One characteristic that appears in all the proposed programs and peace processes is the issue of refugees. Each plan postpones the issue to be solved sometime in the future, at the end of the process. There is no reason to continue this way. It is possible to start the rehabilitation of Palestinian refugees independent of any political process.
The Key: Dismantle UNRWA
The key to advancing this new approach to the resolution of the refugee problem is to end the historic role of UNRWA. Palestinian refugees who meet international criteria (those who left their homes in 1948) would subsequently join the UN commission for refugees, UNHCR. An international authority will be established to administer the rehabilitation of the refugees for a period of ten years. The primary role of this body will be to rehabilitate the second and third generations of refugees either in their current locations or in host countries and eliminate all of the temporary refugee camps. They will draw upon resources from Israel, USA, the Arab world and the international community.
In actuality, the refugee camps exist because of UNRWA. The moment their mandate is negated and their resources dry up, those countries currently hosting refugees will have to contend with the new reality and take part in the rehabilitation program. The refugees themselves will have been freed from their dependence on UNRWA and they will be able to break the refugee cycle. This will allow them to seek a better, more permanent existence either independently or through a rehabilitation agency.
Dr. Daniel Pipes, a senior American analyst who specializes in the Middle East, published the following on the connection between the USA and UNRWA a month prior to UNRWA's mandate being renewed in 2003:
"The time has come to help those generations of non-refugees (that is to say the offspring of Palestinian refugees), to save them from refugee status and to make them citizens, to help them gain the skills to build a better future. The best possible thing for them is to close UNRWA and transfer the responsibility to UNHCR so that they can handle the real refugees that are left.
This can only happen if the United States recognizes the responsibility that UNRWA must bear for augmenting the desperate situation of the Palestinian refugees. A result of the United States’ mistaken spirit of ‘a deep obligation towards the welfare of the Palestinian refugees’, is Washington’s support to the tune of 40% of UNRWA's annual $300 million budget. Washington should not give this organization another dollar."
Pipes called for canceling the renewal of UNRWA's mandate in 2005. The mandate was renewed .
The dismantling has already started
Bringing about a cessation of UNRWA's activities is not an impossible feat. One possible course is to conduct public relation campaigns in various countries whose annual donations keep the organization afloat. Another possibility is to pursue diplomatic channels by preventing the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate or to agree upon a final date for its cessation.
Last year, a group of Senators and Congressmen began working towards the halting of American funding of UNRWA. This particular agenda is being coordinated by the Israeli Initiative through its representatives in the U.S., whose expertise is working with the Congress. This is not the first program of this sort. The House of Representatives raised a proposal to limit America’s funding of UNRWA and stipulated that progress be made towards finding a permanent solution for the refugees by providing more stringent supervision of the funds that are transferred to UNRWA.
The recommendation for a law as stipulated in the 109th Congress and in the House (HR 5278 IH):
"UNRWA was established in 1949 as a temporary agency to provide welfare services to Palestinian refugees: this is the only UN agency that is devoted to only one specific group of refugees.
Unlike other UN refugee agencies, that seek to find solutions for the suffering of refugees, UNRWA makes no effort to resettle the refugees.
Since 1950, the United States has contributed more than $2 billion to UNRWA.
In 2005, the United States contributed $108 million dollars to UNRWA, one fourth of the agency’s annual budget.
UNRWA has never permitted an independent audit.
The last report of the internal auditor of UNRWA provided only general, vague numbers, and even within this framework, at least $48 million of expenses have no explanation."
It is imperative to note that one of the reasons this initiative has failed in the past was due to Israel’s official objection. Successive Israeli governments have feared the dismantling of UNRWA as part of their continual avoidance of correctly dealing with the refugee problem.
If we are successful in changing this policy, UNRWA will have to deal with the absence of American funding, the primary motor for the agency. This situation would once again open the discussion on UNRWA’s mandate and as such would then lead to exploring new ways of dealing with the refugee problem.