Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Time has Come to Dismantle UNRWA

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 528, July 14, 2017, by Adi Schwartz:

UNRWA registration card recovered during counterterrorism operation in southern Gaza, 26 July 2007, via Wikimedia Commons

In a surprising change of policy, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for the dismantling of UNRWA. Such a move could benefit both Israel and the peace process. The new US administration might change its decades-old policy as well.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stunned many by declaring that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) should be dismantled.

Speaking at a weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu charged that
“in various UNRWA institutions, there is a lot of incitement against Israel, and therefore the existence of UNRWA – and unfortunately its work from time to time – perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem rather than solves it. … Therefore, the time has come to dismantle UNRWA and merge its components with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR].”
This long overdue step was rejected for years by the Israeli establishment. Up to now, Jerusalem has prevented attempts to change UNRWA’s mandate or close it down because it perceived the agency as a stabilizing factor. Israel focused instead on anti-Israeli incitement in UNRWA’s education system and on its collaboration with Hamas. That collaboration implied an international imprimatur on egregious Hamas behavior.

Instead of fighting UNRWA’s very existence, Israel focused on its actions. This time, the prime minister is talking about a bigger shift in policy.

UNRWA’s initial role was to distribute humanitarian assistance to Palestinian Arabs displaced during the 1948 war. However, over the years, instead of being a tool to solve the refugee problem, UNRWA has become a tool for its eternal perpetuation. Without UNRWA, the Palestinian refugees, and certainly their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, would have resettled in their Arab host countries or elsewhere in the world, as many millions of other refugees have done. They would have done so reluctantly, of course, but would have had no other choice, as no organization would have taken care of them for so many years.

Because UNRWA did nothing to reduce the number of Palestinian refugees, their numbers have swollen from 750,000 in 1949 to more than 5 million today. This was a surrender to the Arab wish to perpetuate the problem. From its earliest stages, UNRWA was a politicized agency, more interested in appeasing the Arab world’s wish to destroy Israel than in the humanitarian cause for whose sake it was established.

Without UNRWA, the Arabs could not have come to the negotiations table with international support – as embodied by UNRWA – for their ridiculous demand that 5 million refugees and their descendants be allowed to resettle in Israel, thus subverting its Jewish nature. Without UNRWA, only a small fraction of its “registered refugees” would be considered real refugees in the first place. Many of UNRWA’s refugees should never have been granted that status, and the vast majority of them are descendants who would not be granted automatic refugee status elsewhere in the world. The Arabs would likely have attempted these demands, but would not have had the backing of a special UN agency.

As the years have worn on, UNRWA has maintained a system expressly meant to perpetuate the refugee problem rather than solve it. Unlike the UNHCR, which provides six options for the cessation of the status of refugee, UNRWA offers zero. Whereas the primary concern of UNHCR is to resettle refugees and help them build new lives, UNRWA promotes only one future: repatriation to Israel. That prospect is contrary to worldwide historical practice and anathema to Israel. It is also toxic to both the prospects for a peace agreement and Palestinian national development.

In effect, UNRWA has become a spokesman – and patron – for the call to destroy the Jewish homeland by flooding it with millions of refugees and their descendants. Without UNRWA, it is hard to see how the belligerent Palestinian/Arab call for return could have survived for seven decades. Because Israel is not going to commit national suicide via demographic subversion, this UNRWA-induced intransigence is an assured recipe for the conflict’s prolongation.

Merging UNRWA into UNHCR would mean an immediate drop in the number of Palestinian refugees from more than 5 million today to a few hundred thousand, perhaps even fewer. 

Most of UNRWA’s refugees either never left their country (Mandatory Palestine) or became citizens of another country (Jordan) and would thus simply be omitted from the list. 

Moreover, this merger would mean repatriation is not the sole option for solving the Palestinian refugee problem. Both these outcomes are clearly in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.

The Trump administration seems open to fresh ideas. For years, the US – the biggest donor to UNRWA – did not want to deal with the agency because it feared an Arab backlash. This time, it appears Washington and the Sunni world have enough in common – from fighting Iran to signing major arm deals – that Washington should not fear making major changes to UNRWA, or even abolishing it altogether. A push from Jerusalem may well wield results this time around.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Winds of war in the Persian Gulf?

