EVENT: UNWRA: TIME FOR A RETHINK?
DATE: 6.00-7.00 PM, 19TH FEBRUARY 2019
VENUE: COMMITTEE ROOM 5, HOUSE OF COMMONS, WESTMINSTER, SW1A 0AA
SPEAKER: DR. EINAT WILF, ADI SCHWARTZ
CHAIR: DR. MATTHEW OFFORD MP
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “OK, ladies and gentleman. Thank you and welcome to the Houses of Parliament tonight on behalf of the Henry Jackson Society. My name is Matthew Offord, I’m a Member of Parliament for Hendon and I have been asked to chair proceedings this evening. And so I’m going to start by saying that we have two speakers here tonight who are going to talk about particularly UNWRA and their role within the Middle East and whether actually the role of UNWRA has been contributing towards not only a two state solution but certainly looking at issues and how they represent people in the area. UNWRA is particularly unique in the fact that it’s the only organisation of its kind taking direct responsibility from the UNHCR and I hope tonight we’ll have the opportunity to discuss whether it’s believed or perceived to be good idea that UNWRA should undertake works in different areas in regard people like the Syrian refugees.
So our two speakers tonight are Dr. Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz. First of all, Dr. Wilf is a leading intellectual and original thinker on matters of foreign policy, economics, education and Israel and the Jewish people. She’s considered 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 programmes around the world. She was also a member of the Israeli Parliament between 2010 and 2013 on behalf of the Labor and Independence parties. She holds a BA in Government and Fine Arts from Harvard, an MBA from INSEAD in France and a PhD in Political Science from the University of Cambridge. She was born and raised in Israel and I am very pleased to see that she served as an intelligence officer in the IDF. Adi Schwartz, an independent freelance journalist based in Tel Aviv. He specialises in on the ground with reportage, in depth analysis and interviews and covers Israeli domestic affairs and the Israel-Arab conflict. Currently he is a Monocle magazine’s correspondent in Israel but he has also written for Israel Hayom and Maariv, The Tablet Magazine, The Jewish Chronicle, a publication we know here in the United Kingdom, The Tower and other publications. Mr Schwartz holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Western History from the Tel Aviv University and he speaks 6 languages, which is very impressive. So you are both very welcome here tonight. If I could ask you to make an introduction on the subject, to speak for a few minutes. First is yourself Dr. Wilf and then yourself Mr. Schwartz and then we’ll open up questions from the floor. OK, so over to you Dr. Wilf.
EINAT WILF: “Thank you so much for hosting us and for this very kind introduction. So this is really an important opportunity, both Adi and I come here to you as a peacemaker. As people who have grown up in the Israeli political left, for me in the Israeli Labor Party, for Adi as a journalist for Haaretz, and have reflected why is it for the past 25 years, despite repeated efforts and negotiations, despite repeated opportunities, offers made by governments of the state of Israel to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem, peace has not been forthcoming. And each one of us through respective personal experiences, basically meeting with Palestinians, talking to Palestinians, realised that they tell a very different story about the conflict. Whereas we tell a story that is considered very common, that it’s about territory, borders, settlements, the occupation, a Palestinian state, we have both realised that the Palestinians tell a story about foreign invaders, European colonialists, people who are not indigenous to the land, have no connection to it, have come to a foreign land and therefore their presence in the land is one that should be considered foreign and temporary. And one of the things that we realised is that nothing symbolises or encapsulates better the Palestinian understanding or story of Israel as a foreign and temporary presence in the region than this idea that they view themselves as refugees from Palestine, despite the fact that by no international standard they would considered refugees, certainly not 70 years after the war is over, they live in the West Bank, in Gaza, certainly by their accounting they’re in Palestine, never left home. They are citizens of the Kingdom of Jordan, nowhere in the world are citizens of a functioning state considered refugees. But they alone among the world’s people’s allowed to keep alive the fiction that the are refugees when they are not by an agency that still after 70 years is actually temporary and has the words, the letters, UN in its name. So supposedly enjoys UN and international legitimacy and has been continuously funded every year by the UK and therefore enjoys the legitimacy and prestige of UK funding.
So we’ve realised that nothing really symbolises this fundamental notion that Israel is a temporary presence than the idea that Palestinians are refugees and therefore can realistically can expect in their mind that one day, even though they are 30 year old professional lawyers living in Ramallah never displaced by war, they can imagine and realistically expect that one day they will settle in Israel within its pre-1960 lines and thereby make it an Arab state. And this is an important thing to realise because a lot of people are under the impression that the Palestinian leadership has accepted Israel, has accepted the two-state solution and therefore there is no need to put any pressure on it because it has already accepted this paradigm. But when Palestinians leaders say, and they all say, that they accept Israel or that they accept the two-state solution but when you ask them about this thing they called a right of return, but again is a fiction that exists nowhere else, when they say they have this right of return then the only two states they are willing to accept are an Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza and an Arab state to replace Israel. Acceptance of the principle of partition as envisioned by the United Nations to end the British mandate as a partition between a Jewish state and an Arab state has actually never been forthcoming. And in many ways it is your own foreign minister who was no friend to the Jewish people and to the Zionist movement, Ernest Bevin, who understood it best. In his speech to Parliament in February of 1947 when he explains to the people of Britain why Britain is ending the mandate and sending it back to the United Nations, the heir of the League of Nations that gave Britain the mandate, he basically says that the issue in this land is basically one that cannot be resolved and he says the problem is that for the Jews in the land, the principle purpose is the establishment of the state and for the Arabs in the land, the principle purpose is to prevent the Jews from having a state in any borders. So he understands the core of the conflict from 1947 to the present day. For the Jews, the purpose is sovereignty and part of the land. And for the Arabs, the purpose is not sovereignty and the other part of the land, it’s to prevent Jewish sovereignty in any part of the land. And when they have lost the war after partition, they basically developed, and I forgot to mention Adi and I are co-writers of a book that was a bestseller in Israel, it’s called the War of Return, it should be out in English within the year, and in the book we show that this idea of return was never innocent. It developed with the very clear purpose at the end of the war, the war that the Arabs violently waged to prevent partition, to prevent the establishment of the state of Israel, when they lost the war, in the wake of the war they basically developed this idea of return as a way of saying the war is not over and we refuse to accept its outcome and we refuse to move on.
