|UNRWA Souf camp in Jordan|
There was buzz over the weekend over a Foreign Policy article revealing a secret Jared Kushner memo about UNRWA.
Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, has quietly been trying to do away with the U.N. relief agency that has provided food and essential services to millions of Palestinian refugees for decades, according to internal emails obtained by Foreign Policy.
[Kushner’s] position on the refugee issue and his animus toward the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is evident in internal emails written by Kushner and others earlier this year.
“It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Kushner wrote about the agency in one of those emails, 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,” he wrote.
In the same January email, Kushner wrote: “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.”
Kushner raised the refugee issue with officials in Jordan during a visit to the region in June, along with Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt. According to Palestinian officials, he pressed the Jordan to strip its more than 2 million registered Palestinians of their refugee status so that UNRWA would no longer need to operate there.
“[Kushner said] the resettlement has to take place in the host countries and these governments can do the job that UNRWA was doing,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
She said the Trump administration wanted rich Arab Gulf states to cover the costs Jordan might incur in the process.
“They want to take a really irresponsible, dangerous decision and the whole region will suffer,” Ashrawi said.
My only problem with this is that the email and Kushner’s talks with Jordanian leaders were not made public earlier. Because now that it is public, there can finally be a reasonable debate on UNRWA.
The vast majority of Palestinians in Jordan whom UNRWA considers refugees are citizens of the state. They should have equal access to public education and health services that every Jordanian citizen has.
By calling nearly 2 million Jordanian citizens “refugees,” Jordan is discriminating against some 20% of its population – telling them that they are not really citizens, that they are only temporary residents who would be expected to one day “return” to overrun Israel.
By telling these citizens that they are not really full citizens, Jordan is practicing apartheid. Anyone who is up in arms over Israel’s Nation State bill because of its supposed disenfranchisement of 20% of Israel’s citizens who are not equally upset over long-standing Jordanian policy to treat so-called Palestinian refugees as anything other that full citizens is a hypocrite.
Beyond that is the more basic issue: Those who are citizens of a state, by definition, are not refugees. When Palestinian leaders and NGOs insist that they are it means that they support Jordanian apartheid against Palestinians as well, and they want the world to keep footing the bill for something that common sense and human rights says should be the responsibility of the Kingdom of Jordan.
If Jordan provides services to only some of its citizens, it is discriminating against the others.
Even the Palestinians who are not Jordanian citizens aren’t refugees by any definition – because they voluntarily fled in 1967 when they didn’t want to live under Israeli rule. A refugee is someone who is forced out of their home, not someone who decides they don’t like the new government where they live. Jordan should be providing services to them as well, not a “refugee” agency.
Under the legal UN definition of refugees, there is not a single Palestinian refugee who lives in Jordan.
So bring the debate on. Hanan Ashrawi and Saeb Erekat will try to pretend that eliminating UNRWA from Jordan is a violation of human rights, but it takes very little to show that UNRWA’s existence is what is the violation of human rights for the Jordanian citizens of Palestinian ancestry who are forced to rely on UNRWA for basic services that Jordan should be providing.
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