The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has long perpetuated the refugee issue rather than contributing to its resolution. UNRWA’s practice of artificially listing as “refugees” people who are firmly settled in other countries and do not have a justified fear of persecution conflicts with U.S. laws pertaining to refugee status and derivative refugee status as well as the laws of most other donor countries.

August 5, 2014
The UNRWA is Hamas
Daniel Greenfield

The UNRWA is on the front lines of the Hamas War in Gaza. In the headlines, its schools are forever being fired on or found to be stockpiling rockets. If individual Gazans are being used as human shields, the UNRWA often seems as if it is one big organizational human shield.

The “UN” part of the UNRWA, the blue logos and symbols, fool us into thinking of it as an international humanitarian organization. But the UNRWA in Gaza functions as a large Palestinian Arab organization with a smattering of foreign supervisory staff.

And those foreign staffers often tend to leave during a conflict.








The UNRWA is not an international organization operating in the Middle East. Effectively it’s a local Arab Muslim organization funded and regulated internationally. Since the UNRWA classifies 80% of Gazans as “refugees”, it administers the biggest welfare state in the world on their behalf. Like the Palestinian Authority, the UNRWA’s welfare state is run locally and funded internationally.

The UNRWA is the biggest employer in the West Bank and Gaza after the Palestinian Authority and the vast majority of its employees are “locally recruited”. Varying figures place the share of local employees at between 90 and 99 percent.

Even though there are more Arab Muslims living in the West Bank than in Gaza, there are more “official” refugees in Gaza, which means that more UNRWA funding and efforts are directed there. The UNRWA only runs 96 schools in the West Bank, but it runs 245 schools in Gaza. It employs less than 3,000 education staffers in the West Bank, but over 10,000 in Gaza.

Why does Hamas, which is obsessed with brainwashing the next generation into martyrdom, allow a foreign organization to run an educational system for 232,000 pupils?

It’s because in Gaza, Hamas and the UNRWA are the same thing.

The UNRWA’s Gaza staff has its own union. In the 2012 election, a pro-Hamas bloc won the support of most of the union with 25 out of 27 seats on a union board.

When there was talk of reforming the UNRWA by removing Hamas members from its ranks, the editor of a Hamas paper wrote that, “Laying off the agency employees because of their political affiliation means laying off all the employees of the aid agency, because…they are all members of the ‘resistance,’ in its various forms.” 

The official word from Hamas was that it and the UNRWA are the same thing. The UNRWA’s vast majority of locally sourced Gazans are part of Hamas.

The UNRWA does not see that as a problem.

“I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll,” a former UNRWA Commissioner General said, “and I don’t see that as a crime.”

“Hamas as a political organization does not mean that every member is a militant, and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another,” he said.

Also if the UNRWA fired Hamas members from its Gaza staff, it would have no one left.

UNRWA-elementary-school-in-Gaza.jpgHamas control over the UNRWA in Gaza is reflected in the schools which promote Islamic terrorism.

 It’s unsurprising that UNRWA schools have repeatedly become flashpoints in conflicts between Israel and Hamas. The members of the Islamic terrorist group aren’t invading UNRWA schools to use them as human shields. The UNRWA schools are Hamas bases of recruitment and operation.

The current accusations and counter-accusations over attacks on and from UNRWA schools are a reenactment of the same set of events taking place in 2009. Only the locations and the names have changed. The same headlines, “Israeli shelling kills dozens at UN school in Gaza,” and “Massacre of Innocents as UN school is shelled” are repeating all over again.

Then, as now, Hamas launched attacks on Israeli forces from around a UNRWA school. Then it turned out that the attack had happened outside the school and no one had actually died inside the school. Nothing has changed since then. The “massacres” in which Hamas terrorists using UNRWA schools as a base are killed pop up in every paper. The UNRWA repeats the same lies.

Then it “discovers” Hamas rockets in three of its schools. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg because every UNRWA school is a Hamas school.

The UNRWA has admitted that Hamas uses its schools to store rockets. It admits that it has Hamas members in its ranks. It admits that rockets have been fired “into Israel from the vicinity of UN facilities and residential areas.”

What it refuses to admit is that it should in any way be held accountable for functioning as an arm of a terrorist organization.

If an organization consists largely of Hamas members who use it pursue Hamas goals, then the organization is Hamas.








The UNRWA is Hamas.

Hamas use of the UNRWA as its public face is a war crime, but terrorists commit war crimes without a second thought. But the UN and the UNRWA are complicit in the war crime by allowing Hamas to go on exploiting the UN brand. It’s unfortunately commonplace for humanitarian organizations in war zones to collaborate with terrorists and guerrillas in one form or another. But the UNRWA isn’t just paying money to Hamas in exchange for being allowed to operate, the way that many groups in war zones do, it has allowed Hamas to turn its operations in Gaza into an extension of the terrorist group.

Hamas is listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. It’s against the law for the United States to fund it. By funding the UNRWA, the United States is paying Hamas and participating in its war crimes. Using civilian and humanitarian facilities for military purposes is a war crime. Using them to stage attacks against civilians by attackers out of uniform adds further crimes to the total.

The United States provided $130 million to the UNRWA in 2013.The UNRWA’s continued operations in Gaza would not be viable without American funding. Congressional investigations and condemnations have led to nothing. The UNRWA has adopted neutrality policies, but it has refused to put up a firewall between it and Hamas. And it can’t, because it has become an arm of Hamas.

When Kerry visited Gaza in 2009, the UNRWA’s Gaza chief passed along a letter to him from Hamas. The incident showed that not only was the locally recruited staff working for Hamas, but the UNRWA leadership was clearly cooperating with the terrorist group.

The original “refugees” that the UNRWA was set up to cater to are for the most part dead. The UNRWA has become another UN boondoggle funding a welfare state for “refugee camps” that are older, bigger and more developed than many Middle Eastern cities.

Meanwhile the UNRWA has become the public face of Hamas.

UNRWA staff act as terrorists when they use UNRWA facilities for military purposes, but then switch back to UNRWA when Israel fights back. Hamas carries out attacks. The UNRWA demands ceasefires. Hamas uses UNRWA schools and the UNRWA denounces Israel when an attack happens.

The UNRWA has become the mask that Hamas wears. It’s a tactical asset for a terrorist group that empowers its human shield strategy. The UNRWA is not only endangering Israeli civilians, but it is also endangering Gazans who are exploited as human shields by members of a terrorist group masquerading as the staff of an international humanitarian organization.

This issue has come up before and the UNRWA’s long record of evasions and denials, admitting the substance of the claims about the Hamas takeover of the UNRWA, while insisting that its Hamas members are neutral and that all the rocket stores and rocket attacks around UNRWA facilities are unrelated to the Hamas members on its staff, are not good enough anymore.

It’s time to defund the UNRWA.







UNRWA apologists will insist that without it, Hamas will have full control over the educational and social services of Gaza. But Hamas already controls those things through the UNRWA while using American taxpayer money to spread hate and promote terrorism.

Hamas would not tolerate an outside organization controlling education in Gaza. The only reason it tolerates the UNRWA because it can use its people in the schools while the UNRWA funds the whole thing with American and European money. The moment the UNRWA is defunded, Hamas will kick it out and the same teachers will go on teaching the same hateful material, but without the UN logos.

The United States should not be in the business of funding the corruption of young minds. Money should not be taken from American schools to fund the spread of hatred and terrorism.

Bills have been filed and investigations have been launched. Congressmen and Senators have looked into the UNRWA, clucked their tongues and denounced its practices, but now it’s time to take action by defunding the UNRWA.

Daniel Greenfield is a New York City based writer and blogger and a Shillman Journalism Fellow of the David Horowitz Freedom Center.


 August 5, 2014
UNRWA – The Hand that Feeds Palestinian Terrorists (With Our Money)
ACD (American Center for Democracy)
Rachel Ehrenfeld








UNRWA has always denied links to Palestinian terrorism, or downplayed the significance of the relationship. As UNRWA’s former Commissioner, Peter Hansen, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in October 2004, “I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll, and I don’t see that as a crime.”

UNRWA began its emergency food and shelter aid programs to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon in May 1950. Over the years, though its official mandate hasn’t been modified, UNRWA has been providing governmental and development services. UNRWA’s former legal advisor and general counsel, James G. Lindsay, published an important study in 2009: “Fixing UNRWA: Repairing the UN’s Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees.” Mr. Lindsay shows how UNRWA changed its function from “status-based” (treating Palestinians as refugees) to “need-based” (treating Palestinians as dependents). More than six decades later, and despite the establishment of an independent Palestinian governing body, UNRWA continues to operate in parallel with the government, both in the PA-ruled West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The world community facilitated Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian Authority election, when it allowed Hamas to run under the name “List of Change and Reform.” In June 2007, Hamas took over control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Since then, despite repeated promises to cut off funds to Hamas, international aid organizations and many countries have continued funneling money to Gaza, purportedly as humanitarian aid, but more recently to fund the “Gaza Administration.” Hamas’s rule over Gaza does not seem to be an obstacle to funding it.

Although the designation of Hamas terrorists as individuals is lacking, the organization and its various entities are designated by the Treasury Department on its Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN). But the UN does not list Hamas as a terrorist organization at all. It only lists the Taliban and al Qaeda as terrorists. A May 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report included UNRWA’s admission that it does not screen prospective staff or aid recipients for ties to Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad (IJG), or other local terrorist groups.

