At the beginning of her 2018 speech to global ambassadors at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 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 U.N. 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 last week, during an appearance with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, President Joe Biden did exactly what she decried. Standing next to Abbas, Biden 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 lines. Yet later, he dedicated an additional $200 million to UNRWA. It was as if Biden, having heard from Dr. Wilf what he was not supposed to do, went right ahead and did it anyway.
Like 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 of Judea and Samaria being given to the Palestinians along with the Gaza Strip and appropriate land swaps. The problem—and one could accurately characterize this problem as what collapsed the Israeli left—is that the Palestinians do not support such a solution.
However, you will never hear it from them in such explicit terms. During his appearance with Biden, 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. Abbas failed to mention that Palestinian leadership turned down the opportunity to build a state of their own in 2000, 2008 and 2014.
But Abbas did allude to it. After his assurance that the Palestinians were prepared to accept their right to self-determination in part of the land, he 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 refugee issue.”
Abbas’ plea to “end all permanent status issues, including the Palestinian refugee issue” is the red herring, as it is in the arguments of many anti-Israel advocates. This seemingly benign comment winks at the Palestinian belief, which is delusional, that any resolution with the Israelis must come with an assurance that the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 War of Independence and their descendants, who 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.
This belief is why in 2000, 2008 and 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—health care, education, social welfare—to the impoverished and immiserated Palestinians living in refugee camps in places like Jenin and southern Lebanon. This claim allows the Palestinian leadership to absorb hundreds of millions of dollars a year from foreign governments—governments that mistakenly believe their aid is contributing to the realization 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 II—UNRWA insists on maintaining the designation of Palestinians in Judea-Samaria and Gaza as “refugees from Palestine,” even though they are living in what they claim to be 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 whom the title of “refugee” is inherited, and for whom it does not become obsolete once they obtain citizenship in another country. The only way to undo the designation of a refugee is for “return” to be actualized—in other words, for the Jewish State of Israel to cease to exist.
Furthermore, human-rights watchdogs and NGOs have consistently found anti-Semitic incitement, propaganda and justification of terrorism in 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 anti-Semitism and promotes hate, intolerance and lack of neutrality.”
It is important to ask Biden how throwing money at an agency hellbent on demonizing the other side of the negotiating table gets us closer to peace. It is the equivalent of throwing gasoline, rather than water, on a burning building.
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. As Wilf put it, “The Palestinians are not refugees because they don’t have a state. They don’t have a state because they insist on being refugees.”
When 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 Biden in the hope he would take concrete, strategic steps to reach an agreement in between Israel and the Palestinians. He claims to be doing so, yet all we have seen from this president, like so many before him, are continued miscalculations and meaningless gestures.
Blake Flayton is New Media Director and a columnist for the Jewish Journal.
This article was originally published by Jewish Journal.