Wed, Nov 03, 2010 | The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
UNRWA Director Calls on Palestinians to Acknowledge They Will Not Return to Their “Homes” in Israel
At the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations in Washington on October 22, 2010, Andrew Whitely, outgoing director of the UNRWA office in New York, called on Palestinians to acknowledge the fact that the probability of their returning to “Palestine” was low. He said they would do better to abandon the “cruel illusions” that they would someday return to their homes [i.e., in Israel], and “to start debating their own role in the societies where they are.” He said that only a few Palestinians and UNRWA personnel were willing to discuss the issue publicly, but “the right of return is unlikely to be exercised to the territory of Israel to any significant or meaningful extent” (Jerusalem Post website, October 23, 2010).
“If one doesn’t start a discussion soon with the refugees for them to consider what their own future might be – for them 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 but preserve rather the cruel illusions that perhaps they will return one day to their homes – then we are storing up trouble for ourselves. 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. 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,” Whitely said.
His exceptional remarks drew immediate reactions:
– In an official announcement, UNRWA unequivocally distanced itself from the statements made Whitley, saying that “statements in no way reflect the policies or positions of the Agency and are the personal views of Mr. Whitley” (UNRWA website, November 1, 2010).
– Saeb Erekat, head of the PLO’s negotiating department, sent a letter to Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East, expressing the Palestinians’ “deep disappointment” with Whitely’s remarks. He said that the Palestinians would not waive their “right to return” to their homes and lands, and claimed that the “right” was anchored in international law and UN resolutions (Jerusalem Post, October 31, 2010).