In fact, it was Israel that in 1948 insisted on a separate UN refugee agency for the Palestinians.
UNRWA was created to prevent the Palestinians falling under the charge of UNHCR’s forerunner, the International Refugee Organisation. Israel was afraid that the IRO, formed in the immediate wake of the Second World War, would give Palestinian refugees the same prominence as European Jews fleeing Nazi atrocities.
Israel did not want the two cases compared, especially as they were so intimately connected. It was the rise of Nazism that bolstered the Zionist case for a Jewish state in Palestine and Jewish refugees who were settled on lands from which Palestinians had just been expelled by Israel.
Also, Israel was concerned that the IRO’s commitment to the principle of repatriation might force it to accept back the Palestinian refugees.
Israel’s hope then was precisely that UNRWA would not solve the Palestinian refugee problem; rather, it would resolve itself. The idea was encapsulated in a Zionist adage: “The old will die and the young forget.”
But millions of Palestinian descendants still clamour for a right of return. If they cannot forget, Netanyahu prefers that the world forget them.
PHOTO: Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon 2010 by Luca Babini for UNICEF.