David Bedein has visited Canada many times and delivered his appraisal on UNRWA, the UN’s agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, on more than a few occasions.

Last week, for the first time, Bedein, bureau chief for the Israel Resource News Agency, was guardedly optimistic that his suggestions on reforming the massive UN agency – to actually push it to rehabilitate and resettle refugees – might actually bear fruit.

Canada, he said, is preparing “for a modest diplomatic step in the Middle East. This is one issue where Canada can take the lead.”

Bedein was in Ottawa last week for a series of meetings with parliamentarians, senior officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office. Altogether, Bedein briefed about 50 legislators and officials in three meetings, including members of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Friendship Group.

He was invited to Ottawa by Jason Kenney, the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary.

As chair of the refugee working group, an international body established 15 years ago to examine a solution to the Palestinian refugee question, Canada has some leverage on this issue, Bedein told his hosts.

“Canada has two tremendous opportunities at a time when the political aspects of the process has stalled. Canada can take the lead in looking at the refugee situation as soluble.”

Bedein suggested Palestinians languishing in refugee camps face a choice between continued squalor or normalization of their lives. The UN maintains the status quo, he said, and he urged Canadian representatives to “enter dialogue with the refugees themselves” to address the humanitarian issues related to the peace process.

Normalizing Palestinians’ lives might also defuse some of the political volatility in the camps, he suggested. “If you have permanent housing around you, you are less likely to be pushing for the ‘right of return,'” he said.

Palestinians have called for the right of refugees and their descendants to return to homes in what is now Israel, and they consider that prospect “very real,” he said.

Since there are no political prospects that that might occur, Canada could push for rehabilitation of refugees along the lines adopted elsewhere by the UNHCR, the UN agency responsible for refugees everywhere in the world outside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Bedein also suggested that UNRWA, which Canada funds in part, should not employ members of the terrorist group Hamas.

This appeared in the CJN on May 24th, 2006