The GAO report stated:

“According to UNRWA, the UN Security Council has various working groups for terrorism-related issues, but the Sanctions Committee’s UN 1267 list is currently the only such UN terrorist screening list available…. The list is limited to those individuals or entities affiliated with Al-Qaida and the Taliban and thus does not specifically include major regional groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which the United States has designated as foreign terrorist organizations.”

By the end of 2007, UNRWA employed more than 29,000. Less than 200 were listed as “international,” the rest were Palestinian, organized in unions. UNRWA’s Arab workers union is controlled by Hamas. In 2003, Hamas won more than 90 percent of the votes. In 2005, UNRWA provided a large increase in salaries for its thousands of workers. Since HAMAS deducts three to five percent of the UNRWA-paid annual salaries as membership fees, the raise contributed directly to Hamas’s coffers. Through another affiliate, the Islamic Bloc, Hamas also controls the UNRWA teachers union and UNRWA-funded schools.

UNRWA facilities and personnel have also been tied to numerous terrorist attacks on Israel. Its schools have been used as meeting places for Hamas terrorists and weapons storage, and UNRWA’s Hamas-affiliated staff members have used UNRWA equipment to transport arms for use in terrorist activities. For example, IDF-captured documents and evidence during Operation Cast Lead in 2008 showed that the UNRWA school compound across from the Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis was used by Hamas to launch rockets into Israel, and that other UNRWA schools were used to store weapons and to hide Hamas operatives.

On January 12, 2009, Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter stated that Shifa Hospital, Gaza City’s main medical center, had become the de facto Hamas headquarters, and that: “Shifa Hospital has long ago ceased to be just a hospital, just as the UN humanitarian and health services in Gaza long ago ceased to be just humanitarian services providing food and medical services.” Still, UNRWA’s response was: “Where any abuse of UN installations is discovered the UN carries out disciplinary action, including dismissals.” The known number of rockets found and fired from UNRWA facilities shows that the disciplinary measures, if any, were ineffective.

Not surprisingly, in January 2011, Hamas announced that it won 70.5 percent of the Gaza’s Nursing Association’s representatives’ vote. Their competitors, another terrorist designated group, the Islamic Jihad (IJG), won 29.5 percent. UNRWA pays their salaries.

In 2009, following Israel’s operation Cast Lead, conducted to stop Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket attacks on Israel, the European Commission pledged at least $554 million to Gaza in “humanitarian aid.” In June 2010, the Obama administration promised $400 million in aid to the West Bank and Gaza. In March 2009, the U.S. pledged $300 million earmarked for Gaza and $600 million to the West Bank. Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE promised billions more.  Their promises get them lots of publicity, while they let the West foot the bill. UNRWA annually transfers about $200 million in cash to Gaza.

UNRWA does not rely only on pledges. The UN agency raises money for Gaza through its website, with payments going through WorldPay (part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group), the Arab Bank PLC in Gaza, and HSBC in Amman, Jordan. Those funds come in addition to UNRWA’s annual budget ($400 million). How much of it goes to Hamas?

Incredibly, UNRWA, having long violated and subverted U.S. principles and interests, continues to call its own tune, while the U.S. pays for it.

U.S. contributions to UNRWA have totaled more than $4.9 billion since it’s inception in 1950…[and] have averaged over $200 million annually since 2007. On July 3, 2014, the GAO’s report on U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians noted: “It is unclear whether the PA government established in June 2014 is either subject to the ‘undue influence’ of Hamas or ‘Hamas-controlled,’ thus potentially triggering the conditions on U.S. aid cited above.” The report noted that just before Hamas began shelling Israel with rockets most recently, the Obama Administration did “not appear to have made a determination that either undue influence or Hamas control applies in this case.”

If the U.S.’s long history of beefing up the Palestinians, the complete disregard to the Palestinian Authority’s support of Hamas’s agenda, the Administration’s more recent efforts to assist the Muslim Brotherhood everywhere, and its attempt to stop Israel’s dismantling of the terror pit in Gaza are any indication, rest assure they’ll find a way to continue sending U.S. taxpayer money to Gaza, directly and through UNRWA.



January 20, 2014
UNRWA’s Role in Middle East Peace
Michael Curtis


UNRWA has not led to the economic development that was supposed to occur, but conversely, has implanted a culture of permanent dependency.

Even though UNRWA is supposed to be an objective organization, because of the anti-Israel bias evident since its creation, through anti-Israeli textbooks, for example, or naming facilities after terrorists, it appears unwilling to encourage Palestinians to find any peaceful solution of the conflict — not to mention what a peaceful solution would mean to its own “job security.”

It would be more productive for genuine peace in the region if the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees took over the function of assisting the Palestinians as it has so ably done for all other refugees.

It must be most disconcerting for those promoting the Palestinian narrative of victimhood to observe the events in refugee camps — violent protests and demonstrations, manifested by burning tires, blocked roads, and a general strike — in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in January 2014.

The violence resulted not from any action of Israel but rather from a strike that began on December 3, 2013 of 4,500 Palestinians who had lost their jobs at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA]. The organization was short of funds and had cut expenditures, thus reducing some activities and staff.

The strike led to the closing of schools, food shortages, and the disruption of social services including medical care and garbage collection. In one camp housing 15,000 people, all health services were suspended except for polio vaccinations for very young children. The Palestinian Authority [PA], so eager to proclaim a Palestinian state, appears incapable of policing its own people or ending the anarchy among them.

The unrest among the Palestinians throws an illuminating spotlight on UNRWA, an organization that should never have been established as a separate United Nations organ and that should now be eliminated. All refugees in the world, except one group of people, are assisted by a single organization, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC), set up to protect and support refugees by UN General Assembly Resolution 319 (IV) in December 1949.

Only the Palestinian refugees have their own body, UNRWA, created by UN General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV) in December 1949. It was to be responsible for direct relief and works programs for 700,000 Palestinian refugees. Its definition of “refugees,” is broader than that of UNHCR: it embraces those who were physically displaced between June 1946 — well before Israel was established — and May 1948, and who lost home and livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. The definition now also includes descendants of the original refugees, thus establishing a designation seemingly in perpetuity.

UNRWA states there are five million refugees, many of whom live in camps in the West Bank (19), Jordan (10), Gaza Strip (8), Lebanon (12), and Syria (12). It does not administer the camps, nor is it responsible for law and order, and it has no police force. It does provide education, health, relief and social services both within and outside the camps. With a general budget fund for 2013 of $675 million it is a large employer and jobs program, with a staff of 29,000, consisting mostly of the descendants of refugees, and costing $501 million. It arranges for 480,000 children to attend schools run by a staff of 22,000 people, operate 137 health clinics, and attends to the 280,000 people categorized as living in a state of poverty.

There are three fundamental problems with UNRWA. The first is the very definition of “Palestinian refugee.” Although UNRWA authorities insist on the number of them as five million, only 30,000 of those who left their homes as a result of conflict are still alive. It is, however, disingenuous to include grandchildren and great grandchildren in tabulating the number of “refugees.”

Second, UNRWA is, and has been since its creation, in reality a welfare organization for the Palestinians with whom it deals. UNRWA has not led to the economic development that was supposed to occur, but has, conversely, implanted a culture of permanent dependency. Funding for its budget comes from voluntary outside sources; the United States, as the largest donor, provided $250 million of the total $675 million raised for last year. The U.S. has since 1949 given $4.4 billion to fund UNRWA operations. The supposed friends of the Palestinians, the members of the Arab League, have contributed little, usually less than 2%. In 2012 they pledged 7.8% of the total budget but in fact did not honor the pledge.

Most important, politically, is that the continued existence of UNRWA diminishes the hope of ever settling the Arab-Israeli conflict for both economic and political reasons. It has failed to provide incentives for Palestinians to breaking itself of their dependency and to become economically independent. Also because of its anti-Israeli bias evident since its creation, through supporting anti-Israeli textbooks, for example, or naming facilities after terrorists, UNRWA appears unwilling to encourage Palestinians to find any peaceful solution of the conflict — not to mention what a peaceful solution would mean to its own “job-security”.

Even though UNRWA is supposed to be an objective, non-partisan organization, its official statements continually speak of the “shameful expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, and the demolition of Palestinian houses.” It says nothing, however, about the Palestinian claim that all of Israel is considered “occupied” or a “settlement” — “from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea” — and the ineptitude or corruption of Palestinian leaders or their unwillingness , because of their insistence on “preconditions, ” to engage in genuine peace negotiations. Instead, it blames the stalemate of the peace process on the “incremental strategy of the Israeli occupation,” rather than the repeated threat to Israel of the Palestinian “phased plan” to eliminate and displace Israel in stages. UNRWA celebrates annually the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People and talks of “Occupied Palestinian territory,” and “the city of East Jerusalem.”

Ann Dismorr, Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, poses with a map that erases the State of Israel and presents all of it as “Palestine.”
(Image source: Palestinian Authority TV via Palestinian Media Watch)

Although the Italian diplomat Filippo Grandi, who left the position of Commissioner-General of UNRWA after eight years, remarked in his farewell speech on November 22, 2013 that a fundamental injustice was being perpetrated against the Palestinian refugees, he disregarded crucial factors in his address. He neglected to mention that it was the Arab invasion of the newly established State of Israel that led Palestinian Arabs to flee their homes. He failed to mention the commensurate number of Jews, estimated to number 800,000, who were forced to become refugees from Arab countries. And he said nothing about the terrorists against Israel who have continually operated from UNRWA camps.

