At a time when the new Trump administration focuses on a new Middle East initiative, President Trump’s team could invest his energies in a real legacy that can be achieved: a humanitarian solution for the millions of descendants of the Arab refugees who fled from the newly proclaimed State of Israel in 1948, and who have lived ever since in 59 “temporary” refugee camps (hosted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem).
Since the US provides 33 percent of UNRWA’s budget (it donates $400 million to UNRWA each year), the US unwittingly prolongs a unique “refugee status in perpetuity” , a paradigm that UNRWA drums into the minds of half a million UNRWA pupils.
Meanwhile, since Hamas gained control over the UNRWA workers’ unions and teachers’ associations in Gaza over the past 18 years, which means that “humanitarian funds” actually flow to what has been designated by the US as a terrorist organization, where there is not even an expectation of transparency or accountability.
As UNRWA’s largest donor, the US could ask all donor nations to reconsider the curriculum in UNRWA schools, which emphasizes the “values” of jihad, martyrdom and the “right of return by force of arms.”
Would this not be the right time to reinstate standards that conform to the UNRWA slogan of “Peace Starts Here”?
How can an agency that operates under the aegis of the United Nations train children for war?
Over the last two years, our agency filmed children’s military training camps, and interviewed Hamas leaders who praise the cooperation of UNRWA in their military training.
Hamas Minister of Religion Ismael Radwan told us on camera in our short film from August 2015 “CHILDREN’S ARMY OF HAMAS” that “the Hamas relationship with UNRWA is good, very good. Now a direct connection exists between UNRWA and Hamas.”
The new Trump Administration could demand that UNRWA dismiss all employees affiliated with Hamas, in accordance with laws in the US, Canada, the EU, the UK and Australia, which forbid aid to agencies that employ members of a terrorist organization.
The US Congress enacted strict laws in 2003 in this regard, which have never been enforced.
The US could ask that paramilitary training of UNRWA students be brought to an end.
It could also demand to audit donor funds that flow to UNRWA from 68 countries and examine reports of wasted resources, duplicity of services and the illegal flow of cash to terrorist groups.
Further evidence of UNRWA’s unsavory role in stoking the flames of enmity and conflict is that has contracted as its youth ambassador Mohammad Assaf, who won the “Arab Idol” in 2013 at the age of 22.
Assaf does not only promote his good looks. He travels the world, promoting Jihad and martyrdom.
The lyrics of Assaf’s songs are rife with calls to. Here is an example, from our 2014 short film, UNRWA GOES TO WAR
“O soils of beloved forgotten land with precious blood precious, you’re irrigated.
We have all the rights, we are all for it.
My land is from the river to the sea.
…We will protect the land It’s either victory or martyrdom, the men of this land said.
Take my blood and give me freedom.
My land is from the river to the sea.
This would be an opportune time for the US to ask UNRWA to cancel its contract with this man who incites to violence under a UN umbrella, whose videos on You Tube got more than 36 million hits over the past year.President Trump can put his prestige on the line and demand that UNRWA dismiss Mohammad Assay as the UNRWA youth idol.
At the same time, President Trump could finally push UNRWA to adopt Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) principles and direct UNRWA to engage in permanent resettlement of Arab refugees from the 1948 war?
UNHCR has a global mandate to provide international protection to refugees worldwide. Refugees from “Palestine” are the only refugees on the planet who are catered to by their own separate agency: UNRWA.
In December 1950, the UN General Assembly established UNHCR “to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide.” It works “to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees,” and to “ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.”
Many other refugee problems around the world have been resolved, yet since 1949, half a million Arab refugees have ballooned into five million who covet their refugee status, waiting, as Assaf’s song says, to retake what they consider their land “from the river to the sea.”
President Trump can also ask the direct question: Why should descendants of refugees be counted as refugees? Not by UNHCR rules, but yes by UNRWA rules, whose refugee duration is forever.
The US could address the madness of continuing to create more and more refugees – children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond – and instead apply UNHCR standards of resettlement to UNRWA, to resolve the problem, instead of perpetuating and constantly expanding it.
There is much that the Trump administration can do if it wants to establish a Middle East legacy that will last a lifetime.
Now is the time for a new President to launch a courageous initiative to remove the stain of refugee-hood from millions of Palestinian Arabs burdened with that indignity since 1949.
The writer is author of “Genesis of the Palestinian Authority” and “Roadblock to Peace – How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict: UNRWA Policies Reconsidered” and has been active in efforts to reform UNRWA for the past 29 years. He runs the Israel Resource News Agency and the Center for Near East Policy Research, which has produced books, monographs and short films shot on location in UNRWA camps in Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.