Leaks revealed this week expose what has become accepted information. US President Donald Trump’s administration hates UNRWA and would like to dissolve it and to cart off the classification of “refugees” from most of the Palestinians, including the two million registered refugees in Jordan.
Jered Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and the lead adviser on the Middle East is wrong. He mistakenly thinks that he and others in Washington can simply and unilaterally reverse a 70-year-old policy that has been enshrined in UN resolutions. What is worse is the attempt he is making at preventing an international UN agency, mandated by the General Assembly, from carrying out its humanitarian work that is focused on education, health and sanitation for the refugee camps.
The ideology behind Kushner’s effort is not new. Successive Israeli officials and Israeli defenders have been pushing for this futile narrative without success over the seven decades. It is not clear what makes a newly-authorised family relative of the president, with little knowledge of the region or its complexities, to be able to carry out this massive and impossible goal.
It is true that by tackling Jerusalem and the refugees issue, rather than leaving them to the end, Kushner is inserting a new way of thinking. But besides the order of final status topics, Washington has not moved the needle an inch by its chaotic unilateral approach. Dealing with Jerusalem and refugees in this manner is akin to a brain surgeon using an ax to carry out his work on the head of the Palestinians.
What has become evident to long time observers of the Middle East is that Kushner and company has taken the Israeli bait totally. By parroting the Israeli narrative, attempting to use the ax of the US embassy’s movement and cutting off aid to UNRWA, the new kid in town thinks he can shake up the negotiation process.
A simple look at the Arab Peace Initiative could have saved Kushner a lot of troubles. The clause on refugees and their right of return is so watered down that has someone properly explained it to Kushner or had he been genuinely interested in a resolution, he would not have used the ax to destroy the work of a humanitarian organisation.
The text of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, approved unanimously by all Arab leaders states: “Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.”
The key phrase in this clause is “to be agreed upon”. This means that while the right of return, as stated in resolution 194, is non-negotiable, the fact is Arab leaders, as well as leaders of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, agree to negotiate the implementation of this clause, thus giving both sides a veto on any agreement they do not agree to. So instead of using the sledge hammer of cutting off aid and trying to change the status of Jordan’s two million Palestinian refugees, a smart idea would have been to try and find common ground on this topic.
A little research in some of the drafts agreed to between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would have also been helpful had Kushner been genuinely interested in a resolution. At one time, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had agreed to the return of no more than 100,000 refugees over a ten-year period and under the auspices of family reunification. A study of the poll conducted by Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, would have also enlightened Kushner that within a comprehensive agreement that includes a fully independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, less than 10 per cent of Palestinian refugees living in Jordan said that they would want to return to live in what is now the state of Israel.
But Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, all American Jewish Zionists with publicly stated positions and donations in favour of settlers, have blindly accepted and promoted the Israeli bait lock, stock and barrel, the Trump officials failed to do their basic homework or to even give the appearance of an honest broker.
The Trump team, drunk with power and paying no attention to the needs, desires or aspirations of the Palestinian “natives”, has taken out their misguided policy against the one agency that Palestinians have no control over. By slashing the budget that the US has committed to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Washington has removed the one organisation that has been credited more than any other in keeping the sanity and the humanity of Palestinians. And by attempting to crush and weaken UNRWA, the Trump administration has given more attention to the refugee issue than anyone had ever dreamed. Asian, Latin American, European, Arab and African countries, as well as donors and individuals, have come up with much of the needed funding to keep UNRWA alive, even if it is badly hurt.
Palestinians might miss schools in the next months, clinics might not be able to accommodate the needs of the sick and the crowded refugee camps would smell worse as understaffed sanitation workers are unable to carry the extra load that has been put on their shoulders.
If there is a formula for radicalism and extremism, the Americans appear to be pushing for it by their unwise and counterproductive policy towards a UN-mandated humanitarian agency. And to think that by cutting off aid to UNRWA, the Palestinian leadership, which has nothing to do with the UN, will suddenly change its position and adopt Kushner and company’s “ultimate deal” is laughable.
Palestinians have resisted financial, political and military pressure to make compromises on their already compromised peace positions. The naïve policy of Kushner in this regard will produce no positive results and it is highly likely to produce negative results in locations and ways that are not predictable. The Israeli army of all sectors is well aware of the dangers of cutting humanitarian aid to refugees and its military brass has not been in favour of the right-wing policies of their government and their blind followers; the Americans. It is time to end this foolishness and to work on setting up a genuine framework for peace, based on balance and fairness as stipulated in international resolutions.