Grandi also disregarded the biased textbooks used in the schools of UNRWA camps. Prominent in the texts are passages that call for the rejection of the State of Israel, and for the Palestinian “right of return.” It is disappointing that the U.S. Department of State has done little to urge UNRWA to remove this incitement against Israel in spite of at least two requests by members of the U.S. Congress, by Senator Mark Kirk in May 2012, and by Congressman Jim Gerlach and three colleagues in September and November 2013. Both asked about the allegations, which are true, that the UNRWA textbooks were “using educational programs to promote violence, antisemitism, and religious extremism among Palestinian refugees.” They received no satisfactory answer or precise information from the State Department.

UNRWA was originally conceived as a temporary organization with a limited mandate to provide relief and works programs. That mandate has been extended periodically, and the most recent is due to expire on June 30, 2014. It is in the best interests of the Palestinians themselves, as well as for peace between Arabs and Israel, that the mandate not be renewed. UNRWA has long outstayed its welcome. Its activities and its funds have not led to Palestinian economic and political development that would be conducive to bringing about a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, the very bias of UNRWA against Israel has only perpetuated the conflict. It would be more productive for genuine peace in the region if the office of the High Commissioner for Refugees took over the function of assisting the Palestinians as it has so ably done for all other refugees.

Michael Curtis is author of “Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East”.


Palestinians From Syria: The Worst Treatment of All
Council on Foreign Relations: Pressure Points
Elliott Abrams
November 19, 2013

There are over 500,000 Palestinian “refugees” in Syria, as counted by the UN agency handling Palestinian “refugees,” the UN Relief and Works Agency or UNRWA. The quotation marks are especially apt in this case, for the great majority of the “refugees” were born in Syria and have lived there all their lives. Only under UNRWA’s definitions of “refugee” (Palestinians who left what is now Israel in 1948, and all of their descendants until the end of time) would they qualify.

According to UNRWA:

Palestine refugees in Syria have been severely affected by the armed conflict in the country, with virtually all their residential areas experiencing armed engagements or the use of heavy weapons. The number of Palestine refugees in need of assistance in Syria is rapidly approaching the total population of 529,000 registered refugees. Over half have already been displaced from their homes.

How are neighboring Arab countries reacting? Here is what UNRWA says about Jordan:

The Government of Jordan announced a policy of non-entry to Palestinians fleeing the Syria conflict in early 2013. This stemmed the flow of Palestine refugees from Syria towards Jordan and compounded the extreme vulnerability of Palestinians seeking safety in Syria, as well as that of those who managed to enter Jordan.

Then there’s Lebanon:

“The Lebanese have made it clear they don’t want to see more than a certain number of people coming here,” a high-ranking aid official told [the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] on condition of anonymity….Officially both Jordan and Lebanon are keeping their borders open for all refugees from Syria. But unlike Syrians, who can freely enter Lebanon for up to six months, Palestinians receive only a one-week residency permit. Once that expires, they must pay 50,000 LBP (US$33) each month to renew it.

How about Egypt? Here is a Reuters story dated today:

After escaping shelling in Damascus and terrifying bloodshed at sea, 14 month-old Palestinian twin girls are now among hundreds of people living in limbo in grimy Egyptian police stations, with no end in sight to their plight. Of the 2 million people who fled Syria’s civil war, none may have it worse than Palestinians, who have known no other home than Syria but do not have Syrian citizenship and have therefore been denied even the basic rights secured for other refugees. The United Nations says the Egyptian government has refused it permission to register Palestinians from Syria as refugees and give them the yellow card that allows them to settle. As a result, hundreds of Palestinians civilians have ended up detained in police stations, with no place else to go….

If the family were Syrian citizens, once detained they would most likely have been permitted to leave Egypt for refugee camps in other countries in the region, says Human Rights Watch….The overwhelming majority of the Palestinians have never set foot in the Palestinian territories and have considered Syria their only home. But Egypt refuses to allow the United Nations refugee agency to treat them like other refugees from Syria. ”It is the view of the government of Egypt that Palestinians fall outside of UNHCR’s mandate,” said Teddy Leposky, a UNHCR spokesman in Cairo. “UNHCR has therefore not been able to provide assistance or advocate effectively on behalf of Palestinian refugees in Egypt.”

In one sense this is an old story: Arab states using the Palestinian issue against Israel often treat Palestinians badly. Jordan is the only country that has given them full citizenship rights.

But there is another story here: the way UNRWA’s special treatment of Palestinians has backfired. It is not just a whim that the government of Egypt does not allow UNHCR to treat Palestinians the way it treats all other refugees, for in fact Palestinians are the only refugees over whom UNHCR has never had jurisdiction. When those fleeing Syria attend UNHCR or UNRWA schools, or receive medical attention at UNHCR or UNRWA clinics, that division is perpetuated and deepened. Once upon a time Palestinians thought this special status was a great boon. For Palestinians fleeing Syria it’s hard to see it that way today. UNRWA can now add to its achievement of perpetuating “Palestinian refugee” status the achievement of separating Palestinians from all other Syrian refugees. And now we can use the word refugee without quotation marks, for we are speaking of people born and raised in Syria and now driven from their homes there. This is just another piece of evidence that UNRWA has outlived its usefulness and is doing more harm than good for Palestinians.


Israel Law Center
October, 2013

The US remains the largest single state donor to the United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency (UNRWA), the dangerous UN program that has cultivated, encouraged and radicalized the so-called Palestinian refugee problem. Created in 1948 to assist Arabs who alleged that they lost their homes and livelihoods in the 1948 Israeli Independence War, this short-term program was mandated to address the plight of a only few hundred thousand individuals. Instead of acting to resettle displaced persons, UNRWA has spent the ensuing 4 generations since 1948, nurturing and facilitating those Arabs who claim they want to destroy Israel and return to their former homes inside of Tel-Aviv and Haifa. Today UNRWA proudly boasts that it provides services to over 5 million Palestinian refugees!

While the Arab League and the Islamic states annually ignore their pledges to fund UNRWA, the US and the EU continue to financially perpetuate UNRWA’s $650 million budget. On June 18, 2013, the US announced a donation of $123 million to UNRWA.

In addition to prolonging the Palestinian refugee issue, UNRWA has allowed the camps, facilities and schools it administers in the Palestinian Authority and neighboring Arab states to become hotbeds of Palestinian terrorist training and anti-Semitic incitement. Indeed, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the PLO and Hezbollah all continually utilize UNRWA facilities to advance their criminal operations.

Recently, four US Congressmen sent a powerful letter to Secretary of State John Kerry demanding that the US investigate and monitor this rogue UN program. House members Gerlach, Dent, Meehan and Fitzpatrick warned Kerry that funding UNRWA was harming the US and promoting racist hatred as well as religious extremism in the Middle East: “We cannot continue to support the provision of US taxpayer dollars to organizations, which seek to undermind US foreign policy and our efforts to bring peace and stability abroad. There is simply no justification for US taxpayers to support organizations that encourage the dissemination of hatred, violence and anti-Semitism.”

unrwa letter

unwra 2-


False claim by UNRWA in response to PMW report: Map without Israel that official posed with does not represent today but “pre-1948” Palestine UNRWA’s name still appears in logo of youth center that currently glorifies suicide bomber on its Facebook page. Israeli representative to the UN cites PMW’s UNRWA story in complaint to UN Secretary-General
Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik

Earlier this week, Palestinian Media Watchreported that the Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, Ann Dismorr, posed with a map that erases
the State of Israel and presents all of it as “Palestine,” at an UNRWA event in Lebanon. These pictures were broadcast on Palestinian Authority TV and on the Palestinian
news site pn-news.net, corroborating PMW’s report. UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness, responding on UNRWA’s website, rejected PMW’s report. He claimed that the map in question was not intended to reflect the present, but reflected the period before Israel was established:

“UNRWA categorically rejects accusations in the media that the Agency is ‘erasing Israel from the map’ because its officials and stakeholders stood next to a map
which does not show Israel. The map in question is an embroidery depicting a pre-1948 map and therefore ante-dates the creation of the state of Israel. The allegations are therefore completely false.”

[UNRWA’s website, May 14, 2013, http://www.unrwa.org/etemplate.php?id=1748 ]

UNRWA spokesperson Gunness’ justification that the map “depict[s] a pre-1948 map” is baseless, as the map includes the PLO-PA flag and not a British flag. That exact
map erasing Israel, especially when accompanied by the PA flag, is one of the many ways the PA expresses its rejection of Israel’s existence and right to exist.
In addition, Gunness’ statement that the UNRWA official “stood next to a map which does not show Israel” is also misleading, as it indicates a passive non-involvement.
In fact, the UNRWA official is shown holding the map and the map was the central focus of the picture. Furthermore, UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness wrongfully claimed that PMW has been “forced to retract” “allegations” about UNRWA in the past:

“The organization (PMW) that originated the accusation has made similar allegations in the past about UNRWA’s neutrality and was forced to retract after the agency
showed them to be false.”

