Israel Resource Review 29th July, 2008


Israeli Legislators Confront The UN: REPLACE UNRWA WITH UNHCR
David Bedein

Today, an unusual coalition of conservative and liberal factions, which usually war with each other, formed in the Israeli Knesset.

A broad-based coalition of Israeli legislators called a packed press conference at the Israeli parliament to demand the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), be replaced by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Kadima Knesset member Amira Dotan gave the best explanation. "This is a message to the U.N., which in 1949 formed UNRWA with one purpose to maintain the status of Palestinian Arab refugees as refugees for generations to come," Ms. Dotan said. "This contrasts with UNHCR, founded by the U.N. in 1950 for all refugees around the world with one purpose in mind: to help rehabilitate refugees and to relieve them of their status as refugees."

The UNHCR helps refugees to find solutions, so they can get on with their lives.

UNRWA, however, operates under the premise that Palestinian refugees, and even their descendants, are also refugees. The U.N. body considers them refugees even if they acquire a new citizenship, as many have in Jordan - until they return to their ancestral homes and villages in Israel. Many of those villages, fled from during Israel's 1948 War of Independence, no longer exist.

U.N. General Assembly Resolution 302, which established UNRWA in 1949, included Resolution 194's reference to the "right of return." UNRWA officials use that clause in a broader context where resettlement enters the picture.

The General Assembly had intended in 1949 to see refugees from the 1948 war "return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors" at was then the earliest possible time. That was almost 60 years ago.

Subsequent U.N. resolutions over the years have added the phrase "unalienable" to describe the "right of return," and UNRWA functions today on the basis of that presumed "right."

Consequently, UNRWA accuses Israel of blocking the Palestinian refugees' "legitimate rights" under the premise they must stay in limbo status until their "return" can be realized. Attempts to resettle them elsewhere have been blocked by UNRWA and by the U.N. as a whole.

A 1985 incident serves as case-in-point. At that time Israel, with the help of the Catholic Relief Agency, attempted to move refugees into 1,300 permanent houses built for them near Nablus on the West Bank. The U.N. then passed a resolution calling on Israel to desist, claiming the living improvements would violate the refugees' "inalienable right of return."

In 1993, at the outset of the Oslo process, then-Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin said, in a taped interview, thAt the newly formed Palestinian Authority had committed itself to removing U.N. refugee camps and absorbing refugees. However, the new Palestinian Authority decided the UNRWA refugee camps would remain until the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war, and their descendants, were repatriated.

Today, with Gaza completely under Palestinian control, 80 percent of of Gaza's residents wallow in UNRWA refugee camps. And UNRWA continues to encourage repatriation under what it sees as their "right of return" to their ancestral villages inside Israel.

The UNRWA-promoted idea of the "right of return" is far from a nostalgic exercise. A Web site developed in the UNRWA camps, known as, accuses Israel of "ethnic clensing" during the 1948 war and prepares a new generation to reclaim their ancestral homes. Refugee-camp residents, some of whom now spearhead attacks against Israeli towns in the western Negev, have been educated to believe they are the villages' rightful owners.

The question remains whether U.N. refugee camps will continue to advocate the "right of return" by all means possible, or whether it will act in a humanitarian rather than a political context.

"It is long past the time for the care of Palestinian refugees to be given to the UNHCR so their lives can be improved rather than maintain their delusions about the 'right of return,'" Rabbi Benyamin Alon, the National Union Member who instigated the statement against the UNRWA, said. The UNRWA could not be reached for comment.

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Iran Seeks Seat On UN Security Council

United Nations - Iran has asked the largest United Nations' largest voting bloc to back its controversial bid for a two-year term on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Addressing fellow Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) foreign ministers on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki described the Islamic republic as "a pioneer in the campaign against prejudices in the international order restricting the freedom, independence and progress of nations," the Iranian Fars News Agency reported.

In October, the U.N. General Assembly will vote to fill five of the 10 temporary seats on the UNSC. One of those five seats is reserved for an Asian country. The only other candidate for the seat, Japan, is more likely to win. Japan, the second-largest contributor to the U.N.'s budget, has held a seat nine times.

The powerful NAM bloc represents nearly 2/3 of the U.N.'s membership, comprised mostly of developing countries, also accounts for 55 percent of the world's population.

The purpose of the organization, as stated in the 1979 Havana Declaration, is to ensure "the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries" in their "struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neocolonialism, apartheid, racism, including Zionism, and any form of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as the struggle against the policies of big powers or blocs."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has praised the NAM in the past, calling it "the voice of a new and more powerful South."

The NAM may not want to risk its credibility by backing Iran's current bid to join the UNSC without any tangible signs of flexibility on Iran's part to resolve the nuclear standoff.

If Iran were elected, it would replace Indonesia as the representative of Asia, and it has not been a member of the council since the mid-1950s.

The UNSC is the organ of the U.N. charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. Its powers, as outlined in the U.N. Charter, include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions regimes and the authorization for military action.

To win a seat on, a nation must receive the votes of 2/3 of the vote from the U.N.'s 192 member-states, approximately 128 votes.

In the past, not all NAM member states have supported Tehran at the U.N. despite calls for "solidarity." States such as Singapore, Colombia and the Philippines have strong relations with the U.S., and many others are recipients of Western aid.

Iran currently is the target of a number of UNSC resolutions urging it "to cease and desist from any and all uranium enrichment."

Iran has not yet shown any indication it will comply with these resolutions.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad had said it would be "extraordinarily strange" for Iran to become a member of the UNSC at a time when it was under sanctions and not in compliance with the international community over the nuclear issue.

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