Counting Palestine Refugees / The Senate nudges us toward a proper understanding of the issue.(NATIONAL REVIEW) By 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 Palestine refugees.
So called because of the nearly 5 million official refugees served by
UNRWA (short for the “United Nations 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 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 the 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; worse, the 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 Palestine refugees
and permanently settling them. Nineteen forty-eight happened; time to
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 FY 2013 State Department and foreign-operations
The amendment, proposed by Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) requires the State
Department to inform Congress about the use of the annual $240
million of direct American taxpayer funds donated to Palestine
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 refugees?
The Kirk amendment does not call for eliminating or even reducing
benefits to fake refugees.
But 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.
Sadly, the Obama administration has badly botched this issue. A
letter from Deputy Secretary of State Thomas R. 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 . . . prejudge and determine the
outcome of this sensitive issue.” On the other, Nides himself refers
to “approximately five million [Palestine] 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 resolved to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, yet
every one of them ignored the ugliest aspect of this confrontation —
the purposeful exploitation of a refugee issue to challenge the very
existence of the Jewish state. Bravo to Senator Kirk and his staff
for having the wisdom and courage to begin the effort to address
unpleasant realities, initiating a change that finally goes to the
heart of the conflict.
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