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The villain of the peace

December 2, 2007

David Kopel at The Volokh Conspiracy describes the history of the United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA), set up in 1949 to assist the Palestinians who who fled or were expelled from Israel, but which has only served to ensure they maintain their refugee status in perpetuity.

Established in December 1949, UNRWA began operations the next May. The UN Agency’s job was to help settle the Palestinians who had left Israel because of the 1948-49 war. According to General Assembly resolution 302(IV), UNRWA’s mandate was that “constructive measures should be undertaken at an early date with a view to the termination of international assistance for relief.”

Over half a century later, UNRWA’s annual budget is nearly half a billion dollars, including nearly $150 million from US taxpayers. As UNRWA’s website explains, “In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate.” Stated another way, UNRWA’s bureaucratic existence depends on making sure that the Palestinian refugee problem is not solved, and that “international assistance for relief” is not terminated at an “early date,” or ever.

Well worth a read, as are the comments.

One commenter, Prof. Ethan, makes some important observations, which echo an argument advanced by Bernard Lewis prior to the recent Annapolis conference:

The Palestinian refugee situation is hardly unique, neither in suffering nor in scale.

There was a lot of these events at the end of WWII and during decolonization:

About ten million Germans had to flee their centuries-old homes in eastern Europe in 1945. A million died; another million were raped. They were not welcomed in western Germany, and there was much suffering. None of these people or their descendants is blowing up discos in Danzig.

About seven million Hindus had to flee from what became Pakistan (and an equal number of Muslims fled from India). No Hindus are blowing up schoolyards filled with students in Islamabad.

The number of Palestinian refugees resulting from the Nakbah of 1948 is about 750,000. Bernard Lewis is right: the number of Jewish refugees expelled from Muslim states between 1948 and 1960 was larger: about 850,000. These Jews were forced to leave everything behind (uncompensated). Some Muslim is enjoying their property even as we speak (perhaps this illegally-seized property could be a source of compensation for the Palestinians!). None of these people is blowing up supermarkets in Marakesh or Aden.

About 300,000 Greeks were intentionally forced from Egypt by the Nasser government policies 1953 and 1960–in order to Egyptianize and Muslimize Egypt; ethnic and religious cleansing to the max. Most of these Greeks had come to Egypt in the early 19th century; but some had been in Egypt for 2,300 years. The refugees weren’t happy, nor was it easy for them to assimilate where they ended up. They had to leave everything behind (uncompensated); some Muslim is enjoying their property as we speak. No Greeks are blowing up buses in Cairo.

Millions of Greeks were forced from western Turkey in 1922; the ethnic cleansing of Greeks by the Turkish government went on as late as 1955 in the area called “Pontus” on the south coast of the Black Sea; the refugees remain bitter and when a Greek “Pontic” refugee girl won a gold medal in the Olympics in 1992 the bitterness in Greece was very public. None of these Greeks or their descendants is blowing up restaurants in Ankara.

About 50,000 Hindu Indians were driven from Uganda in 1972 by Idi Amin in a program of ethnic and religious cleansing. Their property was confiscated (uncompensated). None of these people or their descendants are intentionally shooting rockets at civilians in Uganda.

When I pointed out these parallel tragedies to a Palestinian, his response is revealing: “None of these people is as honorable as the Palestinians are.”

I wish I was making up this psychologically revealing story. I assure you that, unfortunately, I am not.

As far as I can see, there was no just solution to the problem of Palestine in 1947 — at least, not one that would be just to both sides. A solution just for the Jews involved an injustice to the Palestinians. And the opposite was equally true.

The British were tired of of the burden of their Mandate, and wanted out. The Jews had fought for the establishment of a Jewish state against the Mandate, and their struggle was not going to stop. The Arabs did not accept the Jews in Palestine, and their struggle was not going to stop. The only possible solution was what the UN in fact proposed: two states, one for each people. The Jews accepted, the Arabs did not.

And still do not.

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