We just came from speaking in Berlin in their Parliament, Germany recently increased its funding for UNWRA and we told them ‘look you had a leader, really brunt, who had the courage to stand up and say the Eastern territories are gone’. The Germans who were displaced, much more violently than the Palestinians ever, the Germans who were displaced from the Eastern territories into Germany, they had a leader who stood up and said ‘we need to move on, they’re gone’. If we are ever to have a Palestinian leadership who will stand up and say ‘that’s it, the territories are gone, there will not be Palestine from the river to the sea, we can build a state of our own in the West Bank and Gaza but we can no longer keep on fighting to have all of it’, the chances for such a leader to emerge are currently zero because countries like the UK by funding UNWRA are continuously coddling the Palestinians in their maximalist vision of Palestine from the river to the sea, the idea that they are still refugees, that they have this right of return. And I used to work with Shimon Peres for a few years, he had a phrase where he said that ‘if you want to make peace and love, you should close your eyes a little bit’. So I don’t know about making love but it is a disastrous policy for making peace. For many years we had this idea of constructive ambiguity, let’s just fudge the issue and we’re coming here as peacemakers who say it is time for constructive specificity. If we are ever to have peace, the Arab-Palestinian leaders and people need to hear morning, day and night that they are not refugees, that there is no right of return, that they need to move forward, that the Western territories are lost and that they can build a state of their own. The world will mobilise, Israelis will mobilise, we will mobilise if what they want is a state in part of the land. But if they continue to forego that option so that they continue to fight for all of the land, they need to know that the UK will not be with them and that the Western world will not support them in that maximalist vision.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “Thank you very much, that’s a great opener. Your comment about constructive ambiguity is something we’re very familiar with here at Parliament at the moment as we go through the Brexit process. That’s all we’re going to say about Brexit. Adi, if you would like to make your contribution please.”
ADI SCHWARTZ: “Well first of all thank you for having us and hosting this special event. I’d like to address the question of ‘why are we here?’ and ‘what do we want from the British government? Or ‘what message we would like to convey?’ So first of all this problem must be acknowledged. Until now, the problem of the refugees in UNWRA has been brushed aside and most of the debate and the discussion regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is mostly about settlements, territory etc. which is, of course, one of the dimensions of the conflict. But a problem such as the refugee problem, so for example UNWRA registers 5.5 million Palestinian refugees, the Palestinians themselves say there are 8 or 9 million because they count many more which are in a diaspora so the sheer number of the Palestinian refugees makes it very urgent for us to, for the international community to address the problems.
So we must, first of all, address the problem and put it on the table but putting it aside we simply do no any service to the peace. And generally speaking how can we solve this? Usually people would say ‘OK but the Palestinians are not in such a good conditions, some of them poor, they desperately need help’. Would it be true or would it be good for the UK government to simply stop giving in aid, so is that what we’re suggesting? No, totally not. We’re very happy that our neighbours, the Palestinians, would have the best health possible and the best education etc. etc. The problem is that right now through UNWRA, and this is the main problem with UNWRA, there’s a conflation of two issues; social services, which perhaps the UK and other EU governments would like to continue, and the political problem of refugee, refugee status. UNWRA grants refugee status to people 95 or 99% of them would not have been recognised as refugees by UNHCR.
