In the vast sea of false conceptions, which nourishes the never ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict, isles of honesty appear from time to time, glittering under the sun. It is important to seize the moment, save these quotations and remember them when the endless chatter of political correctness once again covers the horizon.
Such a moment occurred in the U.S. – Arab relationship conference, held in Washington on October 22nd. Andrew Whitley, a senior UN worker who was lately nominated as the head of UNRWA's offices in NYC, created a storm when he was courageous enough to speak the truth about the Palestinian refugees' issue.
The refugees must consider their own future, said Whitley, and they should 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.”
“We recognize, as I think most do," he added, "that the right of return is unlikely to be exercised to the territory of Israel to any significant or meaningful extent. it’s a known contour to the issue.”
Simply put: Whitley, a senior UNRWA official with a rich background in UN activities, dared to say that the world should solve the Palestinian refugee problem, rather than preserving it till the destruction of the State of Israel. In his words, keeping the expectations of the refugees as they are is a "cruel illusion".
Needless to say, these simple but courageous words created a storm in the Arab world. UNRWA itself issued a press release, distancing itself unequivocally from Whitley's statements that " in no way represent the position of the agency". Wajeeh Azayzeh, the Jordanian minister for Palestinian affairs, said his department is "surprised" and that it "disapproves" of such an "irresponsible" statement.
PA officials did not remain indifferent. "Anyone who thinks the Palestinian refugees would give up the right of return and agree to be rehabilitated is entertaining a dangerous illusion", said Zakariya al-Agha, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and head of the organization’s refugee affairs department, who condemned Whitley’s remarks as “extremely dangerous."
This is hardly surprising. Whitley's speech threaten the core of Palestinian politics and propaganda: Everyone knows that given the option, the refugees would choose rehabilitation rather than continue the symbolic and political struggle for the right of return. Senior officials in European aid organizations, whom we met in Jerusalem last year, admitted as much and could not provide a satisfactory answer to our question: Why do they do nothing to help the refugees who want to leave Gaza for a new life abroad.