Swiss FM Says U.N. Agency Keeping Palestinian Conflict Going

UN palestinians
U.N. trucks carrying food aid outside a UNRWA distribution center in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90, File)

Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis said on Thursday that the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees is perpetuating the Mideast conflict, by fueling unrealistic hopes on the part of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to lands they fled in 1948.

“It is unrealistic that all of them can fulfill this dream. Yet the UNRWA keeps this dream alive,” Cassis said in an interview with several German-language papers owned by the Swiss NZZ group.

“For a long time, the UNRWA was the solution to this problem, but today it has become part of the problem. It supplies the ammunition to continue the conflict. By supporting the UNRWA, we keep the conflict alive. It’s a perverse logic.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was established after the war for independence, when roughly 700,000 Palestinians left for surrounding countries.

But, as Cassis pointed out, the number of Palestinians recognized by UNRWA as “refugees” living in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, now exceeds five million.

The Swiss minister said the solution should be integration of long-term refugees in their countries of residence.

However, he does not advocate a funding cutoff, like that of the Trump administration. Switzerland joined several other countries who pledged a combined total of $100 million in March to help make up for the shortfall.

“In other cases, that’s a good move: if there’s no money, things finally happen,” Cassis said. “But in this case, that’s a big risk: millions of Palestinians could end up on the street. If all nations refused to contribute to the UNRWA, a machinery would collapse that ensures a certain stability. This is a risk that Switzerland can’t afford — perhaps unlike the U.S.”

Instead of UNRWA schools and hospitals, he said Switzerland could support Jordanian facilities to promote the integration of Palestinians.

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