Finding a solution to the plight of millions of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East is key to peace in the region, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said in an interview on Thursday.Yet, an Arabic report on his speech adds an interesting point. He said that the resettlement of refugees "is not on the table not a topic of debate. The refugees could stay refugees, but with more rights including the right to work legally" in Lebanon.
"UNRWA has no political role, but it does have the moral role of reminding all parties involved and all governments with a say in the peace process that there will be no peace without a fair solution for refugees in line with UN resolutions," the agency's Commissionner General Filippo Grandi told AFP.
"It is tragic that the international community has not yet found a solution to this problem," Grandi, who was appointed to the post in January, said on a visit to Beirut.
In other words, the UNRWA is committed to solving the refugee problem - as long as the Arab states that they have lived in for generations have no responsibility for that permanent solution.
As far as UNRWA not having any political role, Grandi is already on the record as saying
One of my key priorities will be to continue to advocate strongly on behalf of the 1.5 million Gazans, and to do so not only until the end of the blockade and the occupation, but also until a just and lasting solution to the plight of the refugees is achieved.This goes way beyond a purely humanitarian mission - this is an almost purely political statement.
“Despite some recent economic improvements for some, the lives of most Palestinians in the West Bank continue to be made almost impossible by obstacles, walls, movement limitations and other restrictions, and by the expanding threat of settler violence. For those residing in East Jerusalem, as I do, it is cause for daily anguish to watch the situation deteriorate rapidly under our very eyes, especially the ruthless evictions of Palestinians from their homes. UNRWA will continue to stand with the affected families and all of those in need of our protection and will tirelessly lend our voice to their calls for justice.”
UNRWA's more assertive moves away from humanitarian purposes and more into politics can be seen from a recent conference. During an otherwise predictable speech by UNRWA director Michael Kingsley-Nyinah (at an international meeting on "Israel-Palestinian peace" in the island of Malta - a great excuse for many vacations at taxpayer expense) he said something that might signal UNRWA's new direction:
We call for a process that is inclusive in its representation and comprehensive in its coverage of priority issues, including the question of Palestine refugees. We call attention to the fact that under universal refugee protection principles, informed individual choice is the foundation on which durable solutions for refugees are implemented and redress provided, and we maintain that this principle should equally benefit Palestine refugees. Given the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian context, informed choice must be the essence of any effort to sift through and clarify the range of varying Palestinian expectations and rights. With these precepts in view, we support the initiation of arrangements to ascertain and record refugee interests and concerns.
Such arrangements should include mechanisms that will project the refugee perspective into the negotiation arena in a manner that protects and promotes their ability to exercise informed choices. We acknowledge that a process inclusive of the refugee constituency would pose significant challenges. Yet we believe that those challenges are surmountable, provided we remain guided by relevant principles and by the benefits of enhanced legitimacy which an inclusive approach will bring to the negotiation process and to its outcomes.
Those benefits should not be underestimated. The refugees of whom we speak constitute a substantial reservoir of human capital across the Middle East, and they stand poised to contribute significantly to the socio-economic viability of the region and of a Palestinian State. Those registered with UNRWA are currently around 4.7 million strong, with an additional four to six million estimated to reside in the Palestinian Diaspora. Given their numbers and human development potential, Palestine refugees are a formidable constituency for peace with a substantial stake in the Israeli-Palestinian future. Excluding the refugee voice disenfranchises the refugee constituency, which means we forego a wealth of insights and risk the credibility and sustainability of the peace process.
Palestine refugees – their human rights, their aspirations and their concerns – are bound to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in complex and profound ways that place them in a position to influence the realization of durable solutions. The Palestine refugee presence is a stark reality, a reality whose significance and power genuine peacemaking efforts can no longer afford to ignore. Recognizing and harnessing the refugee constituency is a necessity that is consistent with principle, and which could also pay handsome dividends to the credibility and efficacy of the search for peace.
For over sixty-years, Palestine refugees have endured the indignities and insecurities of exile in an environment often steeped in instability and conflict. As an international community, we often proclaim our commitment to address their anguish and to resolve their plight, and we profess allegiance to the UN Charter objective of settling disputes by peaceful means “…in conformity with the principles of justice and international law”.
If we are serious about these solemn commitments, and truly devoted to the cause of peace, then the least we can do is to give refugee issues prominence in the peace process, and afford Palestine refugees the dignity of being heard.
This means that UNRWA wants to create a quasi-Palestinian Arab political entity that would represent the PalArab "diaspora" during any negotiations with Israel. It is clear that the PA has no interest in helping out the "refugees" in Lebanon or Syria, and no one is advocating for them. UNRWA seems to be saying that a new PalArab "refugee" organization should be created and treated as an entire country in exile for the purposes of pressuring Israel further.
UNRWA seems to have already pre-judged what Palestinian Arabs in the camps want:
The refugees and host communities share an implicit understanding that the sojourn of Palestine refugees is temporary – and that this transient state is unchanged by the lengthy duration of their exile. As a corollary, “refugee consciousness” is strong among Palestinians, including the younger generation. The passing years have left intact a sense of injustice, a demand for acknowledgement and a desire for their travail to be justly resolved. Across the Middle East, Palestine refugees define themselves (and are defined by others) by reference to the historical experience of exile.The irony is that the same system that Kingsley-Nyinah is advocating - of actually asking Arabs with Palestinian ancestry what they want - could be used to help resettle millions of them in Gulf states or other Arab nations, which could actually use their formidable human capital that he speaks of.
Unfortunately, this solution is not likely what UNRWA is planning to do. UNRWA's decision not to seek and push for permanent resettlement in Arab countries proves that UNRWA has no interest in actually advocating for the human rights of these stateless pawns. Instead, UNRWA is trying to do exactly what Arab states have done since 1948 - use the artificially-created third generation of fake "refugees" for purely political purposes and not try to find a real solution for them as individuals.