Biden Just Threw Israeli-Palestinian Peace Under the Bus | Opinion

The Biden Administration announced last week that it is resuming funding for UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, allocating $150 Million a year as "a means to advance a negotiated two-state solution." Whatever the Administration's true intentions are, advancing a two-state solution cannot seriously be the goal. The Administration is consciously choosing to fund an agency that is institutionally committed to ensuring that peace will never be possible.

UNRWA, under the cover of providing social services to Palestinians, is in effect giving political cover to the dream of undoing Israel by nurturing and legitimizing the demand to settle millions of Palestinians inside Israel, within its pre-1967 lines, in the name of "return."

Unless the Administration is keen to extend the Palestinian conflict with Israel, in the hope that one day Israel shall cease to exist as the sovereign state of the Jewish People, it is unclear why it has made such a disastrous policy choice.

UNRWA is one of the greatest, if not the greatest obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In contrast with normal international standards, UNRWA has its' own distinct definition for Palestinian refugees, which automatically includes all the descendants of the original refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars.

Today, the majority of UNRWA refugees worldwide are grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original refugees. Moreover, the vast majority of them are also citizens of other countries or living within territories governed by Palestinians in Palestine, and so are not actually refugees and in no need of resettlement.

UNRWA's definition inflates the number of those who should properly be considered refugees, 20-100 fold. Only a small share of those registered on UNRWA's rosters—those who still live stateless and discriminated against in Syria and Lebanon—are in need of resettlement. But rather than working to resettle them, UNRWA sustains many of them in perpetual limbo, together with their millions of long-settled brethren, in the elusive promise that they will one day be able to settle within Israel and claim Israel itself, rather than the West Bank and Gaza, as Palestine.

The Trump Administration had it right when it decided to defund UNRWA. And the Biden Administration is making a huge mistake upending that decision. To understand the magnitude of this error, imagine if the U.S. took the position that the entire West Bank is disputed, and then allocated funds towards building West Bank settlements and encouraging settlers to live there, while constantly reminding settlers that by legal "right" the entire West Bank is theirs and only theirs. Imagine if the U.S. refrained from ever saying anything that might be construed as implying that the settlers do not have the full right to settle all across the West Bank, and that someday they might be expected to forgo territory, so as not to anger them or hurt their feelings. Finally, after all that, imagine if the U.S. expressed confidence that when the time comes to settle the territorial dispute with the Palestinians, the settlers would somehow accept and support the need for such compromise.

Biden in Israel
Then-Vice President Joe Biden gives a speech at the office meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on March 9, 2016 in Jerusalem, Israel. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is on a two day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

This would be non-sensical to anyone supporting peace by means of two states. And yet, this is exactly how UNRWA operates, maintaining the fiction that one day, the descendants of refugees will be able to "return" to Israel.

Any U.S. intention to refund UNRWA without demanding deep structural changes is equally nonsensical to the hypothetical we laid out. There are perfectly rational, humane and effective ways to provide public healthcare and education services to Palestinians without fueling the conflict with Israel—in other words, without UNRWA.

For there to be peace, the war must end. This might sound banal, but it is the most important step on the path to making peace between Palestinians and Israel.

As long as Palestinians are indulged by the West in their belief that the war of 1948 remains an open case and that they can undo their failure in that war to prevent Israel's establishment as a sovereign state for the Jewish people by means of mass "refugee return," there is zero possibility that peace will be achieved. Unless the war is clearly understood to have ended, that Israel is here to stay as the sovereign state of the Jewish people, and that millions of Palestinians are not "refugees" from that war and do not possess a "right" to continue the war through "return," peace will remain elusive, and the conflict will continue.

At a time when the Abraham Accords finally mark acceptance by some Arabs of Israel's belonging and permanence in the region, the Biden administration is refinancing an agency that provides international legitimacy to the Palestinian view that Israel is a temporary and illegitimate creation.

It is hard to imagine a more anti-peace U.S. policy choice.

Dr. Einat Wilf, a former member of the Israeli Knesset on behalf of the Labor Party and Adi Schwartz, a researcher and former senior editor at Haaretz, are the co-authors of "The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream has Obstructed the Path to Peace" (St. Martin's Press).