Speaking at a National Council for US-Arab Relations conference last week, Whitley, who heads United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said that Palestinian refugees needed to start "debating their own role in the societies where they are rather than being left in a state of limbo where they are helpless."Well, it's apparently not that well known--because Jordan got upset over Whitley's remarks, to the extent that Wajih Azaizeh, director of Jordan's Palestinian Affairs Department, called the remarks "irresponsible."
The UN official added that the Palestinian refugees must not be allowed to preserve the cruel illusions that perhaps they will return one day to their homes."
“We recognize, as I think most do, although it’s not a position that we publicly articulate, that the right of return is unlikely to be exercised to the territory of Israel to any significant or meaningful extent,” he said, adding that “It’s not a politically palatable issue, it’s not one that UNRWA publicly advocates, but nevertheless it’s a known contour to the issue.” [emphasis added]
Actually, such a statement is not only not irresponsible, it reflects the reality of refugees around the world.
As Ben S. Cohen, Associate Director of Communications, AJC points out, Arab refugees are being treated as an anomaly:
Of the 50 million people who lost their homes because of war and conflict in the twentieth century, practically none of the original displaced returned to their homes, never mind their descendants. The historical record shows that refugees - like those 17,000 displaced Jews administered to by UNRWA back in 1950 - are invariably absorbed by host countries.There is a need for a strong dose of reality in the region--and judging from Jordan's response, after decades of catering to the Muslim whims, it will not be easy.
UPDATE: Check out Elder of Ziyon, who writes that UNRWA distances itself from the truth, by saying that Whitley's statement is purely his own.
Technorati Tag: Palestinian Refugees and UNRWA.