So what we suggest is to find constructive ways, and we mentioned them in the book, which the West can continue helping and aiding by the way of nation building process of the Palestinians but without conflating and mixing it up with the political status which is refugee because that brings in the entire issues of return and legal standards, international law etc. etc. If the West wants to continue help Palestinians because they are poor or whatever reason, they can do it through other channels. Either through the Palestinian authority, through the governments in the region but what we suggest is stop funding UNWRA, giving the aid through other agencies. And the last point I’d like to make is since this issue is quite, the discussions are quite common we hear sometimes that perhaps the education system of UNWRA and textbooks could be reformed, there’s a lot of discussion about reforming UNWRA. Can we reform UNWRA? So our understanding and our analysis is that this organisation cannot be reformed. Through 70 years of aligning itself with the Palestinians, practically acting as the political womb, the political enabler of the Palestinian national movement today of Hamas, we think it is unseparate, you cannot separate UNWRA from the Palestinians. So it is indeed with the letters ‘UN’ in the beginning but it is not a neutral organisation and it will not be, it will never be a United Nations organisation in the sense that we understand it. So we do not think the way forward is to reform UNWRA but to simply (inaudible) try to aid the Palestinians through other channels. So these are my comments.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “Trying to keep up with making some of my own notes. Thank you. Now this is the opportunity for members of the audience to ask a few questions. If you’d like to just say who you are.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: “My name is (inaudible). All the things I’ve read about UNWRA make me feel that its creation was with (inaudible). It was designed to actually perpetuate the crisis because when they accept refugees, they don’t say, you know, they never said that the refugees are going to get over (inaudible). Every Arab that lived in Israel or lived in that area between the years of 1946-48 is ranked as a refugee. But on another level they say that the land is theirs because they lived there through time and memorial. So they have this bolstering of the numbers of refugees without any (inaudible) during a mandate, the Jewish (inaudible) has been coming but I don’t think there’s any element of restriction on Arabs coming from Lebanon, from Syria, from Iraq and Jordan, Egypt and I’ve seen lists of different names of people whose names hail from those particular countries are not natural to what was the mandate of Palestine. So how can we ever sort it out when the numbers are not exact? In Lebanon a few years ago, they did a tally of how many refugees there were there, they said there were half a million and yet in actual fact there are 180,000. So you have this entire distortion, just your comments on that.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “Shall we take three questions at a time because I anticipate there’ll be a lot of questions so the gentleman at the back.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: “What does Palestinian even mean? During the mandate, as far as I can tell, it didn’t refer to anyone who lived in the mandate of Palestine. Today it seems to have exclusively acquired the Arab definition. Are we seeing an attempt to rewrite history?”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “OK and the gentleman, it was you. Yes, yes.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: “Name is Ben Nathan. My question is really to you sir. Which is why does the British government fund UNWRA? I did email my MP, Mike Freer, a few years ago saying arguments similar to the ones that have been expressed and eventually I got an answer from DfID which was, you know, meaningless. What is the rationale?”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “OK. Would you like to take the first question?”
EINAT WILF: “Yes. The first question will actually help address a bit the third, which you of course, because we will talk about the history. The interesting thing about the birth of UNWRA, and we detail it in the book, is that at the birth there is no malice. For the first decade, there is actually a process of what we call a certain arm wrestling between the Arabs, who refused to accept the outcome of the war and therefore insist on remaining refugees. One of the things we show in the book is contrary to this mythology of the Arab refugees being pawns by Arab countries or by various interests and it is a mythology that continues to this day when people say Hamas hijacks the people of Gaza, the notion that the people have a very different ethos from their leadership and what we show is that it’s exactly the opposite. It is the Arab refugees themselves who are the most extreme element in refusing any kind of arrangement to the point of even assassinating the King of Jordan, Abdullah, who was actually willing to end the war, establish a border with Israel, naturalise all the Palestinians, this is why they are Jordanian citizens to this day. So they assassinated him, the Arab refugees themselves because they did not want to end the war. So from the Western side in the beginning, especially the US and the UK who are the major funders of UNWRA in the beginning, there is no malice. They want to end the issue, they want to find a way for the refugees to be rehabilitated, maybe Israel can take some of them back, maybe the Arab countries can rehabilitate them.
Initially, the intentions are fair, even the definition of refugee which you said is true. UNWRA inflated the number of refugees by a variety of ways. It begins with a definition that makes no sense and does not have any relationship to the international definition of a refugee, merely talks about two years of habitation in the land. But it was an operational definition, in the heat of the war they used the definition in order to provide aid. No one thought that 70 years later this would be a 5th generation using that operational definition used in war to provide services. So what we show is in the beginning there is actually not malice, not least from the UK or the US. The Arab side though is very clear on its purpose, it wants the war to continue and it wants to keep the refugees and the refugees themselves want to remain refugees in order to make it clear that they do not accept the outcome of the war, it’s not the end of the story. So for about 10 years there is this arm wrestling process going on whereby the UK and the US at one point say ‘we’re closing down UNWRA, this is a useless organisation’. They saw it very clearly, there are telegrams going, I mean, it’s a useless organisation, no one is being settled. They wanted to close down UNWRA and then the thing of the book that is really taken a bit out of Godfather, an Arab delegation of diplomats comes to the US state department and to the UK and basically in a Godfather like type basically tells them ‘it’s not a mistake you want to make. You accepted partition, we’ll loss over that but you do not want to make the mistake of closing down UNWRA because that would have meant ending the war against partition’. So basically this point after 10 years of arm wrestling, the UK and the US have interests in the time around the world, they want quiet in the Arab world, they have interests int he Arab world, they basically decide to keep UNWRA going. And that moment on, what the UK pays and what the US pays is an annual bribe to appease the Arab world, they know UNWRA is useless. The problem is that they’re under the impression that if it won’t help, which they know it won’t help, it won’t hurt and this is a bit to the second question, what we showed in the book is that UNWRA was an extremely destructive organisation that played a major role in the birth of a Palestinian national identity that was uniquely focused on revenge and return.
I’ve just been watching a Netflix (inaudible), The Little Drummer Girl, and he says it all there. The Palestinian actor, the Palestinian character say the gun and the return are one, it’s the same battle. If we were to define UNWRA in Irish terms, I would say they are the political arm of the Palestinian armed struggle to take back Palestine from the river to the sea, they are nothing less than that. So the Palestinian, so if the Palestinians were to write a declaration of independence that looks like that of Israel, it will open with the phrase ‘in the UNWRA refugee camps, the Palestinian nation was born, there it was shaped’ and so forth. And it is shaped, I mean, those who committed the Munich Olympic massacre are children of the camps, the airplane hijackers are children of the camps. The notion that UNWRA is some kind of neutral organisation that the UK and US can pay but it won’t help and won’t hurt, what we’ve discovered is that it was very damaging and we pay the price to this day in generation after generation of conflict and what we say it’s about high time that we begin to, that we stop this Palestinian rejectionism and begin to turn the tide.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “Adi. What is the Palestinian?”
