On Saturday, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited Dublin and met the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as well as the Tánaiste Simon Coveney.
Judging by the photograph of the happy threesome, Varadkar seems to have enjoyed the occasion. It was certainly a fruitful visit for Abbas, as the Tánaiste announced that Ireland would be providing an additional €1 million to the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Ireland now gives almost €13 million to Palestinian causes each year, with our funding of the UNRWA amounting to around €7 million this year.
“Ireland is a long-standing supporter of UNRWA’s vital work in delivering healthcare, education and food to 5.3 million Palestine refugees,” Coveney said, before going on to reiterate his recent criticism of President Trump’s decision to slash US funding of the same organisation.
This is an important sub-text to what occurred over the weekend. In August, the US State Department halted all funding of the UNRWA, an organisation whose stated purpose is to provide “assistance and protection for some Palestinian refugees.”
In the current environment, anti-Trump sentiment has resulted in Germany – and now Ireland – substantially increasing its donations to Palestine in response to the American move.
If Trump rebukes the Palestinian leadership, then he must be wrong, and the Palestinians must be right. What’s more, Europe must pursue the opposite course of action. Such are the times we live in.
Support for Palestine has been a core progressive dogma in Europe for decades, and Ireland has long been particularly hostile to Israel.
But there are many good reasons to oppose the permanent dispensing of funds in this area, funds which are often channelled through politicians like Abbas whose words and deeds should render them untouchable.
Consider the decision of the US to stop funding the UNRWA.
When explaining the move, a State Department spokesperson highlighted problems within the UNRWA, as well as the financially pressures caused the “exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries.”
This point is crucial. Contra Coveney, there are not 5.3 million Palestinian refugees.
‘Refugee’ is commonly understood as meaning a person who has had to leave their home as a result of war, persecution or natural disaster.
The Palestinian ‘refugees’ are not refugees by the standard definition. Instead, they are the descendants of people who were forced to leave what is now Israel during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.
This tragic and avoidable conflict was brought on by the refusal of the Arab states to accept any Jewish state – no matter how small – and their declaration of war within hours of Israel declaring its independence.
The resulting conflagration cost thousands of lives, and resulted in the displacement of huge numbers of people from all sides. Israel prevailed, but at a great cost to itself, and acquired territories which it would not have gained if the Arabs had chosen peace instead of war.
Several hundred thousand Arabs left or were forced out of Israel, while huge numbers of Jews left or were at the same time forced out of their homes in Arab countries in the region. What had been large historic Jewish communities throughout the entire region vanished, in the way that Christian communities are now gradually being erased.
At this point, a crucial divergence occurred in the policies pursued by Israel and the Arab countries. Jewish refugees from Arab countries found a new home – albeit a battered and damaged one – in their promised land of Israel.
As such, there are now no Israeli refugees of the 1948 war, no more than there are any German refugees from the upheavals that occurred at the end of the Second World War.
Palestinian refugees, however, were not welcomed or assisted by their Muslim neighbours in the same way.
Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the 700,000 Palestinians who left their homes in 1948 are housed in refugee camps within the Gaza strip, the West Bank or in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan or Syria. In many cases, they are not even given citizenship by the countries where they have lived their entire lives.
Cynical and oil-rich Middle Eastern countries have exploited this situation shamelessly. If Saudi Arabia had wanted to house every homeless Palestinian within its own borders or elsewhere, it could have done so long ago.
Instead, the Palestinian ‘refugees’ have been used as a cudgel with which to beat Israel. Little aid is provided by the Saudis or the other Muslim powers in the area. Instead, American and European financial assistance is sought to perpetuate this situation, to the detriment of ordinary Palestinians.
With such a loose definition of ‘refugee,’ it is only naturally that the numbers should grow rapidly, along with the financial obligations of UNRWA’s funders, and this is exactly what has occurred.
The UNRWA itself states that when it began its work in 1950, it was responding to the needs of 750,000 Palestinian refugees. Now, there are 5 million, and these numbers are sure to increase further in the coming decades.
The number of people within this category who are actually refugees from the 1948 conflict is now in the tens of thousands, and falling gradually each year.
America was right to call time on this exercise in futility, but now Europe wishes to assert its values by continuing with a policy which has brought only misery to millions, while encouraging a sense of victimhood which Palestinian political leaders prey upon.
It is true, however, that this misery exists. While we have to move away from the perpetuation of a system which forces millions of people to rely on foreign aid for all their lives, there is clearly a moral case for ongoing humanitarian assistance (preferably with a view to reducing it gradually over time).
Yet Mahmoud Abbas and his associates should not be trusted with any such funding, and nor should he be greeted by our Taoiseach.
Thirteen and a half years into his four-year presidential term (he had himself installed permanently in 2009), this dictator has proven himself unable or unwilling to raise the standard of living of his people.
He has not achieved peace with his people’s Jewish neighbours, and nor does he appear to want to.
In spite of the material poverty of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian Authority which Abbas heads up continues to operate a ‘Martyrs Fund’ which provides regular payments to the families of those who engage in violence against Israeli citizens.
In July, Abbas reaffirmed his commitment to his blood money payments, even if they have to come at a cost to the welfare of the Palestinian people.
“We will not cut or prevent stipends to the families of the prisoners and martyrs, as some are trying to do,” Abbas said. “If we are left with one penny, we will spend it on the families of the prisoners and martyrs.”
Is this a man who wants peace?
In May, Abbas went further in his provocations, when telling a Palestinian crowd in Ramallah that the Holocaust had not been caused by anti-Semitism, but by the Jewish people’s “social behaviour, [charging] interest and financial matters.” He later apologised for this speech, and even the EU were forced to condemn it.
Only a fool would believe that a red carpet should be rolled out for this man.
Naturally, the two fools who entertained him on Saturday are the most powerful politicians in Ireland.
But the Irish taxpayer should not be forced to entertain their foolishness by paying for it.