At the beginning of her 2018 speech to global ambassadors at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Einat Wilf, co-author of “The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace,” noted: “Your governments, especially those that continuously fund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), on the one hand claim to want to promote peace by means of two states, and on the other hand effectively pursue a policy that ensures this will never happen.”
Dr. Wilf did not have a crystal ball at the time of her speech. Yet this week, during a tour of the Palestinian territories, President Joe Biden did exactly what she had decried. Standing next to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he opened his remarks by reiterating his administration’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with borders drawn on the 1967 armistice lines. Yet later, he dedicated an additional two-hundred million dollars to UNRWA. It was as if President Biden, having heard from Dr. Wilf what he was not supposed to do, went right ahead and did it anyway.
Like President Biden, I support a two-state solution. Many Jews in Israel and many Jews in the Diaspora support a two-state solution. We see no problem with most if not all the West Bank being given to the Palestinians along with the Gaza Strip and with appropriate land swaps out of Israel proper. The problem, and one could accurately characterize this problem as what collapsed the Israeli left, is that the Palestinians do not support such a division of land and such a sharing of sovereignty.
However, you will never hear it from them in such explicit terms. Standing next to President Biden on Friday, President Abbas stressed the “importance of reestablishing the foundations upon which the peace process was based … the basis of the two-state solution along the 1967 borders.” This is what we in the Jewish world call chutzpah. President Abbas failed to mention how Palestinian leadership turned down the opportunity to build a state of their own in 2000, in 2008 and in 2014. But he did allude to it. After his assurance that the Palestinians were prepared to accept their right to self-determination in part of the land, Abbas stated:
“We say that the key to peace and security in our region begins with recognizing the state of Palestine and enabling the Palestinian people to obtain their legitimate rights in accordance with international legitimacy resolutions, and ending all the permanent status issues, including the Palestinian refugees issue.”
Abbas’s plea to “end all permanent status issues, including the Palestinian refugee issue” is the red herring of his address, as it is in the arguments of many anti-Israel advocates. This seemingly benign comment winks to the Palestinian belief, which is delusional, that any resolution with the Israelis must come with an assurance that the Palestinian refugees of the 1948 War of Independence and their descendants, which number close to seven million people today, have a right, which they claim (incorrectly) is enshrined in international law, to resettle within the sovereign state of Israel. Therefore in 2000, in 2008 and in 2014, the Palestinians balked at accepting statehood next to a Jewish nation, even as their own sovereignty was close and within reach. As long as refugees could not return to Israel and fundamentally undo the Jewish state’s Jewish majority, it was agreed — behind closed doors—that a peace deal was never to be.
Thus, the usefulness of UNRWA. On paper, UNRWA claims to simply provide services — healthcare, education, social welfare — to the impoverished and immiserated Palestinians living in refugee camps in places like Jenin and southern Lebanon. Toeing this line, Palestinian leadership can absorb hundreds of millions of dollars a year from foreign governments—governments that mistakenly believe their aid is contributing to the dream of a two-state solution.
In reality, it is doing the opposite.
Since its founding in 1949, UNRWA has worked tirelessly to incite and prolong the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead of working to resettle Palestinians either in surrounding nations or within a nation of their own, as every other refugee rehabilitation program has done since the outbreak of World War Two, UNRWA insists on maintaining the designation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as “refugees from Palestine,” even though they are in fact living in Palestine. UNRWA also demands that Palestinian refugees living overseas and their descendants, many of whom are citizens of other nations such as France, the United States or the United Arab Emirates, remain listed as refugees from Palestine — making Palestinians the only people in the world for which the applied title of “refugee” is inherited, and for which it does not become obsolete once they obtain citizenship of another country. The only way to undo the designation of refugee is for “return” to be actualized; in other words, for the Jewish State of Israel to cease to exist.
It is important to ask President Biden how throwing money at an agency hellbent on demonizing the other side of the negotiating table in any way gets us closer to peace.
Furthermore, human rights watchdogs and NGOs have continually found antisemitic incitement, propaganda and justification for terrorism within the curriculum UNRWA provides to Palestinian schools. The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education notes that “UNRWA-produced educational literature contains material that encourages jihad, violence and martyrdom, promotes antisemitism, and promotes hate, intolerance, and lack of neutrality.” It is important to ask President Biden how throwing money at an agency hellbent on demonizing the other side of the negotiating table in any way gets us closer to peace. It is the equivalent of throwing gasoline, rather than water, on a burning building.
“The Palestinians are not refugees because they don’t have a state. They don’t have a state because they insist on being refugees.” – Dr. Einat Wilf
UNRWA is the main vehicle by which the Palestinians express their desired conclusion to the conflict: to erase the Zionist State of Israel and replace it with an Arab-majority country from the river to the sea. So long as this dream is not realized, UNRWA maintains the status quo. “The Palestinians are not refugees because they don’t have a state,” says Dr. Wilf. “They don’t have a state because they insist on being refugees.”
When President Biden lends his support to a two-state solution but simultaneously pledges further support to UNRWA, he betrays the promises he has made to the Israeli people to prioritize their security. He also betrays the promises he has made to the Palestinian people to ensure their dignity. This double cross carries profound implications for the stability of the region.
The services that UNRWA provides to the Palestinian people can and should be handed over to the Palestinian Authority, or at least to an agency that will assist resettlement and rehabilitation rather than continue the status quo. This is the stuff of actual state building. Unfortunately, so long as UNRWA can rely on millions of dollars in aid from naive and counterproductive administrations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue, with no two-state solution on the horizon. I voted for President Biden in the hope he would take concrete, strategic steps to reach an agreement in Israel/Palestine. He claims to be doing this as we speak, yet all we have seen from the president, like so many before him, are continued miscalculations and meaningless gestures.
Blake Flayton is New Media Director and columnist for the Jewish Journal.