Adi Schwartz at the International Summit for a Future Beyond UNRWA

Adi Schwartz, Fellow at the Misgav Institute, co-author of “The War of Return”

Full remarks:

Thank you for having me, and I do agree this is a golden opportunity to put an end to UNRWA and we should act upon it. 

The problem with UNRWA is that it is a war agency. 

I know that Western donors, Western countries, and the media talk about UNRWA as an aid agency, and even now we’re talking about what alternatives we should find in order to provide aid to the Palestinians. But that’s simply not what UNRWA is about.

What UNRWA is actually doing is supporting the Palestinian narrative – which I’ll explain in a minute – providing generations of Palestinian fighters, combatants, willing to commit violence against Jews and against Israelis, and, in addition, giving terrorists like Hamas and, earlier, the PLO and other terror organizations all the time in the world to plan their terror attacks, while UNRWA is taking care of their social services, health, education, etc. They have all the time to sit underground and plan all those attacks.


What Palestinian narrative am I talking about?


The most basic and common Palestinian narrative about the conflict is that the entire land belongs to the Arabs, and that there is no place, there is no room for a Jewish state, no matter what its borders are. It was a crime against justice that it was created in 1948, and the only remedy, the only just solution to this conflict is simply to undo the State of Israel.

And in this context, what’s being planned – a return of refugees, as the Palestinians call it – means exactly that: putting an end to the State of Israel. 


The Palestinians are promoting the idea that millions of refugees – by now, of course, their descendants and descendants and descendants, fourth- and fifth-generation – who left their homes in 1948 have an internationally-recognized right to return to their homes inside the State of Israel. And this would be of course part of the way of how we remedy the injustice of 1948. Given the demographics, as you all know, and the number of Jews in Israel, such a massive return of refugees actually means that Israel is no longer the nation-state of the Jewish people, but becoming another Arab state.

So the idea is not only to bring the Arabs back to the land, but to bring the land back to the Arabs. 


Now how does UNRWA support this narrative? 


First of all, it tells the Palestinians that they have a right of return, which they do not. If you follow all the statements and proclamations of Lazzarini and other commissioners of UNRWA, they will say, day in, day out, that indeed the Palestinians have a right of return. UNRWA inflates the number of refugees artificially by more than 20 times. If we applied international standards, the number of Palestinian refugees would be perhaps 200,000. Instead, UNRWA counts 5.8 or 5.9 million – that’s 20 or 30 times more. UNRWA never crossed a name off of their lists. They never resettled even one refugee from 1949.


Just to make clear how it works: In the kingdom of Jordan, you have more than 2 million registered refugees. All of them have Jordanian citizenship. Now, all around the world, whether you are in Sudan, or in Bangladesh, or in the Balkans, or wherever, there are cessation clauses. Refugee status ends at some point. 


Not so with the Palestinians. The Palestinians can be – only them – both refugees and citizens of another country, which contradicts the entire point of being a refugee. And this is 2.2 million, it’s not an individual. The same is true for what is happening in what used to be called “Mandatory Palestine,” that is, Israel plus the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria. Again, more than 2 million registered refugees are Palestinians. They live in Jenin, in Hebron, in Gaza, in Rafah, they are Palestinian, they live in Palestinian cities, they certainly consider themselves to be in Palestine, and at the same time they are refugees from Palestine. Again, this exists only in our case, You cannot be residing in Serbia, for example, and be a refugee from Serbia. The basic condition of being a refugee starts by being outside of your country. So they are in Palestine and refugees from Palestine. They know why they are refugees from Palestine, because they consider the entire area to be Palestine. 


Why does UNRWA do it? What’s the logic? Why do you inflate the number more than 20 times? This contradicts any common sense, unless you understand that UNRWA is actually a war agency; that its whole purpose, its mere existence, everything that it does is in order to continue the conflict against the State of Israel.


I just want to finish with a few quotes. This is not me saying this. This is how the Palestinians reacted after the suspension of funding, from the last two or three weeks. After the decision of so many western countries to suspend funding, this is what the Palestinians had to say. For example, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah – and this is the “moderate” PA – Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a press conference that “UNRWA embodies the accumulated memories of the suffering of the Palestinian refugees. Throughout its years of activity, UNRWA has been a source of hope for the Palestinian refugees for returning to their homes.” Again, not aid, not education, not healthcare. This is what UNRWA is about. 


Fatah, again, in a statement issued on January 28th: “The refugee issue will remain the crux of the Palestinian cause.”


Another quote – an author from the al-Quds newspaper. Not in Gaza, he’s not intimidated, he’s not controlled by Hamas, so he can say whatever he wants, and he says the following: “One of the goals of UNRWA is to ensure the return of the Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their original homes” – meaning, inside Israel. “For the Palestinians, UNRWA was never an end in itself, but rather a means to achieve their goals. This is the main goal for which UNRWA was established: To actualise the return of the refugees. Many of the services that this organization once provided have diminished and decreased, and many refugees no longer benefit from this international organization. But the fact of its existence has an international, political, moral and legal impact on the refugees’ historical right of return.”


So this is what UNRWA is about. The bottom line is that, as long as UNRWA exists, the war continues. 

And this is why it should be ended.


Thank you.


UN Watch