The Trump Administration is collaborating with Israel’s PM Netanyahu to dismantle the UNRWA
by HANIN ABOU SALEM
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump’s Deal of the Century for Arab-Israeli peace which will be revealed after the holy month of Ramadhan will strip Palestinians from their refugee status and their right to return to their homes and land in territories that became part of Israel in 1948.
The Trump Administration is collaborating with Israel’s Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu to dismantle the United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA).
The UNRWA was created by the UN in 1949 to carry out direct relief and work programmes for Palestinians who were forcible expelled from Palestine by Zionist forces between 1947 and 1949.
Today, 5.44 million Palestinian refugees are registered with the UNRWA in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
According to Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas after the UN General Assembly (GA) called for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state in the UN GA Resolution 181 (II) of 1947, “Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued”.
After the establishment of Israel on May 14, 1948, the UN GA Resolution 194 (III) of 1948 resolved that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date…”
Despite Resolution 194 calling for the return of Palestinian refugees, Israel continues to deny Palestinian refugees their right to return to their homes.
Israel has repeatedly called on Arab states that are hosting the UNRWA to resettle Palestinian refugees.
Israel also wants the UNRWA to be dismantlement and for the responsibility of Palestinian refugees to be transferred to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Israel is keen to transfer Palestinian refugees to the UNHCR because the agency has a specific mandate to aid refugees by eliminating their refugee status through the medium of local integration in the host country or resettlement in a third country when return is not possible.
If the UNRWA is dismantled, Arab countries hosting Palestinian refugees will be forced to integrate these refugees or agree to their resettlement in other countries.
Moreover, most Palestinian refugees, who were registered with the UNRWA, will find themselves facing a legal limbo because America and Israel will argue that they are not deserving of refugee status.
On Aug 3, 2018, leaked emails obtained by Foreign Policy confirmed that the Trump Administration wants to dismantle the UNRWA in order to end the “refugee status of millions of Palestinians”.
After the emails were leaked, the Trump Administration announced on Aug 31, 2018 that it will end all assistance to the UNRWA.
In the same month the Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn introduced a bill calling on America to “support UNRWA solely to the extent necessary…to resettle refugees from the Arab-Israeli Conflict of 1948”.
Shortly afterwards, Senator James Lankford introduced a bill on Sept 6, 2018, requiring the US secretary of state to certify by 2020 that the UN no longer recognises Palestinians registered with UNRWA as refugees.
All the above leads me to conclude that Trump’s Deal of the Century for Arab-Israeli peace will seek to strip Palestinians from their refugee status and their right to return.
For the sake of justice and peace, we all have a moral responsibility to uphold the rights of Palestinian refugees by encouraging our countries to make financial contributions to the UNRWA.
Individuals can also contribute by donating to UNRWA’s #dignityispriceless campaign.
We also need to make sure our countries continue to vote in favour of renewing the UNRWA’s mandate until Palestinian refugees can exercise their right to return.
Finally, I would like to end with the wise words of the UN Security Council mediator Folke Bernadotte who in 1948 wrote “No settlement can be just and complete…if these innocent victims [referring to Palestinians] of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes”.
Bernadotte was assassinated by a Zionist terror group in 1948 for defending the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
The innocent victims he died defending continue to suffer a grave injustice by not being able to return to their homes.
Therefore, we all have a moral responsibility to reject any attempts that seek to strip Palestinians from their status as refugees and their right to return.
- Hanin Abou Salem is the founder and president of the Palestine Party for Palestinian refugees. Hanin is also a political analyst, media commentator and researcher.