The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was created in December 1948 as a temporary agency to handle shelter, medical assistance and education for the roughly 700,000 Arabs who left what became Israel. Over seventy years later it continues to artificially extend its mandate.
UNRWA’s term was to end “at the earliest practicable date,” as outlined in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 which stated 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;”
In December 1949 the UN General Assembly issued Resolution 302 which built upon the nature of UNRWA while also making clear the desire to end its existence quickly as stated in article 5:
“Recognizes that, without prejudice to the provisions of paragraph 11 of General Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, continued assistance for the relief of the Palestine refugees is necessary to prevent conditions of starvation and distress among them and to further conditions of peace and stability, and that constructive measures should be undertaken at an early date with a view to the termination of international assistance for relief;”
One would imagine a primary focus of UNRWA would have been to help the Arabs learn to live in peace to facilitate their “repatriation.” Not so much.
The war waged by five Arab countries to destroy Israel in 1948-9 continued with cross-border skirmishes and wars leading to the 1967 war which all made clear that the refugees had no interest in living “at peace with their [Israeli] neighbours.” Consequently, no Arab refugees came to Israel, UNRWA continued to roll along and millions of dollars of international assistance continued to flow.
Only with the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995 did the Palestinian leadership express a willingness to recognize Israel. As such, Israel gave the newly-created Palestinian Authority the Gaza Strip and several towns in Judea and Samaria called “Area A.” However, the new reality that Gaza was under the rule of the Palestinian Authority made no impact on UNRWA which maintained that its mission continued until the refugees (at this point descendants of refugees who were born in Gaza) move into their ancestors’ towns in Israel. Seemingly, being under Palestinian rule was irrelevant to UNRWA’s term.
But in a pivot of mental gymnastics, UNRWA now claims that its mandate will continue until a Palestinian state is established.
Consider the virtual get-together on April 22, 2020 of the Second Ministerial Strategic Dialogue on UNRWA. The participants underlined that:
“UNRWA must continue to operate in fulfillment of its UN mandate until a durable and just solution to the Palestine refugee issue is found in accordance with international law and relevant UN resolutions, including UN General Assembly resolution 194, and within the context of a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of the two-state solution.“
UNRWA’s original mission was to help displaced people until they returned to their homes or were compensated. No longer. It first extended its mission to assist refugees in the physical return to homes, a partisan action which was never part of its mandate. It has now conditioned its term on the creation of a Palestinian state, further inserting itself as a highly biased political entity.
There are many reasons to terminate UNRWA and fold it into the general United Nations agency which handles refugees around the world. There are ever-increasing reasons to starve UNRWA of all funding and donations as well.
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