Palestinian “refugees” march under an UNRWA banner. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

“The US has done a very important thing by halting the financing for the refugee perpetuation agency known as UNRWA. It is finally beginning to resolve the problem,” Netanyahu stated.

Israeli leaders welcomed the US’ decision to stop all funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for so-called Palestinian refugees, deeming it a big step towards peace that has historically operated as a “refugee perpetuation agency.”

The State Department announced Friday that the US, the largest contributor to UNRWA with $350 million in annual aid, will make no additional contributions to the agency.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday visited the Breuer state religious elementary school in Yad Binyamin to celebrate the beginning of the new school year, where he contrasted Israel’s treatment of its refugees and the Palestinian refugee legacy.

Israeli vs. Palestinian Treatment of Refugees

Israel was faced with a serious refugee challenge from the day of its establishment.

“Haven’t uprooted people come to us from all kinds of countries? Holocaust survivors who were torn from their land? From communities that they had lived in, in Lithuania – for 500 years, from Poland – for 1,000 years. They were uprooted, survived and came here. Did we leave them as refugees? No, we absorbed them, from Arab countries as well,” Netanyahu stated.

“They were uprooted, from the same war, the war [1948] of liberation. Hundreds of thousands of Jews who came here as refugees without anything; they left all their property behind. We did not leave them as refugees; we turned them into equal citizens, who contribute, in our state,” he added.

However, “this is not what is happening with the Palestinians. There they created a unique institution, 70 years ago, not to absorb the refugees but to perpetuate them,” the Israeli premier noted.

“Therefore the US has done a very important thing by halting the financing for the refugee perpetuation agency known as UNRWA. It is finally beginning to resolve the problem,” he underscored, saying that the “funds must be taken and used to genuinely help rehabilitate the refugees, the true number of which is much smaller than the number reported by UNRWA. This is a welcome and important change and we support it.”

Explaining the dramatic move, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Friday that “when we made a US contribution of $60 million in January, we made it clear that the United States was no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs that we had assumed for many years.”

“The fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years – tied to UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries – is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years. The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation,” added Nauert.

Among the reasons Nauert cited in the statement for the US decision were “the failure of UNRWA and key members of the regional and international donor community to reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business” and UNRWA’s “endlessly crisis-driven service provision model.”

The Palestinians, as expected, slammed the US move and said it contravened international law.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon stated that Israel welcomes the US’ decision “as UNRWA has proven itself an impediment to resolving the conflict by keeping the Palestinians in perpetual refugee status.”

The Palestinians have threatened to petition the UN on the issue, but Danon said this “attempt to approach the UN is another empty statement. It’s about time that the Palestinian leadership abandoned its victimhood and incitement campaign, and takes concrete steps to improve the Palestinians’ future.”

Israeli Minister of Intelligence Yisrael Katz stated that he welcomes the decision to “stop all funding for UNRWA – the organization for the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem – and the [Palestinian] demand for a ‘right of return’ and to seek alternative ways to directly assist the population in solely humanitarian aspects.”

“This is a sobering view of reality and a support of Israel’s position that completely rejects the claim of the Palestinian ‘Right of return,’” he added.

Palestinian ‘Refugees’: Unique Status and Legacy

The Palestinians have a unique definition for their status as “refugees” that has permitted them to inflate their number significantly. Specifically, refugee status for Palestinians is passed on to succeeding generations and is unaffected by citizenship from other countries, in contrast to the definition of refugee status for every other refugee population in the world.

Therefore, the vast majority of Palestinian “refugees” in Jordan, more than two million, are citizens of the country who identify as Palestinian.

Israel has argued for years that the UN and the Palestinians are perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem and oppose any attempt to seek a solution.

Furthermore, the Palestinians’ status as refugees ensures an endless flow of international aid along with other financial ramifications.

A so-called Palestinian refugee receives quadruple the amount of aid that a Syrian, Iraqi or African refugee receives from the UN.

A study released in September shows that in 2016, UNRWA, which provides assistance solely to Palestinians, spent an average of $246 for each of the 5.3 million Palestinians it defines as refugees, while the UNHCR spent only a quarter of that amount – $58 per refugee – on non-Palestinians.