Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he backs President Trump all the way in his criticism of the United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA).
“UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meetings. “It also perpetuates the narrative of the right-of-return, as it were, in order to eliminate the State of Israel; therefore, UNRWA needs to pass from the world.”
Trump angered the Palestinians last week when he threatened in a pair of tweets to cut funding to the UN agency that handles Palestinian refugees if the Palestinian Authority doesn’t talk peace with Israel.
UNRWA was established 70 years ago solely for the purpose of taking care of Palestinian refugees. Another UN body, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), deals with all other refugees in the world.
UNRWA defines a “Palestine refugee” as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” (That “conflict” was Israel’s war of Independence.)
Initially, the term referred to both Jews and Arabs. Now it is limited to those who reside in UNRWA’s “areas of operation in the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza Strip), Lebanon, Jordan and Syria,” UNRWA’s website says.
According to UNRWA, in 1948, there were an estimated 711,000 such refugees. In 2012, an estimated 30,000-50,000 were still alive but there were an additional 4,950,000 “registered patrilineal descendants” of the original refugees, 1.5 million of them living in UNRWA camps.
“Of course this creates a situation in which there are great-grandchildren of refugees, who are not refugees but who are cared for by UNRWA, and another 70 years will pass and those great-grandchildren will have great-grandchildren and therefore, this absurdity needs to stop,” Netanyahu said.
He made a suggestion to the U.S.
“I have made a simple proposal: UNRWA support funds need to be gradually shifted to the UNHCR, with clear criteria for supporting genuine refugees, not fictitious refugees as happens today under UNRWA,” the Israeli prime minister said.
“I have brought this position to the attention of the US. This is how to rid the world of UNRWA and deal with genuine refugee problems, to the extent that such remain,” he added.