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 527, July 13, 2017, by Dr. Edy Cohen:

The winds of war blowing between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as Iranian subversion, are destabilizing the Persian Gulf principalities. 

To make matters worse, the economic situation, which has worsened in recent years because of ill-advised decisions, is stoking fears of popular uprisings and widespread disturbances ... in which some of the Gulf monarchies might fall. 

The main winner would be Tehran, for which the current crisis, along with the boycott imposed on Qatar, has opened a path to a takeover of Bahrain – and Iran has already, in effect, taken over Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and Sana’a.   

The Saudi economy has seen an unprecedented deterioration in recent years. The continued decline of oil prices in world markets, the massive assistance to Egypt since the July 2013 takeover by Abdel Fattah Sisi, the cost of funding the coalition fighting the Houthis and their Iranian patrons in Yemen, and of course the considerable aid extended to the Syrian rebels have wreaked havoc on Riyadh’s public treasury and the ruling monarchy’s personal wealth.

As a result, Riyadh has had to slash 900 riyals (about $300) from military and civil servant salaries as part of a major cutback in the public sector, including the abolition of salary increments and bonuses. Recently, the authorities have also had to hike taxes on cigarettes and energy drinks to the tune of 100% of the cost of the product, after having imposed new taxes in June. One sign of the crisis reflecting its severity is a new toll that will go into effect in April 2018 on roads in the Riyadh area and on crossings into neighboring Arab states.

Aside from affecting its own residents, Saudi Arabia’s economic situation also stands to affect other Gulf countries and particularly Bahrain, which is suffering its own deep crisis as Tehran arms and funds Shiite organizations aimed at destabilizing it.

The Iranians have been exploiting Riyadh’s and Bahrain’s difficulties to the hilt. Not long ago, the Saudis thwarted an attack near the holy sites of Mecca. The Iranian subversion could escalate to the point of seeking to destabilize the kingdom (as it is doing in Bahrain) by activating armed militias within its territory.

Shiite Iran is also helping Qatar, which, according to the (Saudi) plan, should by now have been begging for the lifting of the boycott. Tehran is thereby driving a wedge between the Arab Gulf principalities and bolstering its own status as the region’s hegemonic power. It has been sending Qatar tons of food and raw materials daily by sea, and these goods have flooded the emirate’s markets and shopping centers.

There is, however, no free lunch. Tehran is now regarded as having rescued Qatar, and the principality will have to reward it for this. Iranian aid has already weakened the Sunni political-military coalition that was supposed to contend with Tehran’s expansionary ambitions. For example, Qatar has pulled out of the anti-Houthi coalition in Yemen.

The state of affairs in the Persian Gulf is extremely delicate. The fall of one principality would probably lead to the fall of others. The Gulf is undergoing one of the most difficult economic crises in its history, one that could destabilize some of the monarchies. Angry demonstrations and riots against rising prices, new taxes, and mounting unemployment, similar to those that occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria in 2010 and 2011 – the ultimate nightmare of any Arab leader – are entirely plausible.

Moreover, the Qatar crisis is not over. The principality has strongly rebuffed the twelve Saudi conditions for lifting the blockade and normalizing relations with the foursome (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain). Those conditions include downgrading Qatar’s diplomatic ties with Tehran; ensuring that forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps leave the emirate; shutting Turkish military bases in Qatar; severing Doha’s ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and ISIS while ceasing to fund them; handing over terrorists residing in Qatar to the foursome; closing the Al Jazeera network; and paying compensation.

The failure of the attempt to isolate Qatar and subjugate it to the foursome’s demands has stirred fears of a Saudi military intervention there. Iran, however, has scored many points with the Arabs thanks to its support for the emirate. This is part of a long-term strategic game in which Iran first seeks to win Arab states’ sympathy and then arms and activates subversive groups in the Gulf.

Tehran is striving to curtail American and Saudi influence in the Gulf, take over the Islamic world in general, and seize the Gulf’s natural resources and holy places via its erstwhile proxies, the Yemeni Houthis positioned along the Saudi border.

If Tehran’s plan succeeds, the Persian Gulf will be effectively divided between it and Russia, a highly undesirable development for Israel. The Gulf crisis is wholly unrelated to Israel, but Jerusalem must closely monitor what is happening there.

