Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Thursday implored the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) to "end the morally unacceptable and unequal treatment of refugees, whereby the Palestinian refugee problem is perpetuated without any possible resolution."
During a speech before representatives of some 150 nations at a conference marking the 60th anniversary of the 1951 "Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees," Ayalon said a double-standard exists regarding refugees, as different criteria are used to define refugees in "Palestine" and elsewhere in the world.
"While the UNHCR has found durable solutions for tens of millions of refugees, the agency created specifically for the Palestinians, UNRWA, has found durable solutions for no one," Ayalon said at the conference held under the auspices of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, according to transcripts on the Foreign Ministry website.
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Ayalon also unveiled a new video clip that aims to set the record straight on the issue of Palestinian refugees. "The Truth About the Refugees: Israel Palestinian Conflict" is available on YouTube and features Ayalon explaining in English why Israel should not be responsible for the plight of Palestinian refugees, many of whom are languishing in refugee camps in neighboring Arab countries.
Prior to screening the clip at the conference, Ayalon told the assembly that the U.N. has done a disservice to Palestinian refugees. Ayalon also said that the international community should take advantage of the political shifts in the Arab world by rewriting UNRWA's mandate so that it treats Palestinian refugees like all other displaced people worldwide.
The clip also has Arabic, Spanish, French, Russian and German renditions. The Foreign Ministry plans to disseminate it to hundreds of schools and educational centers worldwide as part of their curriculum on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Last month, against the backdrop of continued Palestinian efforts to win full membership at the U.N. and shortly after its cultural organization UNESCO voted to admit "Palestine," MK Einat Wilf (Independence) told Israeli media that she would work to have UNRWA shut down, citing its alleged bias against Israel and the inflated refugee figures it has published.
"This agency is unnecessary," Wilf said at the time. "Other refugees around the world are not afforded refugee status for generations. I support U.N. assistance to the Palestinians in terms of education and health care, but not through this agency that disrupts the peace process." Wilf's efforts have apparently been endorsed by the Foreign Ministry despite some opposition in the Defense Ministry, which is headed by Independence chairman Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Israel places the number of Palestinian refugees at 250,000, while UNRWA claims that there are close to five million Palestinian refugees. According to the agency, a Palestinian refugee is anyone who left his or her home in British Mandate Palestine between the years 1946 and 1948, as well as his or her descendants. This includes second-, third- and fourth-generation Palestinians whose ancestors lived in what is considered Israel today and who fled their homes or were forced out during the 1948 War of Independence.
UNRWA, which operates in Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, provides humanitarian aid and social services to Palestinian refugees.
Israel has coordinated with the agency to transfer goods beyond its borders to Palestinian-controlled areas and has worked to prevent harm to UNRWA employees and structures. Despite this, the agency's buildings and employees have sometimes been caught in the cross-fire between Israelis and Palestinians, resulting in the deaths of several of its workers.
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