mandate and grow to accommodate the descendants of refugees.
But the bizarre abuse of the English language for UNRWA did nothing to alter the actual meaning of UN Resolution 194.
As a matter of moving the peace process forward, Israel should coordinate with the United Nations to assess which of the 1948 Palestinian Arab refugees seek to return to cities in Israel and live in peace with their Israeli neighbors, and which ones would prefer to receive compensation. As Israel does so, it need not ask anything of the Palestinian Authority in return.
Concluding one of the key agenda items of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the UN can hasten the dismantling of UNRWA and fold its functions into the global refugee agency, the UNHRC. The schools and hospitals of UNRWA would be transferred initially to UNHRC and then to the Palestinian Authority. The refugee “camps” run by UNRWA would be dissolved into regular local neighborhoods.
The Trump administration has begun to take actions against the Palestinian Authority, including withholding funds to UNRWA. Israeli actions on the “right of return” can begin the process of ending the funding – and the UN agency – completely.
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