Counting Palestinian refugees (ISRAEL HAYOM OP-ED) Daniel Pipes 05/29/12)
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The fetid, dark heart of the Arab war on Israel, I have long argued,
lies not in disputes over Jerusalem, checkpoints, or "settlements."
Rather, it concerns the so-called Palestinian refugees.
So-called, because of the nearly 5 million official refugees served
by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the
Near East, only about 1 percent are real refugees who fit the
agency´s definition of "people whose normal place of residence was
Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes
and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli
conflict." The other 99 percent are descendants of those refugees, or
what I call fake refugees.
Worse: Those who were alive in 1948 are dying off, and in about 50
years not a single real refugee will remain alive, whereas
(extrapolating from an authoritative estimate in Refugee Survey
Quarterly by Mike Dumper) their fake refugee descendants will number
about 20 million. Unchecked, that population will grow like Topsy
until the end of time.
This matters because this refugee status has harmful effects: It
blights the lives of these millions of non-refugees by
disenfranchising them, while imposing an ugly, unrealistic
irredentist dream on them. Even worse, refugee status preserves them
as a permanent dagger aimed at Israel´s heart, threatening the Jewish
state and disrupting the Middle East.
Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, in short, requires ending the
absurd and damaging farce of proliferating fake Palestinian refugees
and settling them permanently. 1948 happened; itís time to get real.
Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is the force behind making long-needed
changes to UNRWA.
I am proud to report that, in part based on the work carried out by
the Middle East Forum´s Steven J. Rosen and myself over the past
year, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on May 24 unanimously
passed a limited but potentially momentous amendment to the $52.1
billion fiscal 2013 State Department and foreign operations
Kirkís proposed amendment requires the State Department to inform
Congress about the use of the annual $240 million of direct American
taxpayer funds donated to Palestinian refugees via UNRWA. How many
recipients, Kirk asks, meet the UNRWA definition cited above, making
them real refugees? And how many do not, but are descendants of those
The Kirk amendment does not call for eliminating or even reducing
benefits to fake refugees. Despite its limited nature, Kirk calls the
reporting requirement a "watershed." Indeed, it inspired what a
senior Senate GOP aide called "enormous opposition" from the
Jordanian government and UNRWA itself, bringing on what Foreign
Policy magazine´s Josh Rogin called a raging battle.
Why the rage? Because, were the State Department compelled to
differentiate real Palestine refugees from fake ones, the U.S. and
other Western governments (who, together, cover over 80 percent of
UNRWA´s budget) could eventually decide to cut out the fakes and
thereby undermine their claim to a "right of return" to Israel.
Deputy Secretary of State Thomas R. Nides is trying to maintain
UNRWA´s dysfunctional system.
Sadly, the Obama administration has badly botched this issue. A
letter from Nides opposing an earlier version of the Kirk amendment
demonstrates complete incoherence. On the one hand, Nides states that
Kirk would, by forcing the U.S. government "to make a public judgment
on the number and status of Palestinian refugees Ö prejudge and
determine the outcome of this sensitive issue." On the other, Nides
himself refers to "approximately 5 million refugees," thereby lumping
together real and fake refugees, and prejudging exactly the issue he
insists on leaving open. That 5 million refugee statement was no
fluke; when asked about it, State Department spokesman Patrick
Ventrell confirmed that "the U.S. government supports" the guiding
principle to "recognize descendants of refugees as refugees."
Also, by predicting a "very strong negative reaction [to the
amendment] from the Palestinians and our allies in the region,
particularly Jordan," Nides invited Arabs to pressure the U.S.
Senate, a shoddy maneuver unworthy of the State Department.
Through all of Israel´s 64-year existence, one American president
after another has vowed to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, yet
every one of them ignored the ugliest aspect of this confrontation ó
the purposeful exploitation of a refugee issue to challenge the very
existence of the Jewish state. Bravo to Kirk and his staff for the
wisdom and courage to begin the effort to address unpleasant
realities, initiating a change that finally goes to the heart of the
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