Tag Archives: Israel-Palestinian Conflict

What should be done with UNRWA?

{Previously published by The Jerusalem Post} 

Hady Amr, former Obama State Department deputy special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, wrote in The Hill that the administration’s defunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) undermines a “cornerstone of America’s support for stability in the Middle East and flagship of our values to provide for the most vulnerable… UNRWA is so in-sync with our (American) values that American citizens directly donate millions of dollars to UNRWA.”

While it is true that UNRWA provides important health services to Palestinian civilians, Amr chooses not to comment about the State Department designated Hamas group’s infiltration of UNRWA facilities in Gaza, or UNRWA teachers glorifying terrorism, or UNRWA refusing to take off its rolls the two million Palestinians living as full citizens of Jordan. He also ignored a 2013 UN audit that found UNRWA vulnerable to “misappropriation, graft and corruption,” while a Newsweek op-ed in 2016 asked, “Why Are American’s Paying for (UNRWA) Antisemitic Textbooks?”

UNRWA considers Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza as stateless refugees, despite the fact that they are already living in the land the international community says will be their eventual state. The problem is that the Palestinians living in the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) and Gaza, as their “Mass March of Return” clearly states, consider themselves refugees from today’s Israel within the 1949 armistice line, demanding an unlimited right of return that UNRWA’s mission advocates for and which would effect the demographic destruction of Israel.

According to James Lindsey, UNRWA’s own general council from 2000 to 2007, “More than two-thirds of the registered refugees have moved out of refugee camps and into the general population of the countries or areas in which they live.” Yet UNRWA still adds “10,000 new fifth- and sixth-generation refugees to its lists per month” according to the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Stephen Rosen, writing in the Middle East Forum, said that the “‘Right of Return’ symbolized by UNRWA’s very existence, is a sacred issue to Palestinians.”

During a discussion last month with a current Middle East State Department official, I recommended that if you truly want to advance a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not perpetuate it, you need to change UNRWA’s mandate allowing every descendant of an original Palestinian refugee from 1946 to 1948 to claim an eternal refugee status.

What must be clearly differentiated, but too often is treated as one issue, are UNRWA’s definition of refugees, which is counterproductive to resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and the important humanitarian aid it provides, which as Amr and many in the IDF and within the Israeli government believe, is an essential stabilizing force. Let’s leave aside that much of this is self-inflicted by Hamas rule in Gaza, and by 70 years of discrimination against Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Syria

As happens so often with today’s hyperpolarized politics and Middle East analysis, the discussions about UNRWA are fraught with half-truths and historical revisionism.

According to a news article in the Washington Post, “Many UNRWA critics appear to believe incorrectly that UNHCR (the refugee agency for every other refugee in the world) does not recognize descendants of registered refugees as genuine refugees themselves. The two organizations have the same definition — giving assistance to those driven from their countries because of a well-founded fear of persecution, war or violence and to their descendants for as long as that status continues.”

This seems to be a half-truth. Although there are descendants of refugees other than Palestinians who are still counted as refugees, the vast majority of refugee populations throughout the world have decreasing populations of refugees over time, as the priority of UNHCR is to find a permanent home for the world’s refugees. Palestinians, on the other hand, have a perpetually growing refugee population, without a single descendant of a Palestinian refugee ever taken off the UNRWA roll.

Two million Palestinians have Jordanian citizenship but are still counted as full-fledged stateless refugees by UNRWA; they would not be considered refugees if they were part of UNHCR. These Palestinians have no “well-founded fear of persecution, war or violence.” In fact, Palestinians constitute the majority of the Jordanian population!

According to UNHCR, “Our ultimate goal is to find solutions that allow them to rebuild their lives. Many refugees cannot go home… UNHCR helps resettle refugees to a third country.”