ADI SCHWARTZ: “Right, so just a quick comment before that, just to add to what Einat said. The rationale of the British and the Americans in the 50s was part of the Cold War. So the fear was alienating the Arab world, remember Nasser in the 50s, very strong pan-Arab force and fear was by cutting the aid to UNWRA, they would simply push the Arab world into the hands of the Soviets. But circumstances have changed, the Cold War has ended. The question is, I mean they knew back in the 50s that continuing UNWRA was not a just cause, they just had to do it as some kind of a bribe to the Arab world. But since circumstances have changed and we do not need any more bribing of the Arab world. So much has changed, Suez Canal has been less important, maritime routes have been changed, the power of the Arab world is less than before the Soviet has collapsed. So there is no need any more to bribe the Arab word as to not push them into the hands of the Soviets so I think it’s high time to reconsider that poise. That’s one thing.
Regarding the Palestinians, what are they? So, of course, it’s a very difficult question since as you just mentioned that some family members, family names, obviously comes from other parts of the world. For example there’s a Musri family which means that they come from Misir which is Egypt, so people moved around along history. And even the most famous Palestinian families, such as Husseini, we know that they come from areas in today is Kurdistan, some in the 12th century, some in the 16th century, so people moved along the years. We also know, of course, that in the beginning of the 20th century, they mostly saw themselves as Arabs belonging to Syria, southern Syria, whatever that means. However, if we look today, I think, I don’t think I’m sure, that Israel will obviously say that these people who live in (inaudible) and in Gaza and in Ramallah, are not Jews and they, those inhabitants of Gaza and (inaudible) would obviously say they are not Jews. So whatever the name you call them, you cannot, if you wish to to call them Palestinians, they are Muslims, they are Arabs and they are there. So we can change the name but we still have a large chunk of people who need to be handled somehow, they can care somehow. So indeed obviously the history has been used to undermine Jewish connection to the land and that’s wrong, that’s not historically wrong but at the end of the day if you look at the present, there’s still a number of people who are there. So they can change the name but not the, eliminate the problem but just changing the name.”
DR MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “OK, I’ve been, before I do I’ve been asked a question. I’ve been put on the spot. Really the answer that you received from your own Member of Parliament would be the correct answer. My own view is that we’ve already had a history lesson on how UNWRA came about. My own view is that I feel that UNWRA is a very difficult organisation and a very dangerous organisation. Now Einat just mentioned that she felt it was useless and it is one point where I disagree with her. I think it’s a very dangerous organisation. I believe it not only perpetuates the conflict but it provides a legitimacy to grievances to Palestinian people and Arab people in that area. And why does British give money? Because we have traditionally since 1947 but secondly we’ve recently increased the amount of money that we give them. So we increased it by 45 million pounds and there were calls from the opposition that we should build an international consensus to replace the funding that was withdrawn by the Americans and President Trump. He was due to pay 365 million pounds and he withdrew the 300, so they’ve had about 60 million pounds and there is a consensus about replacing that money. Recently on the floor in the House of Commons, the Middle East Minister, Alistair Burt, who is very much a friend of Israel and very much a friend of the two-state solution, he said that if that money wasn’t provided, public services, such as schools, would not deliver an education and he asked who would deliver that education instead? So I think the implied rhetoric was that it would be funded people like Hamas and there would be no control. That is his view. I’m not a member of the government, I have a great deal of concern about the organisation. Right, now I’m going to take gentleman at the back, and here, and then the person over there.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: “My name is (inaudible), I want to raise a point which I’ve already raised with you Mr. Chairman last year at correspondence. If money to UNWRA is withdrawn, are you (inaudible) channel through the Palestine authority? Because there are concerns about that (inaudible) as well and I’ve raised it with the MP here the issue of money (inaudible) out of the United Kingdom and out of the European Union going to the Palestine authority and being channeled for terrorism, for terrorists who are convicted and seem to be in jail. So is that an alternative route?
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “OK, gentleman here.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: “My name is Alexander (inaudible). The interesting question which you both addressed, why is UNWRA still around? And a couple of things and please clarify, maybe it’s a bureaucratic side of UNWRA as any system wants to perpetuate itself, that’s part of it. Or perhaps, and let’s say call the spade, the spade, there is a hidden anti-Israel sentiment on some of those who decide to fund it because it’s clearly hurting Israel. So, I mean, is that a part of all around us political correctness, ‘oh my God we cannot hurt those poor people’. Why do you think it is? Or maybe there’s something else?”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “OK, gentleman at the back.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: “(Inaudible), I work for the Jewish (inaudible) Council. Often when you raised UNWRA with development government departments, the response you get is in their language we realise its imperfections but it does vital work and we can’t leave that fund. So my practical question is what other organisations or agencies or are there other organisations and agencies that you would recommend in funding (inaudible).”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “OK”
EINAT WILF: “So that also goes to the question of the PA, what is the alternative? In general, I would say we are agnostic and what are the means by which funds are transferred? Should the UK want to transfer funds? As long as it is clear that the Palestinians are not refugees and they possess no such thing as a right of return into Israel within its 1967 lines. So that can be achieved in a variety of means. It could be achieved first and foremost even before not changing the funding by a declaration. If the UK, for example, the Parliament were to issue a declaration that says’ yes the money was increased but we want to make it clear that the increase in money provides no British legitimacy to the notion that Palestinians are refugees, we actually think that they are not’, maybe issue a report saying they are not, saying they have no right of return and it is not a legitimate request. Some people say ‘well let’s just negotiate it’ and I say ‘look the Palestinian position is ‘you should die’. How do you negotiate it? How should we die? When should we die? It’s not a negotiating position. If we are ever to have peace, they need to come to the table with a very different position to begin with. Not you should die.
