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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dismantle UNRWA for peace (Commentary)

Michael Bernstam in Commentary writes an important article that lays out the major problems of UNRWA:
UNRWA’s mandate created, in effect, a multigenerational dependency of an entire people—a permanent, supranational refugee welfare state in which simply placing most Palestinians on the international dole has extinguished incentives for work and investment. It has succeeded with a vengeance. It has thwarted economic development, destroyed opportunities for peace in the Middle East, and created, along the way—both metaphorically and literally—a breeding ground for international terrorism. The great-grandchildren of East Prussian refugees do not blow up pizzerias in what used to be Konigsberg and is now the Russian city ­Kaliningrad. But the great-grandchildren of the original UNRWA refugees do blow up pizzerias in Jerusalem.

It is this open-ended refugee status—which necessarily envisions a victorious return to the Israeli part of the former British Mandate Palestine—that puts bread on the table in the rent-free house, together with an array of social services. Only the triumphant return of the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren to the ancestral land will mark the final deliverance in this ideology. Until then, the permanent refugee welfare state means permanent war. It is no longer the epitome of former British prime minister Clement Attlee’s dichotomy of warfare state and welfare state: it is both.

The permanent refugeeism of the UNRWA welfare state generates a particular “right of return” claim—the argument that Palestinians should be given title to the land they occupied before Israel’s independence—that fuels perpetual warfare. To see its pernicious demographic and physical meaning, consider what this claim is not, and then what it is. First, it is not the right of return of actual refugees (as opposed to descendants) that was created by international conventions since 1948 to prevent deportations and to mitigate the conditions of concurrent refugees who fled the ravages of war. Nor is it the right of return of historical ethnic diasporas to their own nation-states that Germany extends to all Germans, Armenia to all Armenians, Greece to all Hellenes, and Israel to all Jews. Nor is it the establishment of new nation-states where there were none, such as the partition of British Mandate Palestine into the Jewish and Arab states or the partition of the British Raj into India and Pakistan. Rather, the claim of the Palestinian right of return is intended for one historical ethnic diaspora of the ­descendants of perennial refugees to repopulate another people’s existing nation-state, Israel.

This is not the right of return to a country; this is the right of return of a country, a reconquest after a lost war. In Europe, a similar claim would apply to the right of the Germans to a return of the Sudetenland from the Czech Republic, Farther Pomerania and Silesia from Poland, and East Prussia from Russia. In Asia, it would mean the right of the Pakistanis to parts of India.

This is not the right of return; this is a claim of the right of retake. In the world of historical ethnic diasporas, the right of return-cum-retake means a Hobbesian war of all against all. More than being detrimental to Israel, it is destructive for the Palestinians because it gives more belligerent groups, such as Hamas, an upper hand and prevents reunification of the two potential Palestinian nation-states. It converts what was meant to be a civil right into a civil war, on top of the war with Israel.
It gets better:
UNRWA has been one of the most inhuman experiments in human history. Since UNRWA creates incentives for war and disincentives for peace, conditions for Palestinian misery and disincentives for economic development, it cannot be reformed and must be removed. The change in the Palestinian incentive structure is necessary for both peace and statehood. Palestinian sovereignty will only be achieved by liberation from UNRWA and, like peace, cannot be truly achieved without this liberation. The first order of business, then, is to dismantle the UNRWA welfare-warfare state.

...The end of UNRWA would automatically nullify the pernicious issue of the right of return-cum-retake. It is unsolvable in the presence of UNRWA, because it implies the repopulation of Israel with millions of perennial paramilitary refugees. But once UNRWA is discarded, the refugee status expires instantaneously or after a transition period, and the right of return becomes a non-issue due to immediate and actually pressing needs.

Though its defenders may claim that criticisms of this agency are ill-intentioned or biased against the Palestinians, the phasing out of UNRWA is not only the Palestinians’ sole hope of finding a viable future. It also fits well with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s hope of creating a viable independent state. Though supporters of the Palestinians and even some friends of Israel have come to believe that UNRWA is indispensable, nation-building from within is the only viable form of nation-building. Instead of perpetuating the dead end that the international welfare state for the Palestinians represents, ending UNRWA’s horrific six-decade reign would instantly create the conditions for an honest, meaningful, and viable peace process to begin in the Middle East.
Read the whole thing - and tweet it.

(h/t Joshuapundit)