UNRWA refuses to help any Palestinian resettle outside of Israel. It will only remove Palestinian refugee status voluntarily, which does not follow the UNHCR vision, but instead is in lockstep with the Palestinian Authority agenda that does not want a single Palestinian anywhere in the world taken off its census, which works directly against a resolution of the conflict. It is essential to those who wish to destroy the Jewish state that the “refugees” and their descendants not disappear from the news by becoming anything other than displaced persons, instead of living as citizens of Arab or other countries.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s office accused the Trump administration of “stripping millions of Palestinians of their refugee status” because it would negate the true agenda of the PA and Hamas, which can never accept a state of the Jewish people with full minority rights living in peace next to a totally Judenrein state of Palestine in today’s West Bank and Gaza.

If this weren’t the truth, then Abbas would have accepted the Israeli offer in 2008 for a Palestinian state on 100% of the territory with land swaps, east Jerusalem as its capital, and continued Muslim control of the Temple Mount.

There is also the hypocrisy of UN refugee agencies ignoring the millions of Jews descended from the 750,000 Jews who lived in Arab countries for millennia, who were expelled from their native lands in response to the creation of Israel.

Those Jews who had all their property confiscated by Arab governments aren’t counted by any UN agency, but an Arab migrant worker who came from outside the British Mandate area and happened to live for two years in Mandate Palestine between 1946 and 1948, is counted to this day as a refugee, as well as the hundreds of thousands of his descendants who are entitled to indefinite UNRWA services.

Emphasizing the absurdity and danger to American interests of continued funding of UNRWA without a change in its definition of refugees is indeed a step toward destabilizing the current unsustainable situation, a step away from funding the Islamist desire to destroy Israel, and a step toward a genuine peace.

Let the Palestinians have a normal economic life, exchanging productivity with their neighbors, including Israel, to everyone’s benefit, instead of maintaining a desolate state of war, propped up forever by foreign aid, with the corruption that it almost always entails. Palestinian “refugees” receive more aide than any other refugees in the world.

America can find another way to support legitimate humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians, while insisting on reform of their anti-Israel, anti-peace, anti-American educational system.

Alternatively, the international community could also simply demand that Hamas stop firing its rockets against Israeli civilians over the internationally recognized Gaza-Israeli border and stop attacking the very checkpoints that bring humanitarian aid into Gaza. Israel would then happily open its borders to trade, give humanitarian help, set up desalination plants and move toward an equitable final resolution.

The writer, director of the Middle East Political Information Network, regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House and their foreign policy advisors. He is a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill and The Forward.

What Palestinians Mean When They Talk About A ‘Two-State Solution’

{Previously Published by Forward.com}

At a recent campaign-style rally, President Donald Trump said that Israel is going to have to pay a “higher price” in future negotiations for his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians, he added, “will get something very good, because it’s their turn next. Let’s see what happens.” Whether this was an off-the-cuff remark or preparation before his long-anticipated grand strategy to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this or a future administration will again be pressuring the parties to accept its version of a two state solution.

To American ears, the meaning of “two states” is unambiguously straightforward. The struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, to them, is a struggle between two indigenous peoples fighting over the same space of land in which they share a history. A fair solution, then, would be one in which Israel is the state of the Jewish people, and alongside it will exist a separate Palestinian State.

But in the Middle East, nothing is easily understood or obviously clear. American negotiators, many American supporters of Israel and Israelis themselves use the term “two states” believing its definition is self-explanatory and accepted by all parties — but this is far from the case.

To Palestinians on both sides of the green line, “two states” is a capitulation that would leave one small state, Palestine, for indigenous people, and one state, Israel, would be given to the oppressive foreign colonialists.

Shlomo Avineri, a well-respected Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the Hebrew University, outlined this view in a 2015 column for Haaretz:

“According to the Palestinians’ view, this is not a conflict between two national movements but a conflict between one national movement (the Palestinian) and a colonial and imperialistic [sic] entity (Israel). According to this view, Israel will end like all colonial phenomena — it will perish and disappear. Moreover, according to the Palestinian view, the Jews are not a nation but a religious community, and as such not entitled to national self-determination which is, after all, a universal imperative.”