So, we’re agnostic, the Palestinian authority has its problem but at least the Palestinian authority is officially limited to the West Bank and Gaza, whereas UNWRA has this notion of refugees and return. But as far as we’re concerned it could be any organisation, any government because the key issue is this; the Palestinians will say no because we come with very decent proposals. We say, let’s say the UK government goes to the Palestinian authority and asks it to transfer 10 schools out of nearly 100 that UNWRA manages in the Palestinian authority, transfer 10 schools to the management of Palestinian authority from UNWRA. Nothing changes, same teachers, the teachers are not Swedish aid workers, they Palestinians. SO same teachers, same students, same building, they just take down the blue UNWRA sign, they put a Palestinian authority sign and they channel the money through Palestinian authority. Offer that. If they say yes, guys the road to peace is opened if they say yes. If they are willing to assume responsibility and to begin to roll down the idea of the refugees. And if they say no, then you have called their bluff because you were willing to give them money and they’re basically telling you ‘we don’t want your money, we want to continue to believe that we are refugees and that the war is not over’ and then you can go back to your people and say ‘we are not wasting British taxpayer money on funding and supporting this maximalist rejectionist idea’. And this is also why, I mean, the notion that UNWRA is necessary, it provides vital services, why is it still around. Everything UNWRA is pretty much upside down. Let’s take the most extreme example of Gaza, for example. People say OK but the people in Gaza need assistance. There’s no tsunami in Gaza, there’s been no natural disaster so why are there problems in Gaza? Because 80% of the people who live in Gaza, 1.4 million, are registered by UNWRA as refugees from Palestine. They live in Gaza, Israel is out, has no territorial claims, they are in Palestine and yet they are registered by an agency with the letters ‘UN’ as refugees from Palestine. Now which Palestine are they refugees from? They know. Palestine from the river to the sea. But why should the UK support it? So the people in Gaza say to themselves Gaza’s not my home, even though I was born here, even though my parents were born here, even though my grandparents were born here and by now my great-grandparents, it’s not my home, it’s a temporary place I inhabit until I take back Palestine from the river to the sea. So when people, 80% of Gaza’s inhabitants don’t think of Gaza as their home and you give them cement or money, are they going to use cement to make Gaza into the Singapore of the Middle East? To build their future in Gaza? No. They’re going to use cement to dig a tunnel and take back what they believe is their real home. So the aid, the money that flows to UNWRA, to Gaza will literally sink into the ground if they never receive the message that says enough. If you are in Gaza, you are not a refugee from Palestine. Your future is in Gaza, start building it, we’re happy to support you in building it. Someone used a beautiful image that the Palestinians say they are drowning then they are being given a hand but rather than use that hand to get out of the water, they’re trying to pull us all in and if that’s what they want, that’s not what we should support.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “Excellent. Adi.”
ADI SCHWARTZ: “No I think she addressed very well.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “I do as well. I think it’s a very influential you made about people who are born in Gaza saying ‘well this isn’t Palestine’ when clearly it is. It’s a very good point. I’ll take the gentleman there, you have been indicating for quite some time then the lady because we haven’t had any ladies yet and then the gentleman here.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 7: “I just want to say I belong to (inaudible) which is Jews from Arab countries. We left various countries and established ourselves very quickly elsewhere. We didn’t call ourselves refugees. Iraqis came and settled down, were successful or not. Why do Palestinians want to be refugees, the lady explained, but we, as Jews from Arab countries are proud to settle down and just carry on with our life and this is what we have to instill to the Palestinian, that there is a future for them but no one is talking to them like that. They want to destroy Israel. Jews from Arab countries settled down in the country they chose, whether it is Israel, England or France and that was something that they should be considering.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “Now the lady there”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 8: “Thank you. Really very pleased to hear this discussion today, it’s really important that we start moving things forward. I’ve been really keen to see a book in the future on something to do with the history of Israel and where it comes from. I have ancestors that are from Eastern Europe that came to Britain in the 1800s. Ashkenazi in, you know, that sort of history (inaudible) 2,000 years ago on the Romans, everyone sort of heard the diaspora. That land has been fought over since the 11th century and I planned a trip to Israel recently. I am Christian Catholic and I was told I wouldn’t be allowed into the Temple Mount and undoubtedly shocked about it. So I looked to some of my Jewish friends and wanted to know this was the case. I even to see if I could actually pretend and realised I need to learn the Koran very quickly and so this is a very important subject and I’m glad that we’re getting (inaudible), not just for Palestinians and Israelis but for Christians around the world as well. What I’d like to hear is what is your foresight about the two-state issue because I’m very much a fan of that. Sorry name is Natasha, I’m a Security Masters student at UCL. My understanding is that Netanyahu is not so keen on a two-state solution, I could be wrong but that’s my understanding because by giving Palestine sovereignty, you would be allowing them to have an army and control over their own autonomy over what they’re doing so perhaps less control. What’s your, sort of, idea on how the two-state solution will work? If we can get them to accept their own sovereignty and autonomy to manage themselves and to accept that the state of Israel is there and is not going anywhere but also to claim back our rights over all the sort of freedom for everybody to visit these very important, sacred sites.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “Good point. Gentleman here.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 9: “Accepting all the two speakers have said, I nonetheless fear that they’re banging their heads against a brick wall. The British government, rightly or wrongly, wrongly in my view, has increased its aid without any conditions. It has not, as you hoped they would, it has not asked for anything in return and will not ask for anything in return. So where do we go from here? As I say I think I’m afraid you are banging your head against a brick wall so far as the government of the United Kingdom is concerned, probably as far as France is concerned. We’ve seen some action from the United States, perhaps inadequate action. Where do we go from here?”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “Adi, would you like to go first this time?”
