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R. Youch 12

To What Extent Should the United States Deliver Humanitarian Aid to UNRWA to Support Palestinian Refugees?

Written By: Robert Youch

Professor Kochis & Professor WalshBIS 403Washington DC Seminar on Human RightsAutumn, 2014Introduction The recent escalation of the conflict in the Gaza Strip between the Palestinian and Israeli militaries has garnered media attention worldwide, especially in the United States. Air Strikes conducted by both Hamasa militaristic Palestinian political group often accused of terrorism and fervent anti-Semitismand the Israeli military have converted Gaza to rubble. The war has internally displaced 540,000 Gazans, and left thousands wounded, maimed, or killed (IRUSA). Civilians that are not internally displaced or subsisting in refugee camps have fled Gaza seeking asylum or refugee status in neighboring countries. Most do not have sufficient access to shelter, food, clean water, healthcare, or education. Floods devastating and exacerbating the already poor humanitarian situation for refugees and non-refugees in Gaza have prompted the UN to declare a state of emergency (UN Declares Emergency). Those that enter refugee camps seeking respite and support from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) desperately need better medical aid, nourishment, and a reliable support system given their dire circumstances. They also require additional resources if they are to re-establish their livelihoods where they choose. Refugees are too often forgotten, alienated, or exiled completely from countries not willing to accept their religious or national differences and the financial burdens that accompany them. The ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine impacts people worldwide and will increasingly impact those affected indirectly as Western foreign policies become further interlinked and entrenched as escalating crises flare throughout the Middle East. However, regardless of national or religious allegiance, those with no hand in violence who are forced to flee to safer lands deserve asylum and aid, which is why specific measures to protect refugees must be taken by the United States and its allies. The State Department is limited regarding how much humanitarian aid and financial resources it can allocate to the crisis in Gaza because they have committed resources to Iraq and Syria, which are both consumed by war and political turmoil. The Syrian Civil War and the spread of ISILs terror have created mayhem in the Middle East, forcing millions of civilians to flee Syria and Iraq as refugees. Lending aid to Syrian and Iraqi internally displaced persons and refugees has become a major priority for NGOs, the EU, the UNHCR, and the United States. Regrettably, the World Food Program (WFP) and UNHCR have run out of money, and no longer possess the financial means to support the millions suffering in Syria, Iraq, and neighboring countries. This leaves UNRWA isolated in its plight to deliver aid to Palestinian refugees thrust between a volatile conflict of their own and the wars in Syria and Iraq (UN Runs Out). Although Gaza may have recently taken a back seat to the aforementioned ISIL crisis in U.S. news media, Secretary of State Kerry and the Obama Administration have not forgotten the plight of Palestinians. In Secretary Kerrys October 12th remarks at the Gaza Donors Conference in Cairo, he discussed the United States dedication to helping civilians and refugees affected by the conflict. He proclaimed, The people of Gaza do need our help desperately not tomorrow, not next week, but they need it now (John Kerry). Kerry backed up the urgency of his words through his pledge to provide additional aid. We [the United States] provided $118 million in immediate humanitarian assistance at the height of the crisis, plus an additional, $84 millionto UNRWA for operations. Today, Im pleased to announce an additional immediate $212 million in assistance to the Palestinian people. This massive sum will mean immediate relief and reconstructionand help meet the Palestinian Authoritys budget needs. If the PA and UNRWA use this money effectively, it has the potential to catalyze community-rebuilding efforts and address the food, medical, and security needs of Palestinians throughout the Gaza Strip and Syria. There is no doubt that Gaza has countless short-term needs that must be addressed so refugees can live with dignity and overcome unfavorable odds. However, if Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, or neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, or Syria, have ambitions to develop long-term socio-economic institutions, major political reforms must take place at a grass-roots level. A two-state solution is the ultimate goal for Palestinians, Israelis, and the rest of the world. This objective cannot be achieved without mutual tolerance. The bulk of this essay will not directly address peace talks between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel or a two-state solution because those objectives can only be achieved once pressing matters on the ground have been dealt with. Neither will succeed until social and economic stability exists for Palestinians. Instead, this essay will answer how the United States can pressure political institutions throughout the Near East that possess major influence over the current and future livelihood of Palestinian internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, namely UNRWA, so that the interests of voiceless Palestinians are represented in the future. In order for the U.S. to bolster effective reform, the State Department will need to work collaboratively with UNRWA, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the PA and other regional governments and political organizations, and non-state actors that specialize in humanitarian endeavors. A multilateral effort to increase and reallocate funding for programs aimed to protect and aid refugees fleeing violence and destitution in Gaza, Israel, the West Bank, or Syria is paramount to U.S. geopolitical interests in the Middle East. Reducing violence and civilian persecution amid the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not only create an environment conducive to development and tolerance, but will establish conditions that will make peace attainable. Moreover, if Palestinians and Israelis do not live in fear, the right to security of person established in Article III of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) may not remain a foreign dream. Ultimately, creating conditions where both Palestinians and Israelis respect the human dignity of the other is ideal, but that will not be possible if the rights of refugees and IDPs are insufficiently upheld or either nation is marginalized or portrayed as terrorists or thieves. Before further addressing the issues and questions raised above and providing policy recommendations for the United States and UNRWA it is necessary to provide historical background about how the Palestinian refugee problem began; define and discuss U.S. interests in the region and assess how these interests align with other parties; acknowledge the interests of Palestinian women and children that suffer most; analyze the relationship between the U.S. and UNRWA; and evaluate the role UNRWA has played and continues to play in the lives of Palestinian refugees. Historical BackgroundOn November 19, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly divided