Of course, the natural conclusion of this view is that the American conception of “two states for two peoples” is not a fair or an acceptable solution. From my extensive experience speaking with Palestinian leaders and laymen alike, I have come to learn that the Palestinian version of the two state solution leaves no room for a Jewish state.

This year, I lead an in-depth seminar in Israel trying to understand what Palestinian citizens of Israel want in the 21st century.

To almost all Palestinian citizens of Israel I spoke with, from Arab mayors to teachers, a state of the Jewish people is illegitimate in their eyes; Zionism is a colonizing enterprise of Jews stealing Arab land. Judaism, to them, is exclusively a religion, without a legitimate civilizational or national aspirational component. They view the Jewish historical claim to the land as fictional and Zionism as racism.

Their idea of a fair “two state solution” is one completely Arab state in the West Bank and one democratic binational State of Israel that allows the right of return for descendants of Palestinian refugees. It is a “two state solution,” but not the one American Jews would recognize or Israel could survive.

I asked these Palestinian citizens of Israel if, were they to have every economic advantage Jewish Israelis have, even without performing any compulsory civil service, would they then consider Israel a legitimate democracy. Almost all said no: not until the Jewish star is removed from the flag, Hatikvah is no longer the national anthem and the right of return for Diaspora Jews to Israel is rescinded.

In 2011, Fatah Foreign Relations Chief Nabil Shaath was very clear: . He said, “the story of ‘two-states for two peoples’ means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this… we will never agree to a clause preventing the Palestinian refugees from returning to their country.”

Today in American politics, some candidates have abandoned any façade of a fair two state solution. The first Muslim American Congresswomen from Michigan, Rashida Tlaib, told Britain’s Channel 4 that she would “absolutely” vote against U.S. military aid to Israel, and declared that she believes in the ”one state” solution, i.e. the demographic destruction of Israel.

There is little doubt that future American administrations will re-attempt negotiations with the Israelis and Palestinians in hopes of achieving some form of a two-state solution. But it would be wise, before proceeding, to have both parties sign an agreement that at the end of the negotiations, one of those states must be the State of the Jewish people, with the final resolution including a signed end-of-conflict agreement that unambiguously states that 100% of all Palestinian claims to that state are settled.

The security of Israel, and the future of a Jewish state in the Middle East, depends on it.

What do the Palestinian Citizens of Israel Want?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

While the world’s focus has been on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the assumption has been that dealing with the needs of Arab citizens of Israel would be eminently easier.

What do Israel’s minority citizens want? That was the question I attempted to begin to answer with my annual MEPIN/Keshet seminar group, assessing the challenges and progress of Israel’s 20% minority population, consisting of Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, Aramaic Maronites, Druze and Beduin.

We visited and met with academics and school children, Israeli government officials and Arab mayors, Arab colleges, a leading demographer, teachers and human rights organizations, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. Today’s Israeli Arabs self-identify as Palestinian Israelis, or more precisely as Palestinian Citizens of Israel (PCI).

To deny that PCIs have faced discrimination in allocation of government funding, infrastructure, and employment opportunities would be to deny reality.

As Yossi Klein Halevi told us, “Palestinian Israelis have a profound sense of dislocation, humiliation, and grievance going back to 1948.

Palestinian Israelis are conflicted, as the country they reside in is at war” with their brothers over the Green Line.

I had thought that the concerns of PCIs were eminently more solvable than those of their Arab brothers living over the Green Line in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A recent poll of PCIs did favor a two-state solution, but here the semantics really matter as a window into the perspective of PCIs. For Palestinian Israelis, “two states” means one Palestinian state in the West Bank with no Jewish citizens, and the current State of Israel as a non-Jewish state for Arabs and Jews.

PCIs I met on this visit said Israel would never be a democracy until Israel ends the Jewish nature of the state and the Jewish right of return for Jews living in the Diaspora.

