With more than three million Syrians fleeing war-torn Syria seeking safe havens in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Europe – scarce United Nations resources continue to be used supporting and maintaining about 760,000 Palestinian Arabs currently living in the West Bank and registered as “refugees” with the United Nations Relief And Works Agency (UNRWA).
Their refugee categorization and status was changed on 3 January 2013 when PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas replaced the “Palestinian Authority” with the “State of Palestine” by this decree:
"Official documents, seals, signs and letterheads of the Palestinian National Authority official and national institutions shall be amended by replacing the name 'Palestinian National Authority' whenever it appears by the name 'State of Palestine' and by adopting the emblem of the State of Palestine."John Whitbeck – a legal advisor to the Palestinian team in negotiations with Israel – has written on the significance of this name change:
“In his correspondence, Yasser Arafat used to list all three of his titles under his signature -- President of the State of Palestine, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority (in that order of precedence). It is both legally and politically noteworthy that, in signing this decree, Mahmoud Abbas has listed only the first two titles. The Trojan horse called the "Palestinian Authority" in accordance with the Oslo interim agreements and the "Palestinian National Authority" by Palestinians has served its purpose by introducing the institutions of the State of Palestine on the soil of Palestine and has now ceased to exist.”Abbas’s semantic ploy had left Israel without its designated negotiating partner under the Oslo Accords and had effectively ended negotiations for the creation a Palestinian State under the Bush Roadmap.
The institutions of the so-called “State of Palestine” had replaced the “Palestinian Authority” in some 40 per cent of the West Bank designated under the Oslo Accords as Areas “A” and B”– assuming full administrative control over 95 per cent of the entire West Bank Arab population including about 190000 Palestinian Arab refugees living in 19 camps whilst the remaining 570000 lived in towns and villages.
* 97 schools with 51,327 pupils
* 2 vocational and technical training centres
* 42 primary health centres
* 15 community rehabilitation centres
* 18 women’s programme centresUNRWA explains:
'UNRWA is unique in terms of its long-standing commitment to one group of refugees. It has contributed to the welfare and human development of four generations of Palestine refugees, defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”
The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, are also eligible for registration.
UNRWA services are available to all those living in its areas of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance.'
These 136 States now need to answer two questions:
1. How can any person living in his own country still be classified as a refugee?
2. Shouldn’t the 760,000 registered Palestinian Arab refugees living in the West Bank have their refugee status revoked and be resettled and fully integrated among their fellow Palestinian Arabs?Claiming the trappings of Statehood – whilst segregating its citizens into two different classes – is a recipe for continuing tension and future conflict.
Change the name – change the game – but be prepared to accept the consequences.