ADI SCHWARTZ: “Yes, I thought with the issue of Jews from Arab countries. That’s, of course, true. There is a perhaps a bigger number of Jews, 900,000 lived in Arab countries and had to leave the countries. Some of them 2,500 years of communities from the time of the first Temple. There are many differences between the two communities, one of them is, for example, that Jews in Arab countries have not waged war against the countries, they were simply uprooted or their lives had been made impossible to continue whereas the Palestinians opened the war so there’s a difference between peaceful citizens and a party to a war. But the bigger difference, I think, and this is the issue that we’re discussing here is exactly what you said at the end. The difference, the main difference, is the political issue because whereas Jews were left Iraq in 1950 or 1951 do not want to undo the state of Iraq, they do not want to take over Iraq. The problem is, and the same goes for Morocco, Tunisia etc. etc. The problem with the Palestinians is that they do want to take over the country. So it is not a coincidence that they are not resettled. It is not a coincidence that we have them for 70 years as refugees. It’s not a lack of money, lack of interests, lack of goodwill on the international community. There are simply unwilling to resettle and out an end to this conflict. Whereas, as you just mentioned about yourself and your family, you continued with your life so the main difference between the two groups is the reluctance of the Palestinians is to come to terms with the results of the 1948 war and the fact that the state of Israel is here to stay. So there is a very big difference between the two groups.
And I just want to mention one quick note before, you’re right, it’s an uphill battle and it’s not easy, especially since there’s 70 years’ war or mountain or pile or whatever you want to call it of distortions, of lies, of myth such as the right of return which does not exist, Palestinian refugee, which does not exist. Entirely, a long list of notions and conceptions and when we meet people and discuss, they look at us like ‘where did you come from? What are you talking about?’ So some of them have not heard this issue before, so that’s true. However, I would like to add some kid optimistic note because in discussions we had both in Germany and in the United States, we have found people who find what we say as reasonable. So when we explain the issue as we do, they say ‘oh they have a point’. So I think it’s a lack of discussion, it’s a lack of debate. It’s not that people are really know what, you know, their facts and they have this side that this is the right way to do it, they simply don’t know the facts. We hope by raising the issue on the agenda as much as we can and hopefully with other partners then we might be able to make some change.”
EINAT WILF: “Maybe take a few more questions and then I’ll answer some of the previous ones if there’s time.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “Of course. Now, lady here and then gentleman there.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 10: “You describe yourself as from the left wing of politics in Israel. Are you planning on speak to people on the left of politics here who like Jeremy Corbyn are incredibly sympathetic to the Palestinian right of return and have had a long history of associations with the Palestinian returns and through another similar organisations? And do you think you might change their minds?”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “And the gentleman here.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 11: “My name is (inaudible). (Inaudible) book ‘One State, Two States’, Benny Morris in his conclusion, possibly tongue in cheek I’m not sure, suggests that there is a solution which in essence is to, I suppose, re-enact Trans-Jordan and say that should all be one country with Jordan to the east of the river. To the extent that he wasn’t tongue in cheek, what’s your view of his take on the solution there?”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “OK, the gentleman here.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 12: “David (inaudible). I once heard (inaudible) 25 years ago and he talked about Yasser Arafat and said ‘Yasser Arafat never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity’. Have we made any progress since then?”
EINAT WILF: “So I’ll start from the end. One of the things that comes out is actually the Palestinians never saw these as opportunities and that’s the difference. I mean this is really where the greatest misunderstanding came from, the Israeli side. We thought that the Palestinians were like us, that they wanted a state. And even if the state is on part of the territory, they will still prefer sovereignty in part of the territory over fighting for all of it. But that’s not what they’re fighting for, that’s what Ernest Bevin understood very well, Their battle is to prevent Jewish sovereignty. So from their perspective, the opportunity to have a state, Abba Eban was actually quoted in the book on the eve of partition, he meets with the head of the Arab league, on the eve of the vote in the UN and he basically tells in a very Abba Eban-esque way, he tells them ‘look, we’re going to go to war, at the end of the war we’re still going to be left standing so why don’t skip the war and come to an understanding’ and basically Azzam Pasha tell him, the head of the Arab league, he was like ‘we can never accept partition and the idea of Jewish statehood on this land and we will fight this. We will not accept the vote, even if it passes. We will reject it violently and if we lose the war’, he says ‘if we win the war, you don’t have a state, if we lose the war and you do emerge with a state, we will never accept it and even if we accept it, it will take centuries’ so he tells him. So Abba Eban actually himself should have understood that they never viewed it as opportunities that they missed because they were fighting a very different battle.
