UNRWA Initiative Unveiled

MK Einat Wilf unveiled today, January 31, 2012, to 65 ambassadors convened in the seventh Bar Ilan University Ambassadors forum, her parliamentary campaign to restructure the United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNRWA). MK Wilf argued that the inflation of the number of refugees is a major, if not the greatest, stumbling block to the preservation of the two state solution. MK Wilf said that whereas the international community is singularly focused on the settlements in its effort to keep the two state solution alive, it should be at least as focused on restructuring UNRWA and combating the inflation of the numbers of refugees towards the same end.

MK Wilf shared her own experience as a member of the peace camp who has grown skeptical in recent years, saying that when she hears Palestinian leaders insist that there exist five million refugees possessing a ‘right of turn’ into the sovereign state of Israel, she questions whether the Palestinians truly desire peace and accept the idea that the two state solution means two states for two peoples: Jews and Arabs.

MK Wilf explained that, especially in light of the Palestinian bid for recognition as a state in UN bodies, the time has come for the international community, and the donor nations to UNRWA in particular, to address the inflation in the number of refugees conducted by UNRWA, so that the two state solution might remain alive. Wilf proposed that, rather than address the refugee issue in a final agreement or restructure UNRWA after an agreement, the process should be inverted.

Wilf declared her plans as a member of parliament to launch a parliamentary appeal directed at the donor countries to UNRWA and the parliamentary committees that are responsible for approving the budget contributions to UNRWA. Her proposal is based on the principle that all funding to UNRWA should move from core funding (for general purposes) to targeted funding (for specific purposes) in the following manner:

In Gaza: Wilf argued that there is no dispute that Gaza is part of the future state of Palestine and wondered how is it that a baby born in Gaza today is considered a refugee. Wilf proposed that the donor countries continue to fund hospitals, schools and welfare in Gaza, but de-link that aid from the maintenance of status of ‘refugee’. The aid should be given based on need and not based on the unparalleled automatic hereditary refugee status that only UNRWA grants.

In the Palestinian Authority: Wilf said that like in Gaza, the refugee status in the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority is no longer relevant as they live in the future state of Palestine. But she added that in the PA areas there is also the issue of UNRWA undermining the efforts to build the PA as the future government of Palestine. Wilf proposed that the donor countries transfer to the Palestinian Authority the funds going to UNRWA in this area to manage the schools, hospitals and welfare programs, thereby strengthening the PA as the future government of Palestine.

With respect to all other Palestinians administered by UNRWA in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, Wilf proposed merging UNRWA’s activities with those of the UNHCR, the UN agency that deals with all other refugees in the world, and under the same principles.

Wilf concluded that once these steps are implemented, the number of refugees would no longer be inflated and be the real number, which is estimated at around 30,000 who are the real Palestinian refugees who lived in what is today Israel prior to 1948. Once the the real number is put forward the way to a two state solution is strengthened. Wilf said also that in this case even the most right wing government in Israel would have no problem, as part of a comprehensive peace agreement, to accept all the refugees into Israel, as long as they accept to live in peace with their neighbors as mandated in UN resolution 194.