Monday, February 9, 2009


John Lindsay, who was apparently the top lawyer at UNRWA from 2002-2007, isn't exactly the type of person you'd expect to find at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Still, someone had the inspired idea of hosting him, and the result seems to have been worth the effort. He has recently published a paper about what UNRWA does and what it could do better. I have so far only read the first few pages, in between other more pressing activities, but it certainly seems an item we need to be looking at (p. xi):
The most important change, the one most
required and least subject to rational disagreement,
is the removal of citizens from recognized states—
persons who have the oxymoronic status of “citizen
refugees”—from UNRWA’s jurisdiction. This would
apply to the vast majority of Palestinian “refugees”
in Jordan, as well as to some in Lebanon. If a Palestinian
state were created in Gaza and/or the West
Bank, such a change would affect Palestinian refugees
in those areas. Meanwhile, for those who are still
defined as refugees, UNRWA’s move toward greater
emphasis on need-based assistance, as opposed to
status-as-refugee-based assistance, should be accelerated.
No justification exists for millions of dollars
in humanitarian aid going to those who can afford
to pay for UNRWA services. In addition, UNRWA
should make the following operational changes: halt
its one-sided political statements and limit itself to
comments on humanitarian issues; take additional
steps to ensure the agency is not employing or providing
benefits to terrorists and criminals; and allow
the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO), or some other neutral entity, to
provide balanced and discrimination-free textbooks
for UNRWA schools.
With the above changes, UNRWA would be better
aligned with what should be its ultimate objectives.
For the Palestinians it serves, this means ending their
refugee status and returning, after nearly sixty years, to
what most of them so desperately seek: normal lives.
According to Haaretz, the report is predictably raising hackles at UNRWA itself:
An UNRWA spokesman slammed the report, accusing the author of bias and a failure to employ a sufficiently wide range of sources.

"The agency is disappointed by the findings of the study, found it to be tendentious and partial, and regrets in particular the narrow range of sources used," Andrew Whitley, director of the UNRWA representative office at UN headquarters in New York, said.

"The study ignores the context in which UNRWA operates and the tight line the agency walks due to various pressures," Whitley said. "Someone reading this paper with no background would assume that the Israeli government was a benign actor. No mention is made of the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."
Here's a proposed translation: Lindsay doesn't realize we're beholden to the Arab version of the story ("various pressures"), and his starting point isn't that Israel is the source of all evil. Sniff.

If I ever find the time I'll read and report, but now you know it's there, feel free not to wait for me. Go ahead, by all means.

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