So a few comments, this also comes to the issue of the two-state solution. Benny Morris. What my position is? I have a talk, if you’re willing to go to, on YouTube, I say what is the conflict really about and how it will end. And at the end of the story, you know, Arabs invented Math, the numbers are very clear. The Jews are a tiny minority in the Middle East. When Palestinians speak of return, they are being rational. I’ve invented a word, I call it ‘Westplaining’. I’m sure you’ve heard the word ‘Massplaining’ so this is Westplaining. Westplaining is my invention, it’s when Westerners, diplomats and journalist explain away with Palestinians have just said. So Palestinians tell the West ‘we’re fighting for return, the marches in Gaza are for return, we demand return’, and Westerners says ‘they’re just saying that because there are dire conditions in Gaza’ and I’m like listen to them, they’re telling you what they’re fighting for and from their perspective when people, many diplomats ‘ah they know it’s ot going to happen, they understand there’s going to be no return, it’s a bargaining chip’ and I’m like they’re actually the rational side in this conflict. Open the map. They see 7 million Jews living among 450 million Arabs, 1.2 billion Muslims, they say this is not going last much longer. So when they demand return, it’s not some delusion, they think of it as a rational expectation to be realised in the near future, something worth fighting for. So a two-state solution can only emerge when that vision is defeated. And we need to speak on those terms, you know, like defeating Nazi Germany. Only by defeating a maximalist vision can there be an openness to partition but they will agree to divide the land as long as they view us as temporary, foreign presence. And they will only accept us once they have been exhausted of all other possibilities. When they have been defeated in all their wars and all their UN condemnations and all their boycotts, only when they realise that they throw the kitchen sink at us and we’re still standing and somehow these Jews, these crazy Jews really think they’ve come home and they’re not some foreigners, only then can we really begin to discuss the details of how to divide the land but it won’t happen before they are defeated in their maximalist vision and that has to do with Jerusalem, with everything. Only when they understand that we belong, that we have come home.
And to your position that it’s Netanyahu or the Jews are all that, we’re a small people and for everyone who thinks, people say ‘oh Israelis have gone to the right, Israel is very right wing now’, I say look imagine, I do this kind of thought experiment for everyone think that Israel is right wing. Imagine that the King of Saudi, as old and decrepit as he is, decides to do a (inaudible) and come to the Knesset. He brings the King of Jordan and the King of Morocco.They stand in the Knesset and they give the following speech; ‘in the name of the proud Arab nations and the world of Islam, we’re done’, we’re done. We will no longer fight you, we thought you were foreigners but you have withstood everything that we threw at you. You are truly the Jews who have come home. You are a tribe of the region like all other tribes. Your language is a sister language to our own. And we will no longer fight you. We are done. Welcome home. But we do expect you get out of the West Bank’. In that second, Israelis will run to the line and if there are settlers who think that they have won, they will look back and find nobody. Why? Because Jews don’t have a history in Judea? Of course we do. But we are at the end of the day a small people and if we understand that we can finally rest, no longer fight, know that we have come home, be accepted by the Arab world and by the world of Islam and the price will be partition yet again? We will say yes and we always have said yes. This is the core issue and this is why it is worthwhile to bang our heads against the wall and we will speak to anyone and we’ll try and we do try. I don’t know if on this trip we have some Labour members, I don’t know if they’re (inaudible) but it’s worthwhile banging our heads against the wall. There’s a famous saying by the Jewish (inaudible) that it is not your job to finish but it doesn’t mean that you have the right not to do it. So we do it, we don’t know how long it will take but it is a worthwhile undertaking so that at the end of the day there is a real possibility for peace.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “Adi, do you have anything? I can take a couple of questions because I have to be somewhere. So if there’s any further questions? One, two and then the gentleman at the back.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 13: “I’m (inaudible). When Israel became independent, the UK abstained because the government was very anti-Israel and the Foreign Office was extremely anti-Israel. The State Department fought against the President of the United States, against recognition and I think that a lot of the formation of UNWRA was to vacate, and actually I use the term Antisemitism, that existed, maybe not Antisemitism, anti-Jewishness that existed within those departments. Coming through today, the West all pays most of UNWRA’s situation, I don’t (inaudible) an awful lot of anti-Israel events and I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of people that goes to them are not Palestinians or Arabs, they are white Westerners and I do believe a lot of their motivation which drives a lot of the anti-Israel sentiment, a dislike of Jews. You can’t say anymore but sometimes you manage to scratch the surface and it becomes a very unpleasant situation but I have been, I think, a (inaudible) and I disagree with what they’re saying. And sometimes with recorded statements and they’ve threatened to charge me with racism and I say I’ve got a recording of it and suddenly it all goes because I think a lot of it is driven by a hate of Jews as opposed to a love of Arabs.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “OK, gentleman here.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 14: “My name is (inaudible) and I know that many of us will sit here and will say that all these people don’t have a claim to be refugees and don’t have claim to the land and while that may be, many of our view. Sorry, while we may believe that grounds that funding to UNWRA has to be stopped, do these people, if they genuinely believe that they do have a claim to be refugees and that they do have a claim to the land, that even by cutting funds to UNWRA it will be near to impossible to convince these people who already have the fixed mindset that they are refugees. It will be extremely hard to convince them that they’re not. So do we not think that, do you not think that the main way right now, because it’s a bit too late to convince these people, that the way to peace is what you’re suggesting, do we not think now the best way to achieve peace in the future is through the younger generation whose minds can still be convince that not what they’re being taught and that’s the main way to achieve peace right now is through the younger generation.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “OK and the gentleman at the back.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 15: “Yes, trying to avoid being a postscript to this gentleman’s head banging. To what extent can you disentangle the political dimension from the practical consideration of (inaudible). Bearing in mind that the use of UNWRA or the concept of right of return is now generally recognised position among the Palestinian side, especially in the context of negotiation with no pre-conditions. And bearing in mind this is probably recognised by probably a majority of members of the UN. How realistic is it to approach the problem from this end as opposed to other possibilities which you mentioned and suggested and one of which may be simply just to remove funding, to re-fund the funding as opposed to taking a political route.”