The current situation is ostensibly good for the US ...exporting weapons and military equipment, as President Trump promised he would do during his Riyadh visit. Yet instead of seeking profits, however substantial, Washington would be better off working to enhance stability in the region...

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Israel won. Now live with it.

From Melanie Phillips, 10 July 2017:

The Middle East Forum held a meeting in Jerusalem last night to discuss Daniel Pipes’s “Victory Caucus“ ...He urges that the conflict should be reframed as a war which Israel has won and the Arabs have lost rather than a never-ending impasse with demands upon Israel for negotiations, peace processes and compromises...

This is a very much-needed initiative. There is an urgent need to recalibrate the whole issue ... for the benefit of the Palestinians ...for the west and also for Israel.

We have to ask ourselves, surely, why do the Palestinians think the war is still on. Well, I think there are a number of reasons for that. One reason is that, unfortunately, if you are a religious Muslim you believe that any land conquered by Islam is then consecrated to Islam and nobody else can ever have sovereignty over it. So from that point of view there can be no victory over that kind of fanatical religious mindset.

But the main reason why the Palestinians think the war is still on is because they are encouraged to think that by the west. By Britain, by Europe and also by Israel’s great ally and friend, America.

The Palestinian story has been accepted by the west to the extent that the west believes there is a Palestinian people which has a historic, national and legitimate claim to the land. There never was a Palestinian people, there is not, and it does not now have any legitimate claim to the land.

Even if it did have a claim to the land it would be forfeit because of nearly a century of exterminatory aggression. In every other conflict in the world, that sort of exterminatory aggression means that the aggressors are treated as pariahs. Uniquely in this conflict the aggressors have been treated over the best part of a century – because of their aggression – as statesmen-in-waiting.

It’s not rocket science. If you treat aggressors as statesmen-in-waiting, you do not get peace and harmony. You get more aggression.

Now why has the west rewarded aggression in this way – uniquely – in this region? Many reasons. One is ignorance. One is malice. One is realpolitik – the desire to appease the Arabs over the oil weapon. Another is simply that people in the west believe – and I’ve heard this so many times – that there is no alternative.

But I would suggest there’s a deeper problem here. The prevalent view in the west is that it no longer does war and victory. This is seen as uncivilised. War is seen as brutal, uncivilised and must never be undertaken. If the Palestinians or the Arabs or the developing world are waging war, well we “expect that of them”, don’t we, because they are basically “uncivilised” people. We in the west do not apparently expect them to accord with our own values of respect for human life, democracy and all the rest of it. In other words, the west has a deeply racist attitude towards the developing world.

And it believes in itself that it doesn’t do war any more because war is uncivilised. Instead of war it does conflict resolution; it does law, not war.

And so as a result the war that’s been taking place in this region by the Arabs against the Jewish homeland means that the west thinks that a compromise is essential. You have a war of extermination? Put the two sides in the same room, bang their heads together until they reach a compromise. Because both sides, according to this view, have a legitimate claim to the same piece of land.

In other words the west has, for nearly a century, mistaken this whole conflict as a fight over land boundaries whereas in fact it is a war of extermination. And where the west wants to press Israel to make compromise, every compromise Israel has ever made is seen by the Arabs as a sign of weakness and an incentive to further aggression.

In conclusion, I would say that the west’s mistake – its conceptual, its fundamental mistake – perpetuates this conflict; indeed it is a signal reason, possibly the main reason, why this conflict got under way in the first place.

In the 1930s, Britain responded to the pogroms being committed by the Arabs of this land against the returning Jews – and responded to the Arabs’ violence against the then-ruling British under the Palestine Mandate – Britain responded to this aggression by saying to the Arabs: “Have part of the land which we have undertaken by solemn agreement under international treaty obligation to give to the Jews”.

In other words, the original “two-state solution” was proposed in 1936 as a reward for exterminatory aggression and terror; and that continues to be the case today.

My final point is that the west needs to understand this – but, my goodness, Israel needs to understand that this narrative has to change. Israel is most reluctant to say to the free world, to the west, what it should be saying: 
“Are you crazy? Why do you treat this conflict differently from all other conflicts?” 
And until the west and until Israel actually understand that this conflict has to be reframed as one of war and victory, we’re not going to get anywhere