In actual fact, PMW has never retracted any report about UNRWA. In the past, PMW has exposed events held by Palestinian organizations that glorified terror and
honored terrorists, and did so using UNRWA’s name and logo. These events that connected UNRWA with terror glorification were publicized in the Palestinian media and websites,
and precisely reported by PMW. It is noteworthy that in 2011, UNRWA spokesperson Gunness chose not to condemn the tournament named after terrorist Wafa Idris, despite the fact that UNRWA’s logo was included in the announcement of the event. Nor did he condemn the youth center for glorifying the suicide bomber. Instead, UNRWA denied its responsibility by informing PMW that the use of its name by the Al-Amari youth center in its logo was not authorized. What is striking about Gunness’ claim is that today, a full two years later, UNRWA’s name still appears on Al-Amari’s logo on its Facebook page. Worse still, the club continues to celebrate suicide terrorist Wafa Idris as a hero. Idris killed one and injured more than 100 in her attack in 2002.  A few months ago, the Al-Amari Club’s Facebook page posted a picture of terrorist Wafa Idris alongside the following text:

“Peace upon you, (i.e., suicide bomber Wafa Idris) daughter of Al-Amari (Refugee Camp.) Would that Heaven be enjoyable for you and Martyrdom death for Allah (Shahada)
be enjoyable for you. 13 years have passed and your memory remains because you are the symbol of sacrifice. You are the symbol of pride, pride in its fullest, of our resolute refugee camp. You are the pride of the women of Palestine. We pledge our loyalty to you, oh Wafa, oh she who fulfilled her commitment and fulfilled her promise, oh most noble of the noble ones. Rest in peace and may a light shine on your pure soul, the woman who is worth a thousand men.”

Caption on the picture: “The first female Martyrdom-seeker in the Al-Aqsa Intifada Martyr (Shahida) Wafa Idris”. This text still appears today on the club’s official Facebook page, which carries the UNRWA name within the club’s logo. Notwithstanding UNRWA’s claims in 2011 that its name should not appear in the logo, terror glorification continues to take place under the banner of UNRWA even today.

As a final note, Israel’s representative to the UN Ron Prosor reacted to PMW’s original report about the map, protesting to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a letter:
“The map identified ‘Palestine’ as the geographic area extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. The State of Israel was conspicuously absent. It doesn’t
take a PHD in Middle Eastern history or geography to realize that a map of the Middle East that doesn’t include Israel is deeply and profoundly prejudiced.”
Palestinian Media Watch regularly reports on the PA’s denial of Israel’s right to exist  and its portrayal of “Palestine” as replacing Israel.


UNRWA representative poses with map that presents all of Israel as “Palestine” at event in Lebanon
Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik
May 3, 2013


At the official launch of two German-funded UNRWA projects in southern Lebanon,
Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, Ann Dismorr, posed with a map that erases
the State of Israel and presents all of it as “Palestine.”
The map includes both the Palestinian Authority areas as well as all of Israel.
Above the map is the Palestinian flag and the inscription “Arab Palestine.” The
text at the bottom of the map also says “Palestine.” The neighboring countries Egypt,
Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are all named on the map as is the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel is not mentioned or designated anywhere. Several places and cities, both
in Israel and from the Palestinian Authority, are included on the map of “Palestine”:
The Negev desert, Be’er Sheva, Rafah (Gaza), Hebron, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jaffa,
Haifa, Acre, Tiberias and the Dead Sea.


The map was presented at the launch of an UNRWA project to improve the water supply
network and rehabilitate shelters in the Rashidieh Camp, and was a gift from the
“Palestinian Women’s Union,” the Palestinian news site pn-news.net reported.
php?action=view&id=4133, May 3, 2013]
According to UNRWA’s website, Germany was represented at the launching ceremony
by the Head of Economic Cooperation and Development at the Embassy of the Federal
Republic of Germany in Lebanon Dr. Hanan Abdul Rida. The website further mentioned
that “a number of high ranking Lebanese and Palestinian officials” were present.
Palestinian Media Watch reports on the PA’s denial of Israel’s right to exist, and its portrayal
of “Palestine” as replacing Israel.


UNRWA at 60: Are There Better Alternatives?

by Nitza Nachmias
October 12, 2009


The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for the Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) was established in 1948 as a temporary relief agency. In spite of its failure to solve the refugee problem, it has been renewed and expanded for 60 years, with support from the entire United Nations community, including the United States and Israel. UNRWA’s annual budget now exceeds half a billion dollars, and it has come to be treated as a permanent protector and advocate of what are depicted as millions of Palestinian “refugees” who, UNRWA claims. lack a homeland, citizenship, and governments to serve their needs. Its mandate has been renewed repeatedly by the UN General Assembly albeit with restrained criticism demanding more transparency and additional budget controls.

The purpose of this paper is to explore three questions: (1) Are most of the Palestinians in the Middle East in fact “refugees”, and does treating them as “refugees” contribute to solutions or prevent them? (2) Is UNRWA the agency best suited to address the issues facing these populations most effectively, or does it create more problems than it solves? (3) If UNRWA is a problem, is it the least bad of the alternatives, or are there, in the balance of costs and benefits, other solutions with a better probability to bring the issue to a just and rightful resolution?

The paper concludes that UNRWA is not merely an “imperfect” agency, but one that is profoundly inimical both to the higher interests of its own Palestinian clients, and to the search for a political settlement of the conflicts in the region. It describes alternative solutions that could more effectively deliver services to these Palestinian populations while strengthening rather than undermining moderate elements and governments in the various host countries, including the Palestinian Authority. Strengthening the PA would help to advance the peace process. The paper proposes more effective ways to channel the enormous sums misappropriated to UNRWA, to achieve vital objectives of the donors that perpetuation of UNRWA will continue to subvert.


Sixty years ago UNRWA was created as a temporary emergency relief agency. Its main duties were constructing temporary shelters and providing essential food to the Palestinian families that left their homes during the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. Sixty years and billions of dollars later, UNRWA has become an entrenched permanent, overstaffed, affluent bureaucracy. Hardly any traces of the original mandate can be found in its current operations. In a surprising and unprecedented move for any emergency aid organization, UNRWA launched in September 2008 a two-year global celebration entitled: “UNRWA at 60”. The celebrations are taking place at the UN headquarters (NY), Vienna, Geneva, Brussels, the Gulf States, and in the donor countries, among others. In the 60th celebration announcements UNRWA expresses the hope that its operations will grow and flourish for many more years to come.  The lavish events put an additional financial burden on the donors that astonishingly did not stop to ask: is UNRW’s 60th anniversary a cause for celebration, or is it a testimony of failure? We will show that “UNRWA at 60” is indeed a testimony of failure.

While the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for the Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) was established in 1948 as a temporary relief agency, it has for 60 years enjoyed broad support from the entire United Nations community, including even Israel and the United States. UNRWA is treated as the protector and advocate of what are known as millions of Palestinian refugees who claim that for four generations they have lacked a homeland, citizenship, and a government to serve their needs.  UNRWA’s mandate has been renewed repeatedly by the UN General Assembly albeit with restrained criticism demanding more transparency and additional budget controls.  The purpose of this paper is to explore three questions: (1) Are most of the Palestinians in the Middle East in fact “refugees”, and does treating them as “refugees” contribute to solutions or prevent them? (2) Is UNRWA, on balance, the agency that is the most able to address the issues facing these populations most effectively, or does it create more problems than it solves? (3) If UNRWA is a problem, is it the least bad of the alternatives, or are there, on the balance of costs and benefits, other solutions with a better probability to bring the issue to a just and rightful resolution?

UNRWA claims that about five million Palestinians are refugees. We will show that most are not. Most Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan have been integrated in the local communities, and many in Jordan have acquired Jordanian citizenship. In the West Bank and Gaza the residents carry PA official documents. Others have immigrated to the US and Europe where they are either legal residents or citizens. For most Palestinians, the transition from refugee camps to urban dwellings occurred decades ago. As early as 1950, the majority of the original 1948 refugees and their families began to move out of the camps and resettle in neighboring states and regions. Simultaneously, non-refugees began to move into the camps for economic advantages, especially to receive UNRWA’s free services.[4] UNRWA’s bureaucracy soon adapted to the situation and moved away from its original relief mandate to providing non emergency, civil services. [5] Yet UNRWA has been perpetuating the myth of “millions of 1948 Palestinian refugees”; a myth that provides the raison d’etre for UNRWA’s oversized bureaucracy . Moreover, UNRWA has succumbed to major bureaucratic pathologies. It has become an ineffective self-serving, work-creating agency suffused with favoritism and patronage. UNRWA is definitely not a typical international humanitarian aid organization. The UN agency is the largest non government employer in the region, employing over 29,000 Palestinians with a superstructure of 120 international advisors. Because UNRWA’s international staff is very small, the operations are planned, executed and controlled by tens of thousands of Palestinian employees. Consequently, UNRWA’s operations follow its own institutional imperatives rather than its international mandate.

In the particular case of the West Bank and Gaza, UNRWA has created unique political and administrative dilemmas. UNRWA has become a non-territorial administration, taking on national-governmental responsibilities, though the Palestinian Authority rather than UNRWA has the legal jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants. Operating as a “non-territorial, Palestinian government” UNRWA provides non-emergency, civil services (education, health, welfare, microfinance, etc) to an assorted population regardless of their refugee status. Ironically, the PA, that is the legal governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza, is forced to compete with UNRWA in providing civil services to its own citizens. Regrettably, the PA is no match for the bureaucratic network and expertise UNRWA has accumulated during 60 years of operation. Thus, as a result of UNRWA’s operation the PA’s credibility, legitimacy, and ability to gain the respect of its citizens are greatly diminished, causing the weakening of the PA’s authority and most likely playing a role in the rise of Hamas.

The existence of UNRWA after the 1993 creation of the Palestinian Authority creates an anomaly. While the residents of the West Bank and Gaza are citizens of the PA and have enjoyed full political rights, including suffrage (as have most Palestinians of Jordan), they are at the same time international wardens of a UN governing authority that provides them with non-emergency civil services. UNRWA has created a de facto “state within a state” albeit with ambiguous legal status. Normally, no government would accept the presence, beyond its control, of an autonomous international organization that provides substitute services to its citizens. However, the PA lacks effective authority over either the “refugee camps” or UNRWA’s operation in these areas. This is an abnormal situation.

