TEL AVIV — A spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which ministers to so-called Palestinian refugees, told Breitbart Jerusalem that based on conversations with the Trump administration the UN agency believes the U.S. has not yet made a decision about withholding UNRWA funding.
Earlier this week, U.S. officials were cited in the news media saying that while President Donald Trump has not yet made a final decision, the U.S. administration is likely to send only $60 million of the planned $125 million first installment of this year’s payment to UNRWA.
The U.S. is UNRWA’s single largest donor, providing about $300 million annually.
Trump administration officials have threatened to cut funding to the Palestinians in response to the Palestinian Authority’s intransigence regarding negotiations with Israel following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.
UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness told Breitbart Jerusalem on Tuesday that after “extensive conversations” between his agency and the Trump administration, the UN agency understands that no decision has yet been made.
“Based on extensive conversations with interlocutors in the U.S. Administration, our understanding is that no decision has been made on the question of American funding to UNRWA,” he said. “The United States has been our largest single donor over the past seventy years and remains an important strategic partner in our humanitarian mission. UNRWA will continue to work tirelessly to ensure the full implementation of our mandate which was fully endorsed by the General Assembly, which has described our role as indispensable.”
The definition of a Palestinian “refugee” and their actual numbers have long been the subject of debate.
Earlier this month, Gunness would not comment when asked by Breitbart Jerusalem to provide the total number of Palestinian “refugees” that UNRWA services in Lebanon.
This after Lebanon’s census data recently placed the number of Palestinian “refugees” living in the country at about one third of the nearly 500,000 reported by UNRWA.
UNRWA runs camps and projects for so-called Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. On its website UNRWA claims “5.1 million refugees” are “covered by our protection mandate,” purportedly including about 500,000 in Lebanon.
The UN agency defines a Palestinian “refugee” in a manner that is different from all other refugees worldwide. The international body has another agency, the UNHRC, which ministers to the world’s refugees other than Palestinians. Only Palestinian “refugees” have a separate agency — UNRWA.
The UNHRC has a concrete definition of what a refugee is: “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.”
In other words, the UNHRC defines a refugee as someone who was forced to flee his or her home and cannot return for fear of persecution.
UNRWA, however, defines a Palestinian “refugee” entirely differently. A Palestinian “refugee” is any person whose “normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” So UNRWA counts as “refugees” any local Arab who lived in Palestine for as little as two years, knowing that scores of Arabs immigrated to the area during those years in search of employment amid talks of creating a future Jewish state.
UNRWA also states that “Palestine refugees are persons who fulfill the above definition and descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition.” This means that even if original Palestinian “refugees” long ago immigrated to another country and became citizens of that country, they and their descendants are still considered “refugees” according to UNRWA.
This definition flies in the face of what a refugee is supposed to be. It is also in direct contrast to the Convention on Refugees, which dictates that a person who “has acquired a new nationality and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality” is exempted from the status of refugee.
UNRWA’s definition of a “refugee” doesn’t mention UNHCR’s “well-founded fear of being persecuted.” Indeed, the Palestinians have no fear of being persecuted by Israel and would not be considered “refugees” under ordinary international criteria.
In addition, the actual number of original Palestinian “refugees” is in question.
The Jewish Virtual Library notes:
Many Arabs claim that 800,000 to 1,000,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1947-49. The last census was taken in 1945. It found only 756,000 permanent Arab residents in Israel. On November 30, 1947, the date the UN voted for partition, the total was 809,100. A 1949 Government of Israel census counted 160,000 Arabs living in the country after the war. This meant no more than 650,000 Palestinian Arabs could have become refugees. A report by the UN Mediator on Palestine arrived at an even lower figure — 472,000.
The Library states that at the same time that Arabs were left stranded, about the same number of Jews were forced to leave their homes in Arab countries:
The number of Jews fleeing Arab countries for Israel in the years following Israel’s independence was roughly equal to the number of Arabs leaving Palestine. Many Jews were allowed to take little more than the shirts on their backs. These refugees had no desire to be repatriated. Little is heard about them because they did not remain refugees for long. Of the 820,000 Jewish refugees, 586,000 were resettled in Israel at great expense and without any offer of compensation from the Arab governments who confiscated their possessions.
There is evidence that scores of Arabs joined the local inhabitants and became “refugees” attended to by UNRWA when the agency began operations in May 1950.
That year, UNRWA’s director admitted, “A large group of indigent people totaling over 100,000 … could not be called refugees, but … have lost their means of livelihood because of the war. … The Agency felt their need … even more acute than that of the refugees.”
UNRWA’s Annual Report of the Director from July 1951-June 1952 acknowledges it was difficult to separate “ordinary nomadic Bedouins and … unemployed or indigent local residents” from genuine refugees, and “it cannot be doubted that in many cases individuals who could not qualify as being bona fide refugees are in fact on the relief rolls.”
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.