Monday 10 November 2008

EU MPs urged to rethink Palestinian refugee issue and UNRWA policies

Paulo Casaca, a member of the European Parliament from Portugal: "The root of the problem is that these people are refugees because those who are dealing in the industry of hate are misusing them. They are kept on a hate-machine. Instead of helping the refugees we are helping those who want to [use] the refugees against the State of Israel."

"A gathering of hundreds of European parliamentarians who support Israel concluded over the weekend in Paris with a politically loaded discussion on the rehabilitation of Palestinian refugees - one of the most sensitive issues facing Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

The debate, part of a conference sponsored by the Brussels-based European Friends of Israel, came amid a groundswell of parliamentary activity around the world, including in the US and Canada, to reroute funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the mammoth UN body that deals with Palestinian refugees and their descendants, towards the resettlement of some of the refugees and their descendants in third countries.

The session, which was hosted by the Israel Allies Caucus Foundation, the international arm of the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus, included addresses by European parliamentarians as well as by MK Benny Elon of the National Union-National Religious Party and MK Amira Dotan of Kadima. The two co-chair a new Knesset caucus on the rehabilitation of Palestinian refugees.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians - estimates range from 400,000 to 750,000 - left their homes during the War of Independence in 1948 and 1949. They, along with their millions of descendants, constitute one of the prickliest issues that must be dealt with as part of any resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel flatly rejects the Palestinian demand that these refugees be allowed to return to their ancestral homes within Israel, saying that such a move would indelibly alter the character of the country.

Israel has also pointed to the 850,000 Jews who fled Arab countries after Israel's founding in 1948 and were integrated and absorbed in Israeli society as counterweight to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

Recently, some Israeli parliamentarians have begun to openly advocate dealing tackling the Palestinian refugee issue after decades of avoiding it as a non-starter.

Much of the focus at Friday's discussion centered on the difference between UNRWA and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), the main UN body that handles all other refugees around the world.

While UNRWA's 25,000-strong almost exclusively Palestinian staff care for 4.5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, the UNHCR employs a staff of around 6,300 people to help nearly 33 million people in more than 110 countries.

The event also dwelt on UNRWA's definition of Palestinian refugees, which includes not only the refugees themselves, but also their descendants, which critics say only serves to perpetuate the refugee crisis.

"We are asking why the UNHCR has the mandate to solve the problem of refugees and UNRWA does not," Elon said. "There are cynical political reasons to maintain the status of the refugees."

UNRWA has repeatedly said that the issue of Palestinian refugees can only be resolved in the context of a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

UNRWA concedes that the size of the refugee problem is made bigger - but not prolonged - by the UN's inclusion of the descendants of the Palestinian refugees, but insists that this is how the UN deals with refugees all over the world.

"We can learn from the UNHCR how to shift power energies and money to find tools that are already there," said Dotan, who praised UNRWA's humanitarian and educational work for the Palestinians in her address, but suggested following the success of UNHCR.

She noted that UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd is slated to address the Knesset caucus, after a summer event was postponed due to scheduling conflicts.

"The root of the problem is that these people are refugees because those who are dealing in the industry of hate are misusing them," said Paulo Casaca, a member of the European Parliament from Portugal.

"They are kept on a hate-machine," he said. "Instead of helping the refugees we are helping those who want to [use] the refugees against the State of Israel," he said.

"The EU has a moral obligation to examine the root of the problem instead of throwing money at the problem, as we have in the past," said Hannu Takkula, a member of the European Parliament from Finland.

"We have to start this discussion, because the system is not working," he added. "The problem for many is a lack of information."

Source: TJP, article by Etgar Lefkovits

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How much help did the 12000000 Germans from beyond the Oder Neisse line in Silesia, Pomerania and East Prussia who were all genuine refugees, in that they were forcibly ejected, get from the rest of the world? They do not call their houses camps, they do not claim refugees status for their descendents, they do not engage in acts of terrorism. They are useful citizens of other countries and of the Federal Republic. Surely there is an example here?