Are UNRWA’s Clients “Refugees”?

Defining the populations to whom services are administered by UNRWA as “refugees” is in most cases both misleading and harmful to the search for a solution. UNRWA’s refugee registration process was profoundly flawed from its inception, and the original mistakes have been compounded over the succeeding decades. In the beginning, to gain the status of a “protected refugee” and qualify for an UNRWA refugee ID card entitling the holder to benefits, applicants must have been resident in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and to have lost both their homes and their livelihoods as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. UNRWA itself reports that its original registration figures are based on information voluntarily supplied by applicants primarily for the purpose of obtaining access to Agency’s services and hence can’t be considered statistically reliable “demographic data.” A simple declaration by the applicant was accepted as sufficient. UNRWA later granted benefits eligibility to the descendants of these self-declared 1948 refugees. As a result of these financial incentives, the number of putative “refugees” swelled from an estimated 914,000 in 1950 to over 5 million in 2009. UNRWA itself admits that the agency’s “registration records do not necessarily reflect the actual refugee population owing to the factors such as: unreported deaths; false registration; and undetected absence from area of UNRWA operation”.  Thus, for six decades, UNRWA’s vast budget is based on enormously inflated numbers of clients that have never been refugees. It is important to acknowledge the fact that for decades, UNRWA has been evading the donors numerous requests to replace the 60-year old refugee ID cards with a new picture ID cards. Such a process would have required UNRWA to execute a census, a process that UNRWA never conducted. The census and the demand for the refugees to come to UNRWA’s offices, be photographed and get a bone fide UNRWA ID card would have resulted in a big embarrassment for the agency. Most probably the majority of the “registered refugees” will turn up to be none existent or settled.

A review of UNRWA’s history reveals the unacceptable fact that for decades, UNRWA has thwarted all efforts to settle the issue and terminate its operations. UNRWA was created to provide short-term, emergency, humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees, just as the newly formed United Nations sought to assist millions of refugee populations in other parts of the world created by the upheavals of World War II and its aftermath. The UNRWA operation was expected to be completed within two or three years, once the emergency conditions were resolved and the refugees resettled. The Palestinian refugees were at the time but a small percentage of the tens of millions of refugees worldwide receiving various forms of United Nations assistance. Dag Hammeskjold, the second UN Secretary General (1953-1961), initiated a plan for the reintegration of the Palestinian refugees in their host countries. Under his leadership, the UN General Assembly specifically instructed UNRWA to work to reintegrate the refugees in the places of their refuge.  At the time, the refugee camps in the West Bank were under Jordanian authority and the refugee camps in Gaza were under Egyptian authority. The premise was that these two states would absorb the refugees through a process of reintegration financed by the international community.  With the exception of Jordan, the Arab host countries’ rejected the resettlement and reintegration proposals, and UNRWA instead, became a permanent, self-perpetuating bureaucracy.

By the early 1950s, UNRWA’s original 1948 emergency humanitarian mission was completed. However, due to the agency’s autonomous status, UNRWA was able to shift its operational agenda and began providing non-emergency, regular, daily social benefits to anyone registered with the Agency who it decided to give assistance, whether refugee or not.  UNRWA and other reliable sources data show that the majority of the descendents of the original 1948 families ceased to be in need of relief assistance many decades ago. A 1987 General Assembly report found that, only 10% of UNRWA budget was dedicated to emergency relief, while the bulk was devoted “to educating children and furnishing advanced training, maintaining effective public healthcare services and providing basic welfare services to a largely industrious and self supporting [so-called] refugee population.”  Already 30 years ago, it was reported that 95 percent of registered Palestinian refugees were self-supporting.  A 2003 GAO report found that less than a third of the registered “refugees” live in designated so-called “refugee camps,” some only because they prefer to build their homes in territory exempt from local taxes. Two thirds are integrated in the cities and states in the Middle East and beyond. Over two million are resettled in Jordan, most of whom are Jordanian citizens paying taxes and eligible to receive social services from the Jordanian government. All the same, these millions of people are, inappropriately, holders of UNRWA refugee cards and enjoy all of UNRWA’s giveaway programs.

Once we realize that UNRWA is not actually in the refugee business at all, but is a social welfare agency distributing benefits to a body of preferred clients whether they qualify as needy or not, the real issue becomes clear: If the world community wants to provide economic and development assistance to Palestinians, is UNRWA the best way to select the Palestinian beneficiaries and the best agency to channel the assistance? A systematic review of UNRWA and other existing government and non-government organizations shows that it is not.

Alternatives for Better Education Opportunities

Education is UNRWA’s single largest area of activity, accounting for half its budget and two-thirds of its staff. UNRWA provides education to over 500,000 students in 684 schools, and this is often cited as one of its supreme achievements. Commissioner General Ms. Abu-Zayd stated recently: “Education has been central to UNRWA’s human development agenda throughout its sixty-year history. Today, more than half of our budget is devoted to the primary education of refugee children, with equal opportunity given to boys and girls”.However, UNRWA’s extensive and costly educational activity is neither humanitarian nor consistent with UNRWA’s mandate. The students of UNRWA’s schools come from a largely undistinguished and unidentified population, who could hardly be considered “refugees”. Moreover, recent scholastic achievement reports show that the same students could be better served by educating them through the hosts’ national school systems. If the international community wishes to assist Palestinian children by subsidies to their education, this could be accomplished more effectively and with fewer collateral problems by providing the same assistance to the state educational systems where they reside rather than through an over-sized international bureaucracy that perpetuates the political myth that the Palestinians are refugees and should be allowed to return to their former homes.

As mentioned earlier, UNRWA’s claim to fame in education proves misleading. Its schools are not scholastically superior, in fact they are often inferior, to the local-national schools, and Jordan is a case in point. James Lindsay’s thorough report shows that while UNRWA’s services are free, students still prefer the national school systems. “UNRWA schools are losing students to Jordanian government schools (most Palestinian refugees in Jordan are citizens so they are able to choose which schools their children attend).” The loss of students is in contradiction to the rise in refugee rolls. “The number of registered refugees in Jordan increased by 32.4% from December 1997 to December 2007, while the number of students in UNRWA schools declined by 13%”. To avoid negative ramification of its deteriorating educational reputation UNRWA decided to launch an elaborate public relations campaign. It is hard to believe that these tactic will dispel the criticism.

As we have shown, the answer to UNRWA’s educational problems is clear: turn over UNRWA’s costly and inferior educational system to the local governments. While the transfer will require a major structural change the process will be facilitated by the fact that the majority of the students are bone fide citizens of Middle Eastern states, all the teachers are local Palestinians, and the curriculum is adopted from the host countries and the PA texts. The transfer of the educational operation is necessary and timely. Money will be saved and overstuffed, inefficient bureaucracy will be terminated. The big winner will, of course, be the students!

Palestinian Self-Reliance Requires an End to UNRWA’s Operations

During its six decades of operation, UNRWA has deepened and propagated the Palestinian dependence on its services. This has been detrimental to the development of Palestinian economic and social self-reliance. It probably helped the rise of Hamas which presents itself as a genuine, self-supporting economic and social Palestinian institution. We argue that UNRWA’s inflated bureaucracy and the unrestrained scope of its non-emergency services hinder rather than induce Palestinian self-reliance. UNRWA’s operations have been particularly damaging to the fledgling PA that has to accept the existence of a competing United Nations governing authority within its boundaries . The World Bank recently reported that the PA is “developing strategies that encourage productivity and growth in the industrial, agricultural, housing, and tourism sectors and allow the Palestinian economy to develop a diversified export portfolio” UNRWA’s operations have the reverse effect of nurturing and advancing dependence. We will present feasible alternatives to UNRWA’s operations that have been developed by Palestinian scholars who see that UNRWA undermines their road to self-reliance

While UNRWA has no legal governing authority, it issues building permits, authorizes commercial activities and acts as a “private banking system” distributing millions in cash and loans to those it favors. Not surprisingly, thousands of residents of the West Bank and Gaza, and millions in Jordan know only one governing authority: UNRWA. In its “UNRWA at 60” document the agency reports that in FY 2009, it has outstanding 169 million USD in loans, granted to 157,000 people! “The agency has been providing loans worth USD 30 million each year”. UNRWA boasts that “it is the largest micro-finance service provider in the occupied Palestinian territories and the second largest micro-finance institution in Syria”.  UNRWA does not include details concerning this unusual financial activity in its annual reports, and we wonder: how can a skeleton body of 120 international advisors properly control and manage this high volume financial activity? One must also ask the donors: if the international community wishes to distribute millions of dollars (cash loans and grants) to Palestinian people, shouldn’t it be done in the proper manner, through national banking institutions that exercise control, accountability and transparency mechanisms, and not through the shady bureaucracy of UNRWA? .

Ending this detrimental anomaly requires the termination of UNRWA’s non-emergency operations and the transfer to the proper local authorities the responsibility and authority to plan and execute public policy, namely, educating the Palestinian children and running health clinics. The termination of UNRWA’s status as a “non-territorial government” in the West Bank and Gaza will establish the PA as the only legal, governing authority. The PA leadership will gain the respect and trust of the people that is needed to counter Hamas influence in Gaza. Indeed, in the West Bank, where UNRWA’s presence is weaker, the PA’s position and authority is secure and growing. The trade off is clear: a strong and “fat” UNRWA means a “lean” and weak PA. In Gaza, Hamas leadership grew stronger under the protection of UNRWA, and undermined the PA efforts to gain control of Gaza. Many Palestinians openly criticize this role of UNRWA and express the hope that “UNRWA is not forever.”