Yet paradoxically, recent polls of PCIs showed that over 50% are proud to be Israeli. So how do you unpackage these contradictory facts? I was expecting to find an Arab populace that saw a future for themselves in a Jewish state, and that despite the current economic inequalities, if the gaps continue to narrow, there would be an appreciation and acceptance of living in the only democratic state in the Middle East, imperfect as it for its minority citizens at this time.

When I asked Palestinian Israelis, if all the economic inequities were magically erased, would they then accept living in a Jewish state accepting the responsibilities of minority citizens? None said yes.

The narrative of too many well-meaning Jewish organizations and rabbis, who tell their members that PCIs just need economic equality and will then see themselves as being full partners of a Jewish state, may be far from the truth.

While the world’s focus has been on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the assumption has been that dealing with the needs of Arab citizens of Israel would be eminently easier. After all, Israel’s minority citizens, despite the economic inequalities, have freedom of speech, religion and the press, access to the Supreme Court, 15 Muslim Knesset members, and are freer than any other Arab citizens in the region.

Through Western eyes, economic advancement is the key issue to solve to have, if not loyal citizens of a Jewish state, ones who comfortably accept living as a minority in a Jewish state.

What I learned troubled me. With the exception of the Druze and the Christian Aramaic communities, Palestinian Israelis today do not believe Israel can ever be a democracy unless it ceases to be a Jewish state, in essence a binational state. Too many PCIs believe Judaism is only a religion, not a legitimate national movement of a people entitled to a national home. Zionism to them is racism. Compared to 15 years ago, my impression is that today’s Palestinian Israelis have become more strident as their identity has become more Palestinian.

Even if Israeli Arabs were to become economically equal to Jewish citizens, it will never be enough to satisfy their basic demands, namely the dismantlement of the Jewish nature of the state; until then they are unwilling to accept the responsibilities of full citizens.

Palestinian Israelis complain about job discrimination because employers favor Israelis who serve in the military.

But when presented with the option of compulsory non-military civil service to match fellow Jewish citizens, evening the playing field for employment opportunities, they overwhelmingly rejected that option. There was almost no acknowledgment that they too have responsibilities as Israeli citizens and they were uninterested in meeting the Jewish majority halfway, as they see the problems as primarily ones of Jewish discrimination.

The narrative of the Palestinian Israeli is that the Jews are racist, while the Palestinians are a people who have suffered the indignity of the being displaced by the interloping Jews, with the underlying conviction being that Jews have no right to be anywhere from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river Valley.

So where do we go from here? ALTHOUGH ISRAEL has not fulfilled all its obligations to its minority citizens over the years, under the current coalition government more has been done, and more funds have been committed to the minority population than ever before. Arab mayors I met with, who are no fans of this Israeli government, readily admit that the current government has begun to narrow the gaps of economic inequality with more balanced funding for infrastructure and education.

But the challenge of the PCI education system goes way beyond funding. Too many Palestinian Israeli schools willingly choose self-segregation.

The Israeli educational system, which funds at least four different school systems, allows for self-imposed segregation.

While Jewish secular schools seem willing to partner for co-existence projects, PCI schools prefer to isolate themselves as there is little desire to interact with Jewish students in a shared educational experience, undermining the Western perspective that integration of minority communities with the majority population will lead to better co-existence. It is no wonder that when well-qualified Palestinian Israeli graduates apply to jobs with Jewish employers, both groups eye one another with suspicion.

There are exceptions, like the Hand-in-Hand schools where Israeli and Arab students learn together in a 50:50 setting. Unfortunately in a nation that is 80% Jewish and 20% Arab, this model would need to be adapted to acknowledge the demographic reality. The problem still is, do PCI parents in large numbers want their children segregated, or to be a minority in majority Jewish classrooms? With regard to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, we often say that the maximum Israel can offer the Palestinians will never meet the minimum requirements the Palestinians of the West Bank can accept to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

We now also need to ask ourselves a similar question about the Palestinian Israelis.

