Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:42 pm on 5 March 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench 5:42, 5 March 2024

My Lords, if Hamas released the hostages and came out from hiding in the tunnels, the immediate crisis would end. The world is concentrating on Gaza, and the need for humanitarian aid is the basis for the urgent calls from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for more funding. But the solution to the Israel-Palestine issue is not being progressed.

UNRWA is the problem, not the solution. It has not resettled a single person since 1948, whereas the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with fewer personnel and far less funding, has resettled 50 million people. UNRWA’s mission is not to help people but to perpetuate a political conflict—that is, to keep the so-called refugees in a state of misery until they can return to Israeli territory. That would mean the destruction of Israel and the obliteration of its 7 million Jews. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we say “never again”. The Hamas invasion of 7 October was, to Hamas, a foretaste of its declared aim to remove those 7 million.

The only way to resettle refugees and bring peace is to treat Palestinians like all the other refugees in the world. As with millions of others post war, there was upheaval and new national boundaries. They cannot return any more than Jews can return to their former homes in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. The host countries where the refugees are resident must take over their care, resettlement and full civil liberties, just as every other civilised country does eventually with displaced persons.

UNRWA should be abolished, leaving aid for the many other organisations operating in Gaza. Unfortunately, the iniquitous effects that UNRWA has created will last. That is the poisoning of the mind of future generations in the way that it has taught Palestinian children to hate, to believe lies about Israel and to believe that they can return there through violence. It has given make-believe employment to thousands of Palestinians. It continues the myth that there are millions of Palestinian refugees, when in fact they are not Palestinian and not refugees. It is a bottomless pit into which countries pour money—not only with no return, but money that has been used to murder and take hostage and starve ordinary Palestinians of the necessaries of life.

It is noteworthy that the rich Arab countries that surround Israel do not reach out to support their Palestinian neighbours. The major donors are the US, followed by Germany and then the UK. Where have the millions—indeed, billions—of dollars gone? They have gone directly to Hamas to build tunnels, secure armaments and keep Hamas leaders in luxury. The ordinary poverty-stricken Palestinian has seen none of it, and the state donors are curiously reluctant to follow through to see where their dollars are going. By funding UNRWA, the international community has freed Hamas to spend on terror rather than health and education. UNRWA has no financial control and no audit; it suffers from mismanagement, sexual misconduct and nepotism. Support for UNRWA contradicts the UK’s policy of a peaceful two-state solution.

UNRWA employees were undoubtedly involved in the horrific attacks on Israel on 7 October; some were members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad. At least another 1,000 UNRWA employees have ties with Hamas. Even more of them have praised the 7 October attacks, expressed anti-Semitism and praised terrorism.

What should be done? The UN refugee agency should take over the settlement of Palestinians in the countries where they live, and the right of return should be abandoned. The millions who live in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and elsewhere should have citizenship and full rights in those countries, as would be the case for refugees in any other country of refuge. They are not refugees in any case, being neither born in nor driven out of the land of their birth.

Will the Minister accept that the continued existence of UNRWA fuels terrorism, twists the minds of future generations and perpetuates the refugee illusion, rather than putting an end to it? The end of UNRWA would be the beginning of peace.