Fixing UNRWA -- by James G. LINDSAY (The Washington Institute -- January 2009)

[Comment: A rare must read for all really interested in the welfare of the Palestinian People. ==PmR]

Fixing UNRWA: Repairing the UN’s Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees

by James G. LINDSAY
The Washington Institute
January 2009

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Policy Focus #91

Fixing UNRWA: Repairing the UN's Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees

James G. Lindsay

Format: Softcover, 80 Pages
Published: January 2009
Price: Free Download
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UNRWA -- is it part of the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict or part of the problem?

The humanitarian aspect of the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas has cast a fresh spotlight on the presence in Gaza of the nearly sixty-year-old United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), raising important questions about why the UN still operates schools, hospitals, and clinics for "refugees" six decades after the partition of Mandatory Palestine.

UNRWA began providing assistance to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon in May 1950, in the wake of the 1947-1949 Arab-Israeli war. Since then, the organization has survived wars, coups, uprisings, and, in Gaza and the West Bank, even the creation of the first-ever Palestinian governing body -- the Palestinian Authority -- which operates in parallel with, not in place of, UNRWA institutions.

Over the course of its long history, UNRWA has rarely been the subject of comprehensive external evaluation, and virtually nothing has been written on the organization's strategy and operations by a senior staff member with knowledge of how UNRWA actually works.

This path-breaking study by James G. Lindsay, UNRWA's former general counsel, offers one of the first insider accounts of the organization. In it, Lindsay analyzes the agency's evolution over the past half century, evaluates recent criticisms of its operations, and recommends bold new policies for the U.S. government -- UNRWA's largest single-country donor -- that will help repair an aid and relief system that has strayed from its original mission.

About The Author

James G. Lindsay, an Aufzien fellow at The Washington Institute focusing on Palestinian refugee issues and UN humanitarian assistance, served with UNRWA from 2000 to 2007. As legal advisor and general counsel for the organization from 2002, he oversaw all UNRWA legal activities, from aid contracts to relations with Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority.

Before his UNRWA service, Mr. Lindsay spent twenty years as an attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, with assignments in the Internal Security, Appellate, and Asset Forfeiture Sections, as well as in the U.S. Attorney's offices in Washington, D.C., and Miami. Between 1985 and 1994, he was seconded to the Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai, serving as the force counsel for legal and treaty affairs. In 2000, he took early retirement from the Justice Department to join UNRWA in Gaza.

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For the time poor, here is the Executive Summary from this report:
Executive Summary
After its creation by General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV) in 1949, and since beginning operations in May 1950, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)(prne) has provided assistance to Palestine refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. In its nearly sixty-year existence, however, few dispassionate examinations of UNRWA have been published in English, and nothing has been written by a senior staff member with actual knowledge of UNRWA’s daily functioning. This paper, written by a former general counsel of UNRWA, analyzes the agency’s relationship with the United States, evaluates recent criticisms of its operations, and recommends policies for the U.S. government.

Initially, UNRWA provided emergency relief (food and shelter) to refugees who suffered as a result of the 1947–1949 struggle over Palestine, an area from which the United Kingdom withdrew in 1948.

Gradually, UNRWA segued from an organization that supplied only emergency relief to one that provided governmental and developmental services in areas such as education, health, welfare, microfinance, and urban planning. Along with the obvious changes in function, several other processes or “themes” stand out in UNRWA’s history: the incomplete shift from status based aid to need-based aid; the also incomplete content correction of textbooks used in UNRWA schools; the gradual assumption of a mission to enhance the political and humanitarian rights for refugees and Palestinians in general; and the immense increase in the number of persons considered refugees entitled to UNRWA services.

The United States, despite funding nearly 75 percent of UNRWA’s initial budget and remaining its
largest single country donor, has mostly failed to make UNRWA reflect U.S. foreign policy objectives.

UNRWA initially served U.S. humanitarian purposes, but in later years often clashed with U.S. policies.

Recent U.S. efforts to shape UNRWA appear to have been ineffective, and critics of the agency have sometimes focused on sensational, but largely unproved, accusations. Nonetheless, a number of changes in UNRWA could benefit the refugees, the Middle East, and the United States. But those changes will not occur unless the United States, ideally with support from UNRWA’s other main financial supporter, the European Union, compels the agency to enact reforms.

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.



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