....Like other education providers, we have two major assets which are priceless: highly-motivated teachers and highly-motivated young students. Precisely because they belong to communities in exile, they all know that UNRWA schools are central to Palestinian identity as well as to individual success. The school is the beating heart of the refugee community. You would be amazed to see how much of its daily life revolves around getting the children and young people to school and seeing that they do well, hopefully well enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.Grandi here is unwittingly admitting two things.
This is thus my fourth key message – and it is a message which resonates in all refugee situations, and especially so among Palestinians: education is the crucible of identity, national as well as personal. I believe this is a very important issue for DIHAD’s consideration: humanitarian crises generate displacement. Displacement threatens identity. Those at most risk, in this respect, are the young. The Palestinian refugee crisis is the biggest, longest, gravest example of this – even more so now, with peace seemingly very distant, the occupation of Palestinian lands becoming bolder every day, and a just and lasting solution of the Palestinian refugee question fading into oblivion. If Palestinians in their dispersal have held on for so long to their identity and their aspiration to a state of their own, it is also due to the forging of their identities in UNRWA schools.
One is that, instead of relying on parents to forge identity - the natural way that identities are assumed - UNRWA chose long ago to forge the "Palestinian" identity for the children who attend the schools. In fact, Palestinian Arab identity was very weak, and practically nonexistent, up until UNRWA started teaching a new generation of children in the 1950s that they must identify as Palestinian and not as a member of the counties they were born in. Instead of working towards solving the refugee issue at that critical time, UNRWA instead chose to teach the children that there was no alternative to "return" and that they must remain stateless until they move back to homes that don't exist into a nation that will never accept more than a token amount of them in context of real peace.
Which brings up the second point that Grandi is saying. Even though he admits that a solution is far off, he still is proud of pushing this identity - which itself makes the problem insoluble. Any reasonable observer knows that one way or another, Palestinian Arabs will have to assimilate into their host countries. UNRWA knew this in the early 1950s as well. But the rank and file teachers instead taught that "return" was imminent, and the students who grew up with that fantasy were encouraged not to fight for their rights in their host countries and assimilate the way every other refugee population does. They were taught to wait until their fictional "right to return" is implemented.
UNRWA is in no small part a reason that Palestinian Arabs will remain stateless and miserable. Those identities that Grandi is so proud of are in fact the exact reason that generation after generation of Palestinian Arabs believe in intransigence and unwillingness to accept Israel's existence.
All this besides the fact that a UN agency has no business teaching what is effectively a political position. Palestinian Arab nationalism was designed from the ground up to negate Jewish nationalism, and UNRWA is now admitting that it has been a historical part of anti-Israel feeling in the Middle East.
UPDATE: In the infamous Catherine Ashton speech where she compared Gaza to Toulouse, she said something essentially identical to Grandi (via Petra Marquardt-Bigman):
We know too that the Palestinian refugees face additional challenges; they leave [sic!] in countries which even after so many years they cannot consider home. This is why UNRWA’s work is so special: it has gone beyond the provision of universal needs and helped them establish a sense of identity that otherwise is lost to the world, an identity which people here are absolutely proud of. And that comes about through many things that UNRWA does.She also effusively praised him, meaning that she seems to have gotten this theme from him directly.
This seems to be a new UNRWA theme, and the people pushing it are pushing an agenda of negating Jewish self-determination on the altar of relatively new-found Palestinian identity - with UN funds.