A report claims that Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, is trying to eliminate the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and reset its definition of refugees that grants open-ended refugee status to Palestinians.
“It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Foreign Policy reported Kushner writing in an email, dated Jan. 11 and addressed to several other senior officials, including Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt. “This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”
“Our goal can’t be to keep things stable and as they are. … Sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there,” the email continued.
Just a few days after this email, the U.S. froze $65 million in UNRWA funding.
The following day, Victoria Coates, a senior advisor to Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, sent an email to the White House’s national security staff indicating that the White House was considering a way to eliminate theUNRWA for Palestinian refugees.
“UNRWA should come up with a plan to unwind itself and become part of the UNHCR [U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees] by the time its charter comes up again in 2019,” Coates wrote.
The UNRWA was established in 1949 to aid Palestinian refugees in the wake of Israel’s War of Independence. The UNHCR definition of a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. The UNRWA expanded this definition solely for Palestinians to include all patrilineal descendants of any Arab that had lived in Israel for at least two years prior to being displaced by Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. As a result of this open-ended inherited refugee status, the number of Palestinian refugees has grown and UNRWA now claims there are an estimated 5.3 million registered patrilineal descendants of the original “Palestine refugees.” A report by the State Department determined the number of Palestinian refugees who personally fled Israel as per the normal definition of the term ‘refugee,’ at around 20,000.
This open-ended definition has been blamed for artificially perpetuating the Israel-Palestinian conflict and for artificially extending the UNRWA’s mandate.
Kushner and Greenblatt reportedly asked Jordan to reclassify the more than 2 million Palestinians who live there as non-refugees. Jordan is the only Arab country to fully integrate the Palestinian refugees of 1948.
U.S. lawmakers are considering two bills that may facilitate this new approach to the Palestinians. Last week, Rep. Doug Lamborn, (R-Colorado) introduced a bill that would limit assistance to only the original refugees with most of the money being redirected to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID is currently constrained by the Taylor Force Act, limiting assistance to the Palestinian Authority until it ends its policy of giving money to terrorists and their families.
“Instead of resettling Palestinian refugees displaced as a result of the Arab-Israeli Conflict of 1948, UNRWA provides aid to those they define as Palestinian refugees until there is a solution they deem acceptable to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Lamborn’s bill states. “This policy does not help resettle the refugees from 1948 but instead maintains a refugee population in perpetuity.”
Foreign Policy also reported on a bill that is about to be introduced by Sen. James Lankford, (R-Okla.) which
would require the U.S. secretary of state to certify by 2020 that the UN ends its recognition of Palestinian descendants as refugees.
“The United Nations should provide assistance to the Palestinians in a way that makes clear that the United Nations does not recognize the vast majority of Palestinians currently registered by UNRWA as refugees deserving refugee status,” reads a draft obtained by Foreign Policy.