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UNWRA: Time for a Rethink?

19 February @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

There are many reasons why the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians has foundered. One of the most contentious issues between the two sides has been “the Right of Return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper, and how many such people will be allowed to enter Israel as part of any peace deal. In recent years the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – which administers the Palestinian refugee programme rather than the UNHCR, which handles all other refugee cases – has come under increasing scrutiny due to concerns around its effectiveness and mandate at helping Palestinian refugees, rather than perpetuating their status.

Dr Einat Wilf argues that the special status reserved for Palestinian refugees – with refuges status uniquely cascading down the generations beyond the original refugees – can be problematic. As a politician from Israel’s Left, she has written extensively – most recently in her co-authored book with Adi Schwartz, “The War of Return” – that UNRWA prolongs refugee issues rather than acting to alleviate it. With the recent decision of the Trump administration to cease funding UNRWA, is it now therefore time to look at new alternatives to address the issue of Palestinian refugees which might lead to better humanitarian outcomes?

By kind invitation of Dr Matthew Offord MP, The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to invite you to join Dr. Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz for an in depth discussion on UNRWA during which they will address questions regarding whether UNRWA is fit for purpose and deserving of special status within UN agencies; if there is a case of applying the UNRWA model to more recent refugee cases, such as Syrian refugees in Europe, if it is deemed to still be viable; and whether UNRWA is perpetuating the fundamental nature of the conflict rather than offering a path for progress and resolution.



Dr. Einat Wilf is a leading intellectual and original thinker on matters of foreign policy, economics, education, and Israel and the Jewish people. She is considered one of Israel’s most articulate representatives on the international stage. Her opinion articles are regularly published in international publications and she is frequently interviewed for television and radio programs around the world. She was a member of the Israeli Parliament from 2010-2013 on behalf of the Labor and Independence parties.

Dr. Wilf has a BA in Government and Fine Arts from Harvard University, an MBA from INSEAD in France, and a PhD in Political Science from the University of Cambridge. Born and raised in Israel, Dr. Wilf served as an Intelligence Officer in the Israel Defense Forces.



Adi Schwartz is a writer, academic and researcher, focusing on issues relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is the author of the best-selling book “The War of Return” (in Hebrew, 2018, Kinneret publishing house), together with Einat Wilf.
Schwartz is an expert on the Palestinian refugee problem and the history of Jews from Arab countries. He is currently writing his PhD dissertation in the department of Political Science in Bar-Ilan University. He has a BA in History from Tel Aviv University, and an MA (with distinction) in Political Science from Bar-Ilan University.

He is a published author in both English and Hebrew. A former staff writer and senior editor for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he has published articles in the Israeli press, as well as in The Wall Street Journal, The Forward, The Tablet and The Jewish Chronicle.
He speaks on US campuses as well as to overseas delegations visiting Israel. He is an official instructor of the Ministry of Education on the issue of Jews from Arab countries, and appears frequently on TV. He is a Fellow at the Center for International Communications in Bar-Ilan University.






On Tuesday 19th February, we were delighted to bring together Dr Einat Wilf, Adi Schwartz, Dr Matthew Offord MP and Ellie Green for a heartfelt discussion on the UNWRA’s and the UK’s involvement in Palestine.

Dr Wilf opened her talk by stating that they were there as political peacemakers from the left. She questioned why it is after repeated opportunities and repeated discussions peace has not been forthcoming. In her opinion it seems that it’s been a divide of territory, borders and occupation versus foreign invaders and European colonists. The Palestinians consider themselves refugees, and this was the trigger point to delve further and analyse what is actually meant by the term ‘refugee’. In Dr Wilf’s view, the Palestinians cannot be refugees as the war ended 70 years ago – they believe that Palestine is not their home because it is their belief that Israel is their rightful land. She furthered this point by analysing that if this is their belief, then they have not truly accepted that this is not Arab land and they will continue to fight.

How can you negotiate with someone who wants you to die? Dr Wilf believes that the Palestinians coming to the table with such a strong violence leaves no room for negotiation and that they need to approach differently for a resolution. All the Israelis want, she continued, is to know they can live in peace within their outnumbered presence in the Middle East. They want to know that there is no threat to their settlement, that they are accepted and their language is a sister language, at which point negotiation of land becomes easier. She feels that Westerners are under the impression that Palestinian leaders have accepted the two state solution, but the only ones she believes they are willing to accept are the West Bank and an Arab state that will replace Israel.

Dr Wilf finalised her comments by concluding that a message needs to be sent by the West, by the UK, that they will not fund the Palestinians who are not in need if Israel and Palestine are ever to have peace.

Adi Schwartz explained how the problem of UNWRA has been brushed aside and that the sheer volume of refugee figures is creating a problem. He believes that if they are desperately poor and in need then of course the UK government can fund them, but there needs to be a differentiation. They are not content with settling in the Gaza strip, they want to be in Israel and have that as Arab land which does not make them refugees. Schwartz stated that 90% of those claiming to be should not actually be considered as refugees which brings in a lot of legal issues.

He brought up the ideas of reforming UNWRA, but concluded that this organisation cannot be reformed, it must instead be stopped and help given via other means. It will never be a United Nations organisation the way we understand it.

Dr Matthew Offord MP summarised the talk with comments of his own from what is going on in Parliament, stating that funding has been increased by 5 million and that UNWRA is not irrelevant but in fact very dangerous and he views it with a great deal of concern.


19 February
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm


Committee Room 5, House of Commons
London, SW1A 0AA United Kingdom


Henry Jackson Society
+44 (0) 20 7340 4520


Dr. Einat Wilf


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