Suppose that the maximum Israel can offer Palestinian Israelis – full rights, recognition of their Arab identity, and economic empowerment, while simultaneously accepting the responsibilities of living as minority citizens in a Jewish state – doesn’t meet the minimum PCIs can accept, namely the eradication of the Jewish nature of the State of Israel? Yossi Klein Halevi told us, “We need a serious conversation about rights and responsibilities between Arabs and Jews.” His new book Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor begins to address these difficult conversations, which he says will make both the Left and the Right uncomfortable.

There is plenty Israel needs to do to for its PCIs. Israel has recently stepped up and now 20% of the relevant budget goes to Arab communities, and 40% goes for transportation in Arab communities.

Israel should set up programs to teach Arabic in its Jewish schools, for both inclusiveness and security.

But until the PCIs realize that they too have responsibilities as minority citizens of the state, progress will be slow. Educational opportunities are key for advancement, and even in the poorer sectors, such as the Beduin, real progress and even innovation are occurring in this regard.

Israeli Arab Christians matriculate to university at a higher rate than Jewish Israelis.

An accomplished Muslim Arab judge in Israel told us that to succeed as a Palestinian Israeli you must be the best of the best. Yet he acknowledged that part of the reason is that Arab university graduates are disadvantaged because they do not join the military or have compulsory civil service. His words should be taken to heart by the PCIs.

This is a key to solving so many of their complaints, but the Palestinian Israelis have chosen to throw away the key rather than unlocking the door to addressing economic inequality. They must get past blaming the Jewish state for all of their problems.

You can’t complain you aren’t getting your fare share when you refuse to do compulsory civil service to match the time young Jewish citizens give to the nation.

There are certainly individual exceptions and whole fields with full equality, especially in medicine. The catch 22 is that Arabs want what Israelis have materially and educationally, but do not want to become full citizens if that requires living in a Jewish state.

Even in the truly innovative educational situations I witnessed in Arab education that lead to improved Arab educational advancement, the goal is to strengthen Arab society, not to co-exist or find their place with a Jewish majority.

This is a counterproductive and a shortsighted strategy that will perpetuate Arab disenfranchisement.

Arab economic disenfranchisement will also not improve until the misogyny in Arab society subsides, letting the majority of Arab women work, so that their socio-economic status won’t continue to stagnate.

The Palestinian Israeli narrative is similar to that of their Palestinian brethren over the Green Line, seeing the Jewish presence as the cause of all of their troubles. A people needs a shared vision that is more than the dream of the destruction of the other, and the lamentation of tragedies that have befallen them.

Palestinian Israelis refuse to acknowledge the dilemma they put Jewish Israelis in when they choose to align themselves with the enemies of the Jewish state. Although they are a minority within Jewish Israel majority, they are also aligned with the majority of Arabs and Muslims that surround Israel and threaten its existence.

The harshly critical human rights organization Adalah told us Israel couldn’t be a Jewish and democratic state.

It says PCIs cannot be protected as Palestinian Israelis if there is Jewish privilege, and until the Jewish Law of Return is ended. If PCIs continue to embrace this Adalah narrative, it’s a sure path to perpetual conflict.

Hopefully Palestinian citizens of Israel will choose a better and wiser path by embracing educational opportunities that include co-existence, accept full non-military civil service post high school, and accept the responsibilities of being a minority population in a majority Jewish state.

There is a way forward, but it is a two-way street.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East. He is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.

Susan Rice, the State Department and the U.N.: A Trilogy of Anti-Israel Animus

Today’s VLOG deals with the State Department’s continued use of facts out of context in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, American credibility in the Middle East, and hostility to Israel within the Obama administration. The VLOG begins with another shocking anti-Israel UN vote that with the exception of groups like UN Watch, fail to ever make it into the reporting of the mainstream media.