Former Justice Dept Lawyer Says UNRWA Should Stop Treating Palestinians Like Refugees

Report Being Sent to Obama Chides Relief Group for "Political Statements"

Former Justice Department employee James Lindsay released a report today titled “Fixing UNRWA: Repairing the UN’s Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees” which took the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to task for, among other things, treating the Palestinians (many of whom live in refugee camps) like refugees.

For the Palestinians it serves, this means ending their refugee status and returning, after nearly sixty years, to what most of them so desperately seek: normal lives,” the report says in part. It seems unclear how an agency which is struggling to feed the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip could return them to normalcy at all, let alone by merely stripping them of their refugee status.

But the paper, which is to be submitted to President Obama, urges the US to demand fundamental changes to the organization, saying it has “often clashed with US policies.” To that end, it should be, in Lindsay’s opinion, compelled to “halt its one-sided political statements.”

The UNRWA issued a number of what could be described as political statements during the 22-day war in the Gaza Strip, including publicly condemning Israel for attacking their headquarters and destroying tons of humanitarian aid. Yet by deliberately targeting their schools and offices and accusing them of being secretly run by Hamas, the Israeli government made the aid agency’s very existence a political issue, so any statements made by the agency on their own operation must necessarily be seen as political in nature.

Today, for instance, the UNRWA urged the United Nations Security Council to open up the Gaza Strip for reconstruction, saying the challenge goes beyond their own mandate. Even in conceding they can’t return Gaza to “normalcy”on their own is liable to be seen as an anti-Israel statement, inasmuch as Israel is deliberately barring reconstruction material from reaching the strip.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.