Writing in the Jerusalem Post, the Middle East Forum's Steven J. Rosen and Daniel Pipes highlight some fundamental flaws in the mission of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the lead international organization responsible for aiding Palestinian Arab refugees.
UNRWA, which has been operating for 62 years, "does not work to settle refugees," Rosen and Pipes write. "Instead, by registering each day ever-more grandchildren and great-grandchildren who have never been displaced from their homes, or employment, artificially adding them to the tally of 'refugees,' it adds to [the] number of refugees aggrieved against Israel."
To further inflate the numbers, UNRWA insists that 2 million people who have been granted citizenship in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan (who comprise 40 percent of UNRWA beneficiaries) are still "refugees."
As a result, Palestinian refugee numbers haven't declined due to resettlement and natural attrition as would normally happen. Instead, the number of refugees under UNRWA jurisdiction has soared from 750,000 in 1949 to 5 million.
"At this rate, UNRWA refugees will exceed 8 million by 2030 and 20 million by 2060, its camps and schools endlessly promoting the futile dream that these millions of descendants someday will 'return' to their ancestors' homes in Israel," Rosen and Pipes wrote.
But friends of Israel in the West encountered resistance from the Israeli government when they tried to defund UNRWA. Jerusalem sees a critical distinction between UNRWA's harmful activities and its role as a social-service agency that aids one-third of the population in the West Bank and 75 percent of those in Gaza. Without that funding, Israeli officials worry that Palestinian institutions would collapse and the military would have to enter hostile areas to run schools and hospitals.
The critical question, according to Rosen and Pipes, is how to maintain UNRWA's role as a social service provider without letting it create millions of new Palestinians dependent on international largesse. They suggest allowing Palestinians to receive UNRWA assistance without formally registering as refugees.
A more dire view of UNRWA's role comes from policy analysts Asaf Romirowsky and Nicole Brackman. In an op-ed for The Times of Israel, they write that "the United States, as the third largest donor to UNRWA, is an unwitting accessory in perpetuating a state of utter dependency in which the Palestinian upper class fobs off all economic responsibility onto the international community."
Romirowsky and Brackman add that supporting UNRWA "is a poor strategic choice for both sides. For Palestinians, it delays and stunts the growth and maturation of civil society and constructive nation-building; and for the Israelis, it legitimizes and enables those who would use UNRWA as a base for terrorist activities."