DR MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “OK. Adi.”
ADI SCHWARTZ: “I’d like to start with your question. This is one of the questions that we’ve been asked many times. So OK, let’s say we stop funding for UNWRA, what will it help? So what will happen the next day? We are not that optimistic to think that the next day there would be peace, that’s not the plan but the plan is to start sending a message and a good one. So right now you have one side, the Palestinians, who strongly and honestly believe that they’re going to return and instead of telling them ‘guys you’re not going to return’, you don’t say ‘not you’ but international community, doesn’t say anything and gives them 1.3/1.2 billion dollars each year and grants them refugee status, gives away tickets, like refugee cards as we speak to people who are born in Gaza, this is what the international community is doing. So what we suggest is stop doing it, start sending the right message. What we hope is that some kind of internal debate, inside the Palestinian society, will emerge. It can take years, we’re not saying it’s going to happen tomorrow but it’s better start it now than in a certain moment.
Now the fact is, in the future, the fact is that we know that we have, for the research of the book, we met people who sat in the room in 2000 and 2008, people who were in the room discussing with the Palestinians, you know, issues of the refugees and they were stunned each time and again because the Palestinians are serious and they were like ‘hey guys are you really serious about this?’ and they said ‘yes we are’. So what we are doing now is that, Einstein said, we’re doing the same thing hoping that we’ll have a different result. So we suggest don’t do it again, don’t continue giving them money, tell them ‘guys no return, no refugees and start a discussion’. It will take some time, by the way we can do grassroots involvement, civic society, encourage discussion. For example, if the UK is giving aid through civic organisations in the West Bank, they should stop cooperating with anything that happens inside the refugee camps. You can help people in Ramallah, the city OK, Palestinians but stop helping and stop cooperating with people who are in refugee camps, who do not look like refugee camps and they are an artificial, political entity. And you mentioned the younger generation. Currently the younger generation sits in classes of UNWRA with a refugee card thinking themselves as refugees and being taught, you know, every day that they’re going to return somewhere so we’re doing it, right? So you’re absolutely right, we should start doing but we should start sending the right message.”
EINAT WILF: “Just a short message on everything. Yes, it’s extremely hard but that is the issue. I mean that’s the thing, there is nothing else, that is the core of the conflict and peacemakers in the past either didn’t see it and failed or when they saw it they tried to run away into other issues and failed. But there’s no other choice, this is the issue and the fact that you’re saying that this is accepted, I know it’s accepted but with my effort I’m trying to roll back these 70 years. Adi and I come out many meetings with diplomats exhausted, frustrated and we have to remind ourselves that we are trying to undo 70 years of lies and deceptions that Israel failed to counter for a lot of reasons and I think at least the reason that our message ultimately does begin to make some cracks is that we come as peacemakers. We come as people who ultimately do want to see two states, who do recognise that the other people, whatever you call them, have a claim, should be able to be masters of their fate. We don’t want to rule over them but we do want to know that they are doe fighting us and until we know that, we cannot move and this is why it’s worthwhile. It’s the hardest thing but it is the thing.”
MATTHEW OFFORD MP: “OK. Thank you very much. Just want to pick out very quickly a few points. As Julian said about funding of Palestinian terrorists. Myself and a couple colleagues with some other organisations have actually now have possession of some documents which we believe we can prove to the Foreign Office that there is a slide in scale for convicted terrorists and so called martyrs based upon their crime and how much they received. This has been fiercely resisted by the Foreign Office and Foreign Office minister who is still there has argued publicly when he wasn’t a minister that this does not happen but do not share that view and we continue to fight with the Foreign Office on that issue. A second point about finance and aid going to the Palestinian Authorities, I recently asked a parliamentary question about the economic sustainability of the Palestinian authorities and how we are spending money to ensure that they don’t need rely upon us. I haven’t had the response to that but I’ll be looking out for it and I’ll be very interested to see what will happen. And finally, the lady said if there are any books. Yes, any books that you can read. I’m sure people here have read One Palestine Complete, Tom Segev. A Line In The Sand by James Barr and we mustn’t forget the wonderful War of Return by Dr. Wilf and Adi Schwartz. I certainly be looking forward to having a look when it’s published in English. Can I thank each and every one of you for coming along. I will certainly go away with some ideas for questioning the government and pursuing some of the issues that we have about refugee status, about money that we give to UNWRA, about the continuation of UNWRA and indeed salaries to prisoners but found tonight very fascinating and I’m very grateful for your contributions in coming along so thank you very much.”