Senator Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) has offered an amendment to the FY 2013 funding bill for the State Department that would require the Department to provide two numbers to Congress: 1) the number of Palestinians physically displaced from their homes in what became Israel in 1948, and 2) the number of their descendants administered by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA). 
Palestinians are the only people for whom refugee status passes along through the generations (a condition adopted by the UN in 1965 over the objection of the United States), so they are also the only refugee population that grows exponentially over generations rather than declining as the original refugees pass away and their descendants become citizens of other places. Sen. Kirk seems to think the numbers would provide insight into whether the billions of U.S. tax dollars that have been provided to UNRWA over the years are making the problem better – or worse.
The State Department, naturally, is appalled, believing getting a handle on the numbers is prelude to cutting off the dollars. And further, it appears to believe that how our money is spent is not our business. Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides wrote to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “This proposed amendment would be viewed around the world as the United States acting to prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue.” As if the world’s view of the problem is more important than transparency with the American people.
In any event, the U.S. would not be prejudging anything, but only be determining how many people live off our dole.
The possible outcomes of the Palestinian refugee issue are three: to allow them to go to Israel (the so-called “right of return”); to formulate their resettlement (and compensation) in the new State of Palestine; or formulate their resettlement (and compensation) somewhere else. The first means the dissolution of the State of Israel – which cannot possibly be among the State Department’s acceptable outcomes (Can it?). In either of the other two scenarios, counting would be a prerequisite to resettlement.
The problem for the State Department is that the Palestinians have rejected the second and third outcomes.
In a little noticed interview in the Lebanese newspaper, The Daily Star, the Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon, Abdullah Abdullah, said even if the UN established a Palestinian State, the refugees would not become citizens of it. “They are Palestinians, that’s their identity. But … they are not automatically citizens. Even Palestinian refugees who are living in [refugee camps] inside the [then-Palestinian] state, they are still refugees. They will not be considered citizens.”
Why? Because to become a citizen of “Palestine” if Palestine is less than the entire territory west of the Jordan River would obviate the so-called “right of return,” which postulates that Palestinians who left the territory that became Israel – and their descendants – are entitled to go to where they claim to have come from, namely pre-1967 Israel. That is to say, Abdullah Abdullah is choosing the first option – the dissolution of Israel and explicitly rejecting the others.
Abdullah told the paper that U.N. statehood would not affect the planned return of refugees to “Palestine.” “How the issue of the right of return will be solved I don’t know, it’s too early [to say], but it is a sacred right that has to be dealt with and solved [with] the acceptance of all.” Statehood “will never affect the right of return for Palestinian refugees… The refugees are from all over Palestine. When we have a state accepted as a member of the United Nations, this is not the end of the conflict. This is not a solution to the conflict. This is only a new framework that will change the rules of the game.”
The creation of a Palestinian state in territories bordering Israel then would only be a way-station to the establishment of “Palestine” in place of Israel. Abdullah said the new Palestinian state would “absolutely not” issue Palestinian passports to refugees, lest they be understood to be citizens of Palestine.
UNRWA, he said, would continue to be responsible for the “refugees” after the creation of the Palestinian state, at least until the “right of return” is enacted.
About the Author: Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center. She was previously Senior Director of JINSA and author of JINSA Reports form 1995-2011.
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