Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s decision to go forward with his visit to Arab Gulf States despite the Soleimani assassination, the catastrophic downing by Iran of a Ukrainian civilian airliner, and anti-regime protests in Tehran, confirms that Japan is forging ahead in pursuing an outsized role in the Middle East.
Japan’s growing involvement in the region also extends to the Palestinians, especially as it relates to UNRWA, (United Nations Relief and Works Agency Palestine Refugees in the Near East). This UN agency was created in December 1949 to support the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees. It remains the only UN agency devoted to one people. It has managed to extend its mandate for nearly seven decades by uniquely bestowing refugee status to four generations of Palestinians. No such cross-generational “status” was ever granted to any other people.
Since the US ended its funding for UNRWA in 2018, a number of other nations suspended their funding to the UN agency because of incessant lack of transparency and a major financial scandal involving the Swiss head of the agency.
However some donor nations, including Germany, chose to increase their financial commitment. Japan has opted to double down on its donations to UNRWA, its latest, $11 million just last month.
Humanitarian aid for any people in need is laudable. But as Japan is now a major Middle East player, it should demand of the Palestinians and the agency devoted to their wellbeing that Tokyo’s largesse be applied only towards a peaceful future, not the perpetration of hate and violence.
For example, currently, Palestinian curriculum and textbooks do not recognize their neighboring Jewish state (See the award-winning poster, where Palestine is depicted from Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. NO ISRAEL.)
In addition, recently, 135 Palestinian NGOs refused to sign a 2020 European Union grant agreement over amendment calling for organizations to refute ties to terrorism.
To date, Japan’s Foreign Ministry has not indicated it would independently review Palestinian curriculum or textbooks, nor match the European Union’s grant requirement to refute any ties to terrorism.
Still, because of its emergence as a leading Donor nation, Japan can simultaneously help needy Palestinians and bolster chances for Israel-Palestinian peace, by ending its hear-no-evil, see-no evil checkbook- diplomacy. Tokyo should link its monetary support to the type of changes articulated by peace activist and longtime monitor of UNRWA, David Bedein:
1. Cancel the new UNRWA War curriculum
The new curriculum, taken by UNRWA from the Palestine Liberation Organization and its PA Ministry of Education, incorporates principles of Jihad, martyrdom and “right of return” by force of arms, in UN schools that are supposed to promote the UNRWA slogan of “Peace Starts Here.” The path to peace begins in the classroom – but not in schools where Palestinian children are taught that they must fight Israel to control all the land from the Jordan River to the sea. New PA/UNRWA texts declare that all Jews currently living in the state of Israel must be exterminated.
2. Cease paramilitary training in all UNRWA schools
UNRWA should demonstrate a commitment to UN principles for “peace education”; training of child soldiers is in flagrant violation of UN principles and international law. Film documentation of such training is posted on IsraelBehindTheNews.com
3. Demand fiscal transparency
All donor funds that flow to UNRWA must be audited. Since the UN itself does not provide direct funds, with monies flowing from 67 donor nations, there is no evidence of a serious audit that would expose wasted resources, duplication of services and undesired flow of cash to Gaza-based terrorist groups, which gained control over UNRWA operations in Gaza over the past 18 years.
4. Introduce UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) standards to UNRWA
This would finally advance the resettlement of Arab refugees in decent, permanent conditions, after 70 years of stagnation. Current UNRWA policy is that resettlement would interfere with the “right of return” to Arab villages that existed before 1948. According to UNRWA, refugee status is inherited and Palestinian refugees now number about five million. The UNRWA website now says seven million.
UNHCR, the one refugee agency dealing with millions of refugees in the world except for Palestinian Arabs, does not promote inherited status so all that other refugees in the world are resettled with relative efficiency.
Japan is not the cause of Middle East violence, and terrorism. But in 2020, it is uniquely positioned to help bring about positive change for the Palestinian people and enhance chances for true peace with their Israeli neighbors by helping to ensure desperately needed changes at UNRWA.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean and director of the Global Social Action of Simon Wiesenthal Center.