The following are a few working plans suggested by Palestinian scholars that show a Palestinian desire and appeal for self reliance. “One possible way of easing the transition (from UNRWA to the PA and other host governments) would be to create a flexible transitional funding mechanism, which would allow donors to transfer resources for a variety of purposes with some assurance of accountability and transparency. Such a facility would work as a flexible multi-country, multi-purpose mechanism for channeling donor assistance.” The possibility of UNRWA being in charge of a transitional fund was not accepted because “donors would be concerned whether the Agency could maintain the appropriate degree of objectivity if it were asked to manage the financial aspects of the transfer of services.” Another alternative suggested that “UNRWA might be gradually wound down over 2-5 year period. During this period, its previous functions would be gradually assumed by host governments. UNRWA might also take on new tasks, whether to assist host governments in upgrading the quality of their own service delivery, or in assisting the implementation of various aspects of a permanent status agreement. Or, UNRWA would face an indeterminate transition period between initial agreement on a framework for resolving the refugee issue and agreement on specific modalities. This would then be followed by a subsequent wind down period of 2-5 years.”

Another alternative suggested: “A first step would need to be reaching of agreement among key donor countries that the time had arrived for UNRWA and the PA, and where possible, UNRWA and the host governments, to enter into firm arrangements for the transfer, over a specific period, of UNRWA’s functions to the PA and to those regional government…Establishment of a cooperation agreement between UNRWA and the PA, and the PA encompassing secondment of staff from the PA to UNRWA schools and clinics, with the PA to be given additional financial assistance from the donors for the purpose (to cover salary and allowance differentials). Increase outsourcing to the PA of refugee education and health services. Refugee children should be able to go to school wherever there is capacity in PA schools to absorb them – as currently happens to some extent in the West Bank.” “While the government of Syria could absorb current UNRWA expenditures in Syria relatively easily, the task is more difficult in Lebanon…Jordan faces substantially greater relative costs than do either Syria or Lebanon. Additional resources should be given to the PA since in the Palestinian territories; there is no prospect that the Palestinian budget could suddenly absorb the costs of providing under UNRWA health, education and other social services in the immediate future.”

In summary, UNRWA’s clients, the Palestinian people, are highly critical of the “patron” that was imposed upon them. We agree with them that the termination of UNRWA’s operations is not only feasible but is imperative. Donors to UNRWA actually harm the Palestinian community by perpetuating UNRWA’s superfluous existence.

UNRWA is Neither an Exclusive Nor the Best Aid Provider

For sixty years, more than thirty international organizations, hundreds of NGOs, and all members of the OECD have been transferring billions of dollars and in kind aid to the Palestinian community. However, hardly any cost and benefit analysis is carried out to compare the value and consequences of the generous, annual contributions to UNRWA with the efficacy of aid given through other institutions. Notwithstanding the lack of evidence that UNRWA’s operation serves the cause of the Palestinian community, in March 2009, at an international donor’s conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the administration’s pledge of $900 million aid package that includes hundreds of million to UNRWA. 

UNRWA is only one of many aid providers and indeed, the Palestinian environment resembles an “aid bazaar” with international organizations and donor states competing with each other over “who is the biggest aid provider”. Donors come from all creeds, faith, agenda, ideology, size, affiliation and intentions. The Big Four are the USAID, the European Commission, the World Bank, and the United Nations Development Program. Others include FAFO (The Norwegian Peace Building Center), the Finnish government, the British Council, the Italian and Japanese governments, and many international NGO, including Catholic relief, Care, Save the Children, OXFEM, UNICEF, to name a few. All the aid providers work simultaneously, at the same locations, and provide aid to the same population. In this diffused system, UNRWA is seeking to preserve its dominance position even after its original task has long been achieved.

We argue that UNRWA’s operations are redundant and irrelevant vis-à-vis the vast assistance campaigns executed by the international community. The US in particular needs to stop transferring vast amounts of resources to UNRWA while the USAID is simultaneously carrying out independent development projects to the same population. . “Most aid to the Palestinians is provided by USAID to U.S.-based NGOs operating in the West Bank and Gaza. Funds are allocated for humanitarian assistance, economic development, democratic reform, improving water access and other infrastructure, health care, education, and vocational training.”If the USAID autonomously carries out all these development projects why provide UNRWA’s inefficient organization with billions of dollars for the same activities? Indeed, between 2002 and 2009 the US increased its contributions to the Palestinians by more than 200%– from $ 72 million in 2002 to $ 150 million in 2006 and to $ 414 million in 2008!

The picture repeats itself with aid provided by the European Commission. In 2008 the EC announced a contribution of $ 461 million Euros to be spent on humanitarian, food, and non humanitarian projects. The World Bank is carrying out independently, a variety of community development projects in the west Bank and Gaza, supporting a pioneering new community driven development project, the Village and Neighborhood Development Project” (VNDP).The UNDP (United Nations Development Program) is also heavily involved in Palestinian community and economic development projects. UNDP autonomous operations include: democratic governance, crisis prevention and recovery, environment, poverty reduction, gender and HIV/AIDS. UNDP reports that its 2008 budget for economic aid for Gaza was only $ 80 million, but this lean yet efficient project has already generated over 50,000 jobs for Palestinian workers. In addition since 2005, the Finish government has also been assisting the education sector in the West Bank and Gaza.

Clearly, UNRWA’s expensive existence is not indispensable! Terminating UNRWA’s ineffective operations and shutting down its oversized bureaucracy will not result in lack of assistance for the Palestinian people.

UNRWA Inhibits the Peace Process

For decades UNRWA has used scare tactics to claim that its existence is essential to the peace process. The scare tactics seem to work because UNRWA’s budget has grown exponentially. UNRWA strongest argument is that the Palestinian “refugees” need a patron to take care of them until a legitimate Palestinian government is established and takes over UNRWA’s operations. In early 1995, when the donors proposed to begin a gradual transfer of UNRWA’s operations to the newly created PA and the other host governments, UNRWA raised strong objections to the plan insisting that it should continue operating “for practical as well as political reasons” We argue that nothing is further from the truth.

UNRWA’s original mandate was neither clear nor specific on the question of “assist[ing] the refugees until their status was politically resolved”. Our discussion clearly shows that the status of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians has been resolved, and UNRWA’s services are redundant and superfluous. Jordan and Syria are two recognized, functioning states that could and should take over UNRWA’s operations and provide all the necessary services equally, to all the Palestinians who have resided for four generations amidst them. The only place where emergency aid may be needed is Lebanon. Here too, the international community is actively and intensely involved in providing aid to the camps. UNRWA is only one of many well funded non governmental and governmental aid organizations that provide assistance to the camp residents (mostly non refugees)in Lebanon. In the case of Gaza and the West Bank, UNRWA functions as a “non territorial government” competing with the PA as it provides civil services to PA citizens. Since 1995, the PA has been the legitimate Palestinian governing authority. It should run schools, operate health clinics, issue building permits, and collect taxes. UNRWA’s existence denies the aspiring Palestinian people the right to self-government and self-reliance. The rise of Hamas may be linked partly to the PA’s weakend authority

As we have shown, a major component in UNRWA’s survival strategy is the nurturing of a mutual dependence syndrome, so that the Palestinian community thinks it cannot function without UNRWA’s inflated bureaucracy. UNRWA needs the myth of “five million refugees” and in exchange, provides the Palestinians free services. The truth is that UNRWA’s tactics actually hinder the peace process and any realistic resolution of the refugee issue. UNRWA’s baseless and inflated registration numbers feed the impossible demand for a “right of return”.

Thus, it is not surprising that UNRWA has consistently resisted any effort by Israeli governments to resettle the “refugees”. Immediately after the administration of the West Bank and Gaza shifted from Egypt and Jordan to Israel as a result of the war of 1967, the Israeli Military Administration initiated a major camps reconstruction policy. The plan involved moving the refugees to permanent housing, as well as widening camps roads and improving Gaza infrastructure and living conditions, and demolition of temporary shelters. In a complete violation of UNRWA’s mandate, these positive measures were vigorously protested by UNRWA, including protests before the UN General Assembly, calling upon Israel to abandon its plans and refrain from any action that might lead to resettlement of Palestinian refugees. Later, during the 1990s, UNRWA rejected plans initiated by local Palestinian municipal authorities to annex the residents of UNRWA’s areas of control to the Palestinian areas of responsibility. Even the request to strengthen the ties between UNRWA’s clients and the local Palestinian municipal authorities was rejected.

In 2000, Palestinian leaders publicly expressed disappointment at UNRWA’s resistance to relinquish its responsibilities. “While the Oslo Process of 1993 renewed the debate about the future of UNRWA, and for the first time since UNRWA was established it is possible to see on the horizon the end of the Agency’s mission and UNRWA’s ultimate dissolution…five years later, however, the future of the Agency remains unclear. To date, UNRWA continues to deny the well known fact: most refugees are long settled. Only an acknowledgment of this fact will move the peace process forward.

UNRWA Violates Antiterrorist Laws and Conventions

UNRWA is a United Nations agency, and is expected to adhere to antiterrorism laws and Security Council resolution. But UNRWA facilities, including schools, health clinics and even hospitals, are used as training grounds and safe haven for guerrilla armies and terrorists. The autonomous status of UNRWA has enabled the agency to ignore these conventions with impunity. UNRWA, by its own admission, contravenes US law. UNRWA’s former Commissioner-General Peter Hansen admitted in 2004 that he was sure that there are Hamas members on UNRWA’s payroll and he did not see that as a crime.The donors, in particular the largest donor, the US, also ignore UNRWA’s disregard for international anti-terrorism laws. The US Congress has been continuously approving generous contributions to UNRWA in spite of UNRWA’s violation of US laws. Section 301 of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act (PL 87-195) as later amended by Congress to says: “No contributions by the United States shall be made to UNRWA except on the condition that UNRWA takes all the possible measures to assure that no part of the United States contribution shall be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so called PLO or any other guerrilla type organization or who has engaged in any act of terrorism.” While the USAID is taking major steps to ensure that US resources, including its aid to the West Bank and Gaza, do not go to Hamas and Hezbollah members, UNRWA does not.

Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute argues that “UNRWA does not have ready access to information on refugees who are receiving military training from guerrillas. As recently as December 2002, USAID ‘cleared’ several charity commitments to receive funding despite information publicly tying them to Hamas.” As early as 2003, a GAO inquiry determined that UNRWA is in violation of US law. “UNRWA’s implementation of procedures to address section 301(c) is constrained by several factors. First, it relies on host governments to review local jobs applicants. Also it can’t determine if its beneficiaries meet section 301( c) criteria owing to concerns for its staff’s safety and its inability to verify beneficiary responses.”

Another recent inquiry reached even harsher conclusions. “UNRWA makes no attempt to weed out individuals who support extremist positions… and some staff members undoubtedly support violence to achieve these goals “. UNRWA is using disturbing tactics to permit keeping Hamas and Hezbollah members on its payroll. By denying that these two organizations are “terrorism supporting organizations”, as they are identified in US law, UNRWA is able to keep their members on the payroll. Thus, when vetting employees, questions about membership or support of Hamas and Hezbollahare not asked nor is this information recorded.

In contrast to UNRWA’s tolerance of Hamas and Hezballah activities, the PA and the Jordanian governments denounce Hamas terrorist activities and systematically carry out counter terrorism operations against them. A transfer of UNRWA’s operations to the PA and the host governments, e.g. giving the PA control of UNRWA’s schools and health care facilities in Gaza and the West Bank, would help weed out Hamas members and prevent terrorists from using schools and health clinics as shelters. Finally, UNRWA’s damaging policies and its violation of section 301 (c) of US law should be taken into account regarding US contributions to UNRWA.

Conclusion: Alternatives to UNRWA

As we have shown, UNRWA’s self proclaimed status, as the best available and most preferred provider of aid to the “Palestinian refugees” is wrong and misleading. We have also shown that UNRWA’s operations are harmful and damaging to the self-reliance and autonomous governing of the PA. The redundancy of UNRWA was clear at the donor conference that took place in 2007 in Paris. The President of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas requested and was promised $ 7.4 billion in economic assistance, for three years (2008-2010). The representatives of the 90 donor nations agreed that the future of the Palestinian people is dependent on a strong and stable PA. The US Congressional Research Service observed that “Experts advised that the PA stability hinges on improved security, economic development, Israeli cooperation, and the continuation of high levels of foreign assistance.” The facts show that UNRWA’s existence stands in the way of achieving all these goals. Notwithstanding, UNRWA continues to perpetuate the myth that it is the “best show in town.”

The billions donated to UNRWA reduce the amount of money available for aid to the PA, making the PA a weaker potential partner for peace. To secure its permanent existence, UNRWA uses scare tactics warning of disastrous consequences to the peace process if its operations are curtailed. Consequently, no donor dares to reduce or cut UNRWA’s burgeoning budget. UNRWA’s theme of the imagined “five million distressed refugees” feeds the impossible demand for a “right of return.” Following UNRWA’s path, in a few years we could be facing a fantastical “10 million distressed refugee population,” demanding a “right of return. By perpetuating this myth, UNRWA has become a major problem not a solution.

The US is the largest donor and it should expose UNRWA’s misleading tactics. The US Congress has demanded transparency and accountability, to no avail. It is time to put a lid on donations to UNRWA,gradually phasing out of UNRWA’s operations. A sixty-year entrenched bureaucracy has to be eliminated, and almost 30,000 UNRWA’s employees could and should be integrated either in the relevant local governments or in the various international agencies that will take over UNRWA’s operation. The process will encounter opposition. “Affected parties would ensure an active, vocal resistance in some quarters. But carefully managed, those sensitivities should not prevent a well-considered series of reforms from going forward.”Critics might claim that a central role in the transition for UN and other international organizations will bring with it potential problems of interagency rivalry and bureaucratization. Also, there certainly exists no common vision among UNRWA, UNHCR, UNDP and others, as to what their respective contributions to a transition process might be. Even after decades of simultaneous operation, there is very little vision at all, about the ability of UN agencies (and UNRWA in particular) to plan for a phase out and transfer of responsibilities. UNRWA certainly will put up a fight to secure its bureaucratic survival. As early as 1995, when donors first seriously considered a gradual transfer of responsibilities, UNRWA vehemently objected to any change in its status. ” A reduced UNRWA could have potential political consequences…for the Palestinian Authority, the host countries and the peace process itself.”

However, resolving the refugee problem requires the termination of UNRWA’s operation, and the US and the other major donors should not be intimidated by the political sensitivity surrounding most of the transition initiatives. The transition has to be carefully planned and the annual contributions should be gradually transferred from UNRWA to the regional, host governments. The roles and responsibilities of all the donors that will participate in the transition process should be discussed with the relevant local governments as well as with the US government. Proper bills will have to be passed. Congress, the White House and the Department of State, (USAID) will have to develop a coherent, coordinated plan of action.

We suggest that the execution of the transition be managed by an international working group that includes representatives of US government agencies, various relevant United Nations agencies, the World Bank, representatives of donor governments, in particular, the EC, representatives of UNRWA’s Advisory Commission, and finally, representatives of Israel, the PA and the other host governments. The working group should divide the work among the members based on the expertise and the ability of each government and agency to contribute and take part in the transition period. UNRWA (or an UNRWA-successor agency calling upon some of the same staff and facilities) might play a temporary role, for example, in resettlement, economic development initiatives, the administration of refugee compensation, or other possible components of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on the final resettlement of the refugee issue.

Other elements of the UN system can also contribute whether in conjunction with, or instead of, UNRWA. The process will require a substantial degree of interagency cooperation and coordination to assure an optimal and smooth transition. This is a complex process that should not be delayed or avoided. UNRWA has to be phased out, and only bold actions will yield the necessary results.

Nitza Nachmias is a Senior Research Fellow at The Jewish-Arab Center, University of Haifa and a Visiting Professor at the Department of Political Science, Towson University, Maryland.


UNRWA’s Self-serving Agenda

by Uri Resnick
Middle East Quarterly
Fall 2012


Since June 1967, operations in the West Bank and Gaza by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) have been carried out in accordance with an explicit agreement with Israel, which has repeatedly indicated its support for the agency’s humanitarian activities.Yet this support, which reflects recognition of the genuine humanitarian plight of many of the refugees, has not prevented the Israeli government from expressing its conviction that UNRWA could better serve its beneficiaries by following in the footsteps of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), specifically with regard to resettlement and local integration. As recently as 2011, Jerusalem noted that “UNRWA’s mandate should include … in the Palestinian context … the broadly applied United Nations goals of resettlement and local integration of refugees.”Given UNHCR’s remarkable success in finding sustainable solutions for millions of refugees around the world, UNRWA would do well to implement similar policies for the Palestinians.

NRWA’s Mandate

Of the three durable solution strategies employed by UNHCR—repatriation, local integration, and resettlement—protracted situations tend to be those in which repatriation is unfeasible, whether due to a continuing conflict within the prospective country of repatriation or to the demographic implications repatriation would entail.

Given UNHCR’s successful implementation of local integration within diverse refugee settings over the course of several decades (see Table 1), on the one hand, and the overwhelming opposition in Israel to a large-scale migration of Palestinians to the country, on the other, local integration seems the best option. The alternatives, including continued suspension of durable solutions by UNRWA until the signing of a full-fledged Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will make such an agreement progressively more difficult to achieve and, most importantly, will deprive UNRWA’s beneficiaries of their right to become fully integrated and active citizens within the societies in which they now live.

But is local integration consistent with UNRWA’s mandate? There are two levels on which to examine the question: procedural and substantive. For both, a strong case can be made that the agency is free to promote local integration if the commissioner-general chooses to do so.

As is true of most U.N. organs, the General Assembly resolutions pertinent to UNRWA are the primary source for determining the agency’s mandate. Yet specific activities need not be explicitly cited within such resolutions in order to be considered a legitimate domain of activity for an agency.

This conclusion was elaborated by none other than Lance Bartholomeusz, chief of UNRWA’s International Law Division, who stated that the agency’s actions themselves, simply by having been carried out—provided they are consistent with one or more of the U.N.’s goals—have a measure of legitimacy and essentially serve to define the agency’s mandate. Furthermore, UNRWA considers the discretion of its commissioner-general, in consultation with the Advisory Commission, the ultimate arbiter of what its mandate entails: “The Assembly has provided UNRWA with a flexible mandate designed to facilitate, rather than restrict, the agency’s ability to act as and when the Commissioner-General, in consultation with the Advisory Commission as appropriate, sees fit.”

The fact that a policy is not currently implemented by UNRWA cannot in itself serve as grounds for regarding it as outside the agency’s mandate as noted by Bartholomeusz: “The Agency’s mandate and its actual activities are distinct: UNRWA’s actual activities at a given time are a subset of the activities within its mandate.”

This means that incorporation by UNRWA of lasting solutions, such as local integration or resettlement, would not necessarily require an explicit alteration in any of the pertinent General Assembly resolutions. If the commissioner-general were to decide on such activities, this would seem to suffice from a procedural perspective.

