by P. David Hornik
The US Senate Appropriations Committee has approved an important amendment to a bill. Proposed by Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, the amendment would change the definition of “Palestinian refugee” such that the number of people now given that status would shrink from about five million to about thirty thousand.
The U.S. currently contributes annually about $250 million of the approximately $600 million budget of UNRWA, the UN agency that provides housing, education, and welfare to Palestinian “refugees.” The U.S. has funneled a total of $4.4 billion to UNRWA since it was founded in 1948.
Under the Kirk amendment, the funding to those no longer considered refugees would not necessarily end; they could be defined as poverty cases. But only the thirty thousand, instead of five million, would still be designated as refugees.
What explains the vast differential in numbers? Before and during Israel’s 1948-49 War for Independence, about 650,000 Palestinian Arabs (many of them very recent immigrants from other Arab countries) left the territories that became Israel. About thirty thousand of them are still alive today.
But in 1965 and 1982, UNRWA made decisions—unique in history, never applied to any other refugee population in the world—to define children and grandchildren, too, of displaced Palestinians as “refugees.” Hence the swelled numbers of today, with “refugees” kept in “camps” in Syria,Lebanon, Jordan, and even the Palestinian Authority. Jonathan Schanzer notes that, according to a study, if this situation persists their number will reach fifteen million by 2050.
Why define so many people as “refugees,” and why keep them in “camps” indefinitely? The answer, as Shoshana Bryen notes, was given in an interview to Lebanon’s Daily Star by the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, Abdullah Abdullah.
Abdullah told the Daily Star “unequivocally” that even if a Palestinian state were to be established in the West Bank and Gaza—that is, the much-vaunted “two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”—the Palestinian refugees “would not become citizens” of it. The reason is that “The state is the 1967 borders, but the refugees are not only from the 1967 borders. The refugees are from all over Palestine.”And: “How the issue of the right of return will be solved I don’t know…but it is a sacred right that has to be dealt with…. [Statehood] will never affect the right of return for Palestinian refugees.” And: “even Palestinian refugees who are living…inside the [Palestinian] state, they are still refugees. They will not be considered citizens.”
In other words: the reason for keeping so many “Palestinian refugees” around in “camps” indefinitely, at U.S. and European expense, and instead of resettling them in Arab countries or even in an Arab West Bank-Gaza country if one were established, is to keep alive their “right” to “return” to Israel and demographically destroy it—a “right” whose “sacredness” would transcend any “two-state solution.”
Thus Kirk’s amendment seems to make eminent sense. Why fund, as “refugees,” people who are not refugees by any normally accepted parameters, and are defined that way only so as to constitute an eventual fatal weapon against a U.S. ally, Israel?
Yet the State Department is dead-set against the amendment. Bryen quotes Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides: “This proposed amendment would be viewed around the world as the United States acting to prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue.” But the U.S. is already prejudging the issue by allowing this situation to fester. Continuing to treat this burgeoning population as “refugees” only means cultivating an anti-Israeli, anti-peace time-bomb.
Some proponents of adopting the Kirk amendment as U.S. policy say it would enable the “two-state solution” to progress. With only thirty thousand aged Palestinians defined as refugees, the “right of return” could be implemented and a major stumbling block to an agreement removed.
Such notions, though, miss the point. The whole cynical, grotesque reality of the UNRWA camps stems, in the first place, from a profound, culturally and religiously rooted Arab/Muslim rejection of Israel. Ceasing to define as “refugees” millions of descendants of Arabs who fled Israel in the late 1940s would not change that.
It would, however, be a step in the right direction. It would mean ceasing to play along with a deception of historic proportions, and refusing to keep nurturing ever-growing millions of Arabs trained to believe that Israel is their home. It would also mean affirming that if any truly constructive steps are ever to be taken, they will have to be based on truth and not lies.P. David Hornik
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