Whether the newly relaunched direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will overcome the stumbling block of the expired settlement frieze or not, any attempt at making peace between Israel and the Palestinians will eventually run into the core issues. Questions over the fate of Palestinian refugees are certain to be near the top of the agenda.
With this in mind we should recall how unhelpful many nations in the Arab world have been over the issue of refugees. In most cases they have been denied citizenship, the right to work or own property.
As part of this decades old saga, there has been a famous and frequently cited quotation, alleging that:
"The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don't give a damn whether the refugees live or die."
This damning quote has been attributed to Ralph Galloway, who worked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Jordan. The only problem being that no one by the name of Ralph Galloway ever worked for UNRWA.
An article in the Middle Eastern Studies Journal has identified the origin of this quote as a different Galloway. Lt. General Sir Alexander Galloway served Britain for a period spanning both world wars; his final command was as High Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief of British forces in Austria. Throughout he represented British and Western interests vigorously. Following this he took up the position of UNRWA Representative in Jordan.
The ramifications of the identity of the true Galloway are great: not only did the confusion provide UNRWA officials with plausible deniability when questioned about the quote, but the true author of the quote adds weight to the allegation. It was not said by Ralph Galloway, an average worker for UNRWA or even a mere international civil servant or bureaucrat. It was said by a man who had been the UNRWA Representative in Jordan, who was experienced as a leader of intricate organizations and had operated in highly political situations, giving him a uniquely knowledgeable position. He was a man familiar with refugee crises far worse and larger than the Palestinians. He had worked with complex politics in British colonies, occupied territories and between superpowers.
Despite being an extremely well qualified man, he had never come up against a situation where states posturing support maintain refugees in their condition, and where the refugees demanded to remain homeless with the aim of eventual repatriation. This was in stark contrast to refugees elsewhere in the world, such as in Europe or India, where refugees repatriate and there is just a very small 'hard core' that refused resettlement. He had undoubtedly not had to contend with an organisation like UNRWA which, as he implied himself, was already attempting to reinvent itself as a permanent caretaker organization for permanent refugees.
As such, UNRWA does not help the situation in the Middle East. 60 years on the refugees are still there, and they have increased in number by 400%. It is absurd that the UNRWA uses a different definition of refugee to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) which deals with refugees from everywhere else in the world. UNRWA counts every descendant of the original refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War as a refugee themselves, meaning that they shall remain refugees for generation after generation, even if they find a permanent home in another country. UNRWA also has serious questions to answer about its connections, both past and present, with militant groups such as Hamas.
Whilst Alexander Galloway's statement was made over half a century ago, the issues it alludes to are still relevant today. UNRWA, funded by western taxpayers, should be held accountable for its relationships and the construct it perpetuates, regarding the so-called Palestinian refugees, requires urgent attention and honest re-appraisal if peace is to be achieved.