TEL AVIV — The Trump administration is for now withholding $45 million it pledged last month to the Palestinians as part of a “West Bank/Gaza Emergency Appeal” led by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which ministers to so-called Palestinian refugees, the U.S. State Department told reporters on Thursday.
The $45 million is separate from the $65 million the U.S. informed UNRWA in a letter sent earlier this week that it is withholding “for future consideration.”
Reuters reported on the $45 million put on temporary hold:
In a Dec. 15 letter to UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl, State Department Comptroller Eric Hembree had pledged $45 million to the West Bank/Gaza Emergency Appeal. “The United States plans to make this funding available to UNRWA in early 2018,” according to the letter, seen by Reuters on Thursday. “An additional letter and contribution package confirming this contribution will be sent by or before early January 2018.”
The United States had made clear to UNRWA that the $45 million was a pledge aimed at helping the agency with “forecasting,” but it was not a guarantee, [State Department spokeswoman Heather] Nauert told reporters at a regular State Department briefing.
“At this time, we will not be providing that, but that does not mean – I want to make it clear – that does not mean that it will not be provided in the future,” Nauert said.
Earlier this week, a U.S. official cited by AFP framed the decision to withhold the original $65 million in funds to UNRWA as intended to encourage “burden-sharing” by other UN members.
Already, Belgium allocated some $23 million to UNRWA over the next three years, reportedly to help make up for the agency’s shortfall following the Trump administration’s decision.
The definition of a Palestinian “refugee” and their actual numbers have long been the subject of debate.
Earlier this month, UNRWA 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.