It’s become clear that many Arab leaders, such as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have become fed up with the Palestinians’ constant refusal to make peace even after being offered very generous terms by the Israelis. “MBS,” as he’s often called, in March told a closed-door meeting of American Jewish leaders that the Palestinians should take whatever the United States offers.
One of the biggest obstacles to peace is the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a 1949 creation that is supposed to be providing relief to the Palestinians, whom it continues to call “refugees.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump’s top Middle East adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, have decided to stop U.S. funding for UNRWA to put more pressure on the Palestinians to accept the forthcoming peace plan. It’s a good decision both diplomatically and politically.
During the Obama years, the United States paid UNRWA about $350 million annually, about a quarter of its total budget, apparently trying to bribe Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip into accepting Mr. Obama’s peace terms. They didn’t for a host of reasons, particularly the Palestinians’ insistence in their claim to a “right to return,” the legal fiction that is the foundation stone of UNRWA.
Refugees are people who flee a nation because of war or for economic reasons. Their descendants aren’t refugees but, under the UNRWA construct, the descendants of the Arabs who left Israel at the time it was created — forever, in every succeeding generation — are entitled to “refugee” status. Millions remain in camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israel was created by U.N. Resolution 181 on Nov. 29, 1947. That resolution partitioned England’s old “protectorate” into what the resolution repeatedly called a “Jewish state” and an “Arab state.” Less than two weeks later, U.N. Resolution 184 said that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors should be allowed to do so as soon as practicable.
There were between 600,000 and 726,000 refugees who left the Jewish state at the time of the partition. Some fled in fear of advancing Jewish troops, but the vast majority left because Arab leaders, including Muslim clerics, demanded that they leave.
After Israel won its war of independence, Syrian Prime Minister Khaled al-Azm, admitted those facts. He said, “Since 1948 it is we who demanded the return of the refugees while it is we who made them leave we have rendered them dispossessed “
The Palestinians’ claimed “right of return” is based on the language of Resolution 184, but the claim is not made in behalf of those who left Israel — who are by now very aged or deceased — but for their descendants as well. Israel has a population of about 8.2 million, about 25 percent of which is Arab. There are about 5.1 million people who claim to be the descendants of Palestinians who left Israel at the time of the partition, about 4.3 of whom are registered with the U.N.
The math is simple. If you add another 5.1 million Palestinians to Israel’s Jewish population of about 6 million, Israel will no longer be a Jewish state in accordance with Resolution 181. Its Arab majority would dominate, democratically or — more likely — by force. If Resolutions 181 and 184 are read together — which they must be to determine the intent of the nations that voted for it — it’s clear that the “right of return” for all of the original refugees’ descendants is a legal fiction. Maintaining that fiction is one of UNRWA’s principal functions.
UNRWA’s other activities are no better. It stands as a propaganda arm of the Palestinians regularly condemning Israeli actions. In its schools about a half-million children are “educated” using books that teach hatred of the Jewish state and are taught that violent religious war is the means by which Israel should be overcome.
Some nations, such Germany, are promising more funding for UNRWA to counter the Trump administration’s action. They, like the Palestinians, are comfortable with the fictions that the Palestinians have used in the past to reject the more than reasonable peace terms they have been offered in recent years such as the offer made in 2000 which would have given them all of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and parts of East Jerusalem.
To the Palestinians and their allies trading. “land for peace,” as expressed in U.N. Resolution 242, is not enough. They insist on destroying the Jewish state.
The Trump administration’s cutoff of UNRWA funding is an action that should have been taken long ago by other administrations. It won’t, by itself, change Palestinian leaders’ minds and force them to make peace with Israel. But the changing positions of the most powerful leaders of Arab states such as Crown Prince bin Salman, combined with American pressure, might be enough compel the Palestinians to do so.
• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”
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