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How to Solve the Palestinian Refugee Problem

If the United States really wants to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, defunding the UN Relief and Works Agency is the wrong approach. Instead, the US should adopt the practical positions that Palestinian negotiators were ready to accept nearly 20 years ago, and it should push Israel to do the same.

JERUSALEM – The right of Palestinians (and their descendants) who fled their homes during the 1948 war to return to their ancestral homes has long been one of the most intractable issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And while US President Donald Trump’s administration seems eager finally to resolve it, its approach is all wrong.

Trump’s team – led by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his lawyer-cum-Israel-adviser, Jason Greenblatt – wants to resettle refugees wherever they are, and to dissolve the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which has been providing humanitarian support since 1949. This plan undoubtedly has Israel’s support, but it utterly fails to acknowledge the needs, interests, and aspirations of the Palestinians.

For starters, Trump’s approach would directly and negatively affect UNRWA’s mandate, which provides five million registered Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria with education, health care, and social support. Moreover, it would allow Israel to shed its responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem once and for all, defying international rules in the process.

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