Palestine into three parts: the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and a new and independent state of Israel. Jordan annexed the West Bank and Gaza became Egyptian territory, which left Palestinians irate and deprived of a nation-state of their own (Lindsay, 1). The events that followed U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 (II), commonly known as the Partition Plan, spurred a violent ongoing conflict. The three-year war between Israel and Palestine, coupled with the latters newfound statelessness, resulted in millions of displaced Palestinian refugees in dire need of international support. Refugees lacked shelter, food and water, medical care, educational and infrastructural resources, employment opportunity, and most importantly, political rights in a war-torn country which they no longer had a voice. In response to this crisis, the UN Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR) was established, to relieve the desperate plight of Palestine refugees of all communities (Lindsay, 4). However, after it became clear that the Palestinian refugee crisis would be a long-term problem that needed greater supervision, UNRWA was founded in December of 1949 to assume the role of the UNRPR (Lindsay, 4). UNRWAs original mandate, established by General Assembly Resolution 302, was: To provide direct relief and works programmes to Palestine refugees, in order to prevent conditions of starvation and distress and to further conditions of peace and stability (UNRWA). They are also expected to work with governments on interim measures and to provide relief and assistance to Palestine refugees pending the just resolution of the Palestine refugee question (UNRWA). Like all organizations, UNRWAs role has evolved to satisfy the needs of refugees, and their mandate has expanded over time to address social, cultural, political, and economic events in the Near East. UNRWA has five programs that demand budgetary resources: Education, Health, Relief and Social Services, Microfinance and Microenterprise, and Infrastructure and Camp Improvement (Lindsay, 5). The first three programs are the oldest and require the most financial resources. The latter two programs were created to address needs that became increasingly prevalent in the 1990s and 2000s. In total, UNRWA manages an annual budget exceeding $500 million and employs approximately 29,000 people, the vast majority of whom are refugees (Lindsay, 5). As is glaringly apparent in 2014, if Palestinian refugees, IDPs, or civilians do not possess the resources to start small businesses or earn an internationally respected living wage then it will be extremely difficult for them to make socio-economic progress. By strengthening infrastructure in camps and cities and giving refugees the opportunity to obtain employment as camp staff, UNRWA has fostered economic development by redistributing money throughout Palestinian refugee communities. UNRWA operations in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria have always been financed on a voluntary basis. Funding comes predominantly from the United States and European Union, but UNRWA also receives assistance from NGOs such as Islamic Relief USA (UNRWA). Due to the fact that the U.S. has always been UNRWAs single largest financier, the State Department can influence UNRWA policies in a direction that appeals to U.S. interests in the region. Despite this ability, the U.S. has historically not interfered with UNRWAs sovereignty and generally supported their policy decisions and programs insofar as they do not endanger Israel, engender anti-Israel sentiments, or employ or serve any terrorists. Evidence that UNRWA has not upheld its obligations to maintain impartiality in its schools and camps is becoming increasingly evident. In 2004, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) issued a report on the anti-Israel bias in Palestinian curricula and textbooks in UNRWA primary schools. The report states, Palestinian text books have confused messages, and it is not difficult to come to the understanding that the main political theme imparted to the students is that Israel should not exist, and that is essentially the Palestinian goal (Lindsay, 43). There is no doubt that an educational system that delegitimizes Israel opposes U.S. interests, and action must by taken to reform Palestinian and UNRWA schools if Palestinians and Israelis are to peacefully coexist. Clearly, numerous issues exist that must be resolved, and this essay will address them, but if entire generations of Palestinian youth view Israel as a purveyor of their troubles, the conflict will not end peacefully. Israel and Palestine each possess ancient historical attachment to the same land; an attachment that extends back to the Old Testament. Both believe they have a divine right to the promised land that supersedes the other. This divine right has perpetuated and entrenched a stubborn inability to compromise over territorial disputes by both cultures. In order for the U.S. to diplomatically encourage conditions that reduce racism and negative stigmas throughout Palestinian refugee communities, it is paramount that U.S. political leaders make it clear to American citizens how U.S. interests are furthered by lending aid to refugees thousands of miles away. U.S. Interests and Foreign Policy Involvement in Humanitarian or Refugee IssuesAs Israels strongest ally, the U.S. has a major role to play in advancing the geopolitical climate in Israel and Palestine towards stability. Articulating a clear reasoning for why the U.S. should further involve itself is essential. As taxpayers, U.S. citizens have a right to know what can be gained and lost by lending additional humanitarian aid to UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority. Constituents musk ask questions and political intentions must remain transparent. The ability for U.S. citizens to understand which allies and stakeholders merit the most consideration given the short and long-term effects that lending humanitarian aid to refugees will have in the U.S., Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the Middle East at-large is critical. Answers to the previous questions are not objective and by no means simple or easily agreed upon, yet a proper justification must be provided by the U.S. government to ensure majority public support. The United States foreign policy doctrine has been historically decided by defining whether an international issue affects our interests domestically and abroad, and if it is within our international sphere of influence. However, deciding what actually affects our interests is rarely agreed upon. The federal government, policy makers, private corporations, lobbyists, citizens, international allies, and miscellaneous stakeholders are typically unable to compromise their own respective interests for the interests of others who do not appear to directly affect them. Policies that advocate advancing human rights as a U.S. prerogative in foreign affairs are possibly the most controversial because they require reallocating resources that could be spent domestically. Nevertheless, humanitarian missions in war-torn countries have become vogue since the Cold Wars culmination because U.S. allies or ideals have been threatened by radical regimes violating the sacred rights of others. The classification of what can be deemed a threat has broadened to include human rights abuses because they oppose, ideals that are considered important to the United...