- Leaked emails show Jared Kushner wanted to completely defund UNRWA
- Kushner is tasked with Middle East peace, but apparently doesn't know the consequences of abolishing UNRWA
- as the glue holding communities together, UNRWA's demise could result in crises in Lebanon and Jordan
- It would also force Lebanon and Jordan become key stakeholders in the peace deal, making for a four-state solution
When U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would cut U.S. donations to the U.N. agency in charge of Palestinian refugees by nearly half on Jan 16, 2018, the agency’s spokesperson expressed shock and surprise to Al Bawaba, calling it a “very abruption decision.”
But as leaked emails show, Jared Kushner was pushing Trump to abolish the agency a few days before the announcement, writing that “It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA [the refugee agency].”
While appeasing Israel by trying to abolish UNRWA, Kushner doesn’t seem to recognize the actual role UNRWA plays in the governance and administration of Palestinians’ lives. UNRWA is crucial to Palestinians and thus regional stability. Abolishing the agency would transfer the burden of servicing Palestinians directly onto the countries housing refugees; namely Jordan and Lebanon.
In practical terms, that would mean Kushner is accidentally pushing for a four-state solution whereby Lebanon and Jordan have a much more direct stake in the peace process currently being negotiated by Israel and Palestine.
If he actually got his way, Kushner's vision for Middle East peace could submerge the region in political and humanitarian crises.
Demonstrations against Trump’s cut to UNRWA’s budget in Jan 2018 (AFP/FILE)
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is tasked with solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but has little to show for his efforts except for these newly leaked emails.
In them, he calls for a ‘sincere’ effort to ‘disrupt UNRWA,’ adding that the agency “perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.” He also told recipients that “[o]ur 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.”
So what exactly is the strategy behind breaking dissolving UNRWA, an aid agency established in 1949 structured entirely around providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees?
Kushner, unbeknownst even to himself, seems to be pushing for a four-state solution.
A Parallel Government
Although it is little-acknowledged, UNRWA has become a makeshift parallel government that is entirely dedicated to ensuring millions of Palestinians in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan have access to services like health care and education. Set up in 1949, UNRWA has looked after a growing number of Palestinians, setting up schools, health care and counseling facilities as well as physical camps. These camps have now been around for decades and in some cases, have become more recognizable as permanent cities than temporary camps.
UNRWA, in looking after the basic needs and welfare of Palestinians, is often refugees’ first and primary governmental point of contact. It is, for many, a recognized and legitimate body that is much more than a U.N. charity or aid organization.
Dissolving UNRWA would then disappear the main governmental body that has been tasked with protecting Palestinians’ livelihoods and advocating on their behalf to the international community; it would dissolve Palestinians’ political point of contact, services, schools and even the organizing factor behind the cities and camps in which they live.
Absent this body, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine would have to take up this burden—which would likely cause crises in each country that could derail any current political stability.
Lebanon’s political system is a consociationalist one that is designed to equally represent its three major religious groups: Shia, Sunni and Christians. Although there’s about half a million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, they are relegated to twelve underserved and over-crowded camps. They are utterly locked out of the political system as well, as they have no representation, legal integration, property rights or access to higher education; they are even barred from working many stable jobs.
A majority of them live under the poverty line; their only tangible lifeline is UNRWA. Without it, their already-dire conditions would worsen to a crisis-point and Lebanon would likely be forced to begin servicing the population, something the current government is diametrically opposed to doing. Without UNRWA, Lebanon loses its buffer to the Palestinians living inside the country and faces an impossible dilemma: create a political crisis by integrating Palestinians or create a humanitarian crisis by refusing to service them.
A compromise like providing aid for the group without providing any rights protections would only delay the crisis as Palestinians would likely demand avenues for political representation to guarantee continued access to aid and service.
Children outside an UNRWA school (AFP/FILE)
Situation in Jordan
In Jordan, millions of Palestinians utterly depend on the services UNRWA provides, and the government has allowed UNRWA to carve out a governmental space for itself in administering the population. UNRWA runs parallel schooling, health care, facilities and neighborhoods in Jordan’s cities that are designed for Palestinians.
Dissolving the agency would create a socio-political vacuum in the country that could engulf all of Jordan in crisis. These facilities and neighborhoods would go government-less unless Jordan steps in to take control of these services. This would drain an already-cash strapped kingdom’s state coffers and accelerate a political dilemma.
Palestinians in Jordan have little political representation given they make up about a third of the country’s population; and indeed, Jordan’s own political system is built and maintained by Jordan’s influential tribes who have little reason to cede power to Palestinians.
This would force Jordan’s government to straddle between Palestinian demands for service and subsequent representation and establishment tribal demands. The peace UNRWA has been able to quietly keep could loudly rupture by the demand for more political representation and access to basic welfare.
In Gaza, UNRWA’s disappearance would be an all-out catastrophe. A crowded and cut-off patch of land, UNRWA is the only functional servicer for most of the 1.9 million population. With a staff of about 13,000 operating almost 300 schools, 21 health care centers and a food distribution network that feeds half of Gaza, its disappearance means any semblance of order could collapse entirely.
Taken as a whole, Kushner’s desire to abolish UNRWA would do two things: create massive political and humanitarian crises in Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine while forcing Jordan and Lebanon to become much more deeply involved in the peace process as their stability would then be existentially tied to the deal.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians currently living in host countries could be stuck there, deprived of any future right to return to their homeland and without aid or access to rights.
If Kushner got his wish and UNRWA was abolished or otherwise defunded, he would likely sabotage his own efforts at a peace deal.
This would be shocking if it weren’t for the fact that Kushner co-directed a foundation that funded Israeli settlements that are illegal according to international law and universally considered toxic to any peace deal and failed to report that fact. He also is chummy with Saudi’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who told Palestinians that they need to ‘shut up’ and accept a peace deal.
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