While Bartholomeusz argues that UNRWA “does not have a mandate as such to seek durable solutions for Palestine refugees,” this assertion is belied by his own acknowledgment that “in its early years, it had a mandate to engage in activities that promoted the integration of refugees into their host country.” He then goes on to argue that the integration aspect of the mandate “probably ended by 1960 when reference to ‘reintegration’ was dropped from General Assembly resolutions relating to UNRWA.” Still, this, too, should not prevent the organization from renewing activities in this area. Given the strong substantive grounds for viewing local integration as instrumental to UNRWA’s human development goals, the plausibility of ruling it out on equivocal procedural grounds seems rather weak.

Nor does the fact that UNHCR, unlike UNRWA, has an explicit mandate for local integration and resettlement imply that UNRWA is barred from pursuing such strategies. As Bartholomeusz noted, the agency’s mandate is “rarely expressed in terms of what the agency may not do.” The decision as to whether UNRWA may or may not engage in local integration, or any other activity pertinent to its beneficiaries’ interests, ultimately rests with its commissioner-general.

Procedural questions aside, perhaps the clearest and most substantive argument in favor of local integration derives from UNRWA’s stated commitment to advancing the human development of its beneficiaries: “UNRWA has a clear mandate to engage in human development, as defined by the U.N. Development Programme [UNDP].” Citing a UNDP human development report, UNRWA’s chief legal counsel noted that the concept of human development includes “political, economic and social freedom” and that the enjoyment of “human rights to the fullest extent possible … underpins the agency’s current overall strategy and programme management.”

Thus the UNDP’s core understanding of the concept of human development should be most relevant to UNRWA’s activities. In UNDP associate administrator Rebeca Grynspan’s view:

human development—our defining mandate—is not only about helping to ensure a decent income level and standard of living for everyone but also about helping to ensure that every person has the capacity, right, freedom, and choice to take and be part of the decisions that affect a person’s life, to select the leaders that take those decisions, and to then hold them to account.

By the UNDP’s own definition, which UNRWA expressly adopts, it is fundamental to the goal of advancing human development to assist “governments at all levels to address MDG [Millenium Development Goals] gaps and reversals by strengthening their ability to deliver, to be accountable, transparent and responsive—in particular to those traditionally excluded from services and the opportunities of citizenship.”

There can be little debate as to the important role that full integration in the social and political fabric of some polity through naturalization or acquisition of citizenship plays in an individual’s human development. This same principle was explicitly stated in the seminal 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, which stipulated that “the contracting states shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees [and]… expedite naturalization proceedings.”

Local integration is, thus, ultimately geared toward naturalization and is clearly consistent with a human development agenda, especially in relation to refugee matters. It is difficult to see how UNRWA’s avowed commitment to ensuring that its beneficiaries “enjoy human rights to the fullest extent possible” can be interpreted other than entailing a willingness to at least make some efforts to promote Palestinian refugees’ local integration in their current places of residence. The fact that the agency looks favorably upon the attainment of citizenship by most of its beneficiaries in Jordan suggests a tacit acceptance of the fact that a measure of local integration is indeed consistent with its mandate. Yet, the agency refrains from reaching the logical conclusion that naturalized individuals should no longer be considered refugees. This could not occur with regard to other refugee groups since UNHCR, under the terms of the 1951 refugee convention, would be compelled to rescind refugee status from those of its beneficiaries who obtain citizenship.

Finally, the argument that the particular circumstances of UNRWA’s beneficiaries might preclude local integration flies in the face of the conclusions reached by UNHCR, which has found that local integration is a particularly appropriate solution for

refugees born in asylum countries who might otherwise become stateless; and/or refugees who, due to their personal circumstances including the reasons prompting their flight, are unlikely to be able to repatriate to their country of origin in the foreseeable future; and/or refugees who have established close family, social, cultural, and economic links with their country of asylum, including those who already have, or have the capacity to attain, a considerable degree of socio-economic integration.

In short, there are strong substantive grounds to view local integration of refugees as a key aspect of their human development, a goal to which UNRWA is openly committed. This is certainly the way in which UNDP and UNHCR regard the matter, reflecting a basic acceptance of the core principles of democracy and human rights, as commonly understood and interpreted. Moreover, UNRWA’s own interpretation of its mandate does not imply procedural or legal reasons to prevent it from including local integration within its activities should it, or more specifically, its commissioner-general, choose to do so.

A Boon for Regional Stability

Earlier in the twentieth century and prior to the establishment of UNHCR, a number of instances of major population exchanges transpired, all creating, for a time, massive refugee crises: in 1923 between Turkey and Greece (involving an estimated two million individuals); between 1944 and 1951 in the context of the large-scale demographic upheavals that transpired in post-World War II Europe (an estimated twenty million people); and in 1947, between India and Pakistan (involving some 14.5 million individuals). All of these cases, as well as that of the State of Israel, which naturalized an estimated 586,070 Jewish refugees from Arab countries in the years 1948-72, demonstrate the feasibility of successful integration of a large number of refugees as an enduring solution.

A 2008 UNHCR study, documenting its own experience over the course of several decades in implementing local integration policies (see Table 1), showed the main instances where integration had been successfully implemented (or was being envisaged) in cooperation with local authorities. Defining local integration as consisting of three dimensions—legal, economic, and sociocultural—the survey made it clear that this option implied that “refugees will remain indefinitely in their country of asylum and find a solution to their plight in that state. Ideally, but not necessarily, that will involve the acquisition of citizenship.”

The absorption of hundreds of thousands of Indo-Chinese refugees in the early 1980s by China has been referred to by Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees “as one of the most successful integration programmes in the world.” In Central America, “the welcoming and integration of displaced people in the 1990s contributed to the overall stability of the region.”

Whereas many asylum countries regard the hosting of refugees on their soil as a burden, increasing attention is being paid to the benefits of integrating refugee communities. For example, in a UNHCR study of local integration in Mexico, Uganda, and Zambia, author Ana Low notes:

Economically integrated refugees contribute to development of the host country rather than constituting a “burden.” They become progressively less reliant on state aid or humanitarian assistance and better able to support themselves. Social and cultural interactions between refugees and local communities enable refugees to live amongst or alongside the host population.

There is a growing realization that local integration is a key solution to many protracted refugee cases, alongside recognition of the inefficacy of an insistence on repatriation. As UNHCR analyst Alexandra Fielden notes:

There appears to be an emerging consensus concerning the ineffectiveness of policies which insist that everyone should live in their country of origin and, if they have been forced into exile, return to that country. In protracted refugee situations, it is in fact often the case that the people concerned have never lived in their putative “homeland.” … In this context, local integration becomes the most forward-thinking and realistic refugee solution.

Sowing the Seeds of Peace

The existence of refugees is one of the consequences of civil or international conflict. It has, however, become increasingly clear that refugees can themselves play a destabilizing role, aggravating or perpetuating conflict. In particular, in those protracted refugee situations where large-scale repatriation or migration is unfeasible, local integration provides the only means of enabling refugees to develop their human potential and to become productive members of their host societies. The alternative of maintaining refugee populations in a state of limbo over a protracted period of time, according to UNHCR analyst Jeff Crisp “creates a situation in which refugees—especially young males—are more prone to becoming involved in illicit and antisocial activity.”

In a 2004 report, UNHCR identified some of the negative consequences of maintaining refugees in an indeterminate state, referring to “wasted lives, squandered resources, and increased threats to security.”Conditions within refugee camps and among refugee communities typically foster poverty and poor standards of health and education, which in turn are often associated with radicalism and engagement in illicit, sometimes violent, behavior.

Individuals with protracted refugee status tend to remain in a downward spiral of poverty, due to the fact that they typically suffer from all three dimensions of poverty identified by the World Bank: “lack of income and assets; voicelessness and powerlessness in the institutions of State and society; and vulnerability to adverse shocks … The prolongation of refugees’ dependence on external assistance also squanders precious resources of host countries, donors and refugees.”

In the words of the report,

a consequence of protracted refugee situations is that they can serve as incubators for future problems. Festering crises can nurture instability and conflict. Large, disaffected, and alienated populations relying on subsistence-level handouts are prime targets for recruitment into armed groups.


There is a growing understanding in the policy and scholarly community as to the beneficial effects of local integration as a means of securing durable solutions for protracted refugee problems. This understanding reflects several decades of experience acquired by UNHCR in the different arenas of its activity. Increasingly, scholars have taken note of this experience and have developed a body of theory that helps to explain the mechanisms through which local integration serves as an effective means for enabling beneficiaries of international humanitarian assistance to achieve independent, productive lives within the social and political fabric of their host countries. Moreover, there can be little doubt that such outcomes are important for the achievement of regional stability and for lessening conflict.

Unlike UNHCR, UNRWA interprets its mandate in such a manner as to preclude local integration and resettlement as proactive strategies. This (mis)interpretation—not required by the General Assembly resolutions that together constitute UNRWA’s mandate—prevents UNRWA from implementing policies that have a proven record of resolving the plight of a great many refugees all over the world.

Were UNRWA to adopt policies of local integration and resettlement, as successfully practiced by UNHCR, an important contribution would be made toward addressing one of the core obstacles in the quest for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While there would no doubt be many advantages to such a development, none would gain more than UNRWA’s own beneficiaries, who would be assisted in building lives of dignity and self-reliance for themselves and their children.

Uri Resnick is policy advisor to Israel’s minister of foreign affairs and former deputy director of the Department for U.N. Political Affairs in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The views expressed here are solely those of the author.


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