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How to Cut the Budget while Also Helping Israel

Writing in today’s Haaretz, Israel Harel offers an excellent suggestion for what Israel’s prime minister should tell Congress next week. There is no chance Benjamin Netanyahu will actually do so. But the Republican-controlled House ought to act on it anyway, because it lets Congress further two cherished goals simultaneously: cutting the budget and helping Israel. All it would take is eliminating U.S. funding for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

As Harel correctly noted, this UN agency exists for one reason only: to advance the goal of Israel’s destruction by imprisoning an ever-growing mass of “refugees”—or, more accurately, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren—in miserable conditions for decades and offering them one and only one prospect of escape: a “return” to what is now Israel, where they could combine with the country’s existing Arab residents to create an Arab majority and vote the Jewish state out of existence. Its sorry history and even sorrier present condition was the subject of Mikhail Bernstam’s important COMMENTARY article, “The Palestinian Proletariat.”

In the 62 years since its founding, UNRWA hasn’t resettled a single Palestinian refugee. Doing so would defeat its purpose. During those same 62 years, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees—which handles all refugees worldwide except Palestinians—resettled tens of millions. Even tiny Israel resettled over a million refugees on its own: Holocaust survivors and Jews forced out of Arab countries after its establishment. In contrast, Arab countries that “absorbed” Palestinian refugees denied them citizenship (with the partial exception of Jordan), confined them to squalid camps and subjected them to various onerous restrictions: Lebanon, for instance, bars Palestinians from numerous professions.

Thus the refugee problem will never be solved as long as UNRWA exists. And the more time passes, the harder it becomes to solve. Because Palestinians are the only refugees in the world whose descendants inherit refugee status in perpetuity, the original 700,000 or so have now ballooned to 4.8 million (according to UNRWA), and the number keeps growing every day.

Yet as Harel pointed out, the U.S. bears primary responsibility for the agency’s continued existence, because it is UNRWA’s largest single donor. In 2009, according to the agency, America contributed $268 million, which constituted 28% of UNRWA’s budget. Thus only the U.S. has the leverage to finally get the agency closed, by shutting off its funding.

Granted, other countries could fill the breach. But since Arab countries, for all their talk of solidarity with the Palestinians, are notoriously stingy about coughing up money to help them, the only likely candidate is the European Union. Together with its member states, the EU already funds a substantial chunk of UNRWA’s budget. The Palestinians are its favorite cause. Witness its immediate pledge of 85 million euros to compensate for Israel’s suspension of tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority following the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement.

But if Europeans really want to perpetuate the Palestinian war against Israel, let them deprive their own troubled economies of the necessary funds. There is no reason whatever for the U.S. to keep subsidizing this war.



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