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NY UNRWA: Time for Arab Nations to Absorb 'Refugees'

The outgoing New York director of UNRWA angered Jordan for saying Arab nations need to absorb their brethren, the “refugees” from the 1948 war.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 10/31/2010, 4:15 PM / Last Update: 10/31/2010, 5:53 PM

Flash 90

The outgoing director of the New York office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has angered Jordan after stating it is time for Arab nations to absorb their brethren who are “refugees” from the 1948 war.

Andrew Whitley stated that Palestinian refugees must not live in the illusion of achieving the “right to return” and that the Arab countries must search for a place for them in their lands to resettle there.

When UNRWA began its operations providing aid and services to the Arabs living in Israel in 1949, there were approximately 700,000 who qualified as “refugees.” Today, according to the latest statistics, that number has ballooned to nearly five million.

“We recognize, as I think most do, although it's not a position that we publicly articulate, that the right of return is unlikely to be exercised to the territory of Israel to any significant or meaningful extent,” Whitley told a conference at the National Council for US-Arab Relations.

“It's not a politically palatable issue, it's not one that UNRWA publicly advocates, but nevertheless it's a known contour to the issue,” he said.

Taking the proverbial bull by the horns, Whitley then went on to add that instead of continuing to promote that “cruel illusion,” it would be best if Palestinian Authority Arabs began to consider “their own role in the societies where they are, rather than being left in a state of limbo, where they are helpless.”

The Hamas terrorist organization immediately demanded Whitley's dismissal: a moot point, however, since he was already leaving the agency.

Wajih Azaizeh, director general of the Palestinian Affairs Department, meanwhile, told the Petra news agency Thursday that Jordan expressed its condemnation in a letter sent to UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi.

The letter bluntly reminded Grandi that his agency was established to offer humanitarian and social help and support to the Palestinian refugees, said Azaizeh, until their cause is resolved according to international legitimacy resolutions.

“We have asked the UNRWA Commissioner-General to clarify the U.N. Organization's official position on such dangerous remarks and procedures taken against this man who held important posts in the agency,” Azaizeh said.

Political commentator Ben S. Cohen noted last week in a post on Harry's Place, however, that of the 50 million people who lost their homes due to war and military conflict in the 20th century, “practically none of the original displaced returned to their homes, never mind their descendants. The historical record shows the refugees – like those 17,000 displaced Jews administered to by UNRWA back in 1950 – are invariably absorbed by host countries.”

The difference, Cohen pointed out, was that the surrounding Arab nations in this case have deliberately positioned the Palestinian refugee issue and the so-called “right of return” as an ongoing obstacle to a final settlement of the conflict with Israel.

“Accepting that the refugees will not go home, that they will live free of the apartheid conditions imposed on them in states like Lebanon and Syria, and that they might even receive some financial compensation on top, is the height of political incorrectness in the Middle East,” he observed.

“It means accepting not only that Israel has the right to exist, but also the right to define itself as the democratic state of the Jewish people.”