You are sending a link to... US Sen. Mark Kirk wants to stop Palestinian Rights of Return
UNWRA Palestinian Refugee logo US Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)
The Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has been front running support for a new initiative by US Sen. Mark Kirk (R. IL) who has recovered from a stroke to return to the Senate to fight the legislative battle in Congress against the perennial Palestinan demands for “rights of return”. Kirk is pushing a proposal to have the State Department conduct a census of the numbers of Palestinian refugees in those UNWRA camps to exclude several ineligible generations. From the start of the UNWRA program in 1950, the population of Palestinian refugees zoomed from 750,000 to more than 5 million, today. We noted in a recent post about Al Nakba day, what Arabs refer to as the catastrophe of the Israeli victory in the 1948-1949 War for Independence that spawned the UNWRA program:
Palestinain refugees have languished for nearly four generations in the squalor of UNWRA refugee camps in Arab countries surrounding Israel and in the Palestinian territories on the West Bank and in Gaza. The camps are unwanted eyesores. The residents are despised brethren in host Arab countries without absorption, jobs, adequate housing and no future. There were originally [750,000] Palestinian refugees displaced at the conclusion of the War for Independence. Now there are [five] million living in UNWRA camps. Other refugee groups in camps administered by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have been resettled, but not the Palestinian refugees. The UNWRA camps are cauldrons of hateful indoctrination supported by the generosity of international donors. The United States has contributed in excess of one third of the total annual cost approximately [$655] million [more than $4.4 billion contributed since inception of UNWRA].
In 1950, UNRWA defined a refugee as someone who had “lost his home and his means of livelihood” during the war launched by Arab/Muslim countries in response to Israel’s declaration of independent statehood. Fifteen years later, UNRWA decided — against objections from the United States — to include as refugees the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of those who left Israel. And in 1982, UNRWA further extended eligibility to all subsequent generations of descendants — forever.
Under UNRWA’s rules, even if the descendant of a Palestinian refugee has become a citizen of another state, he’s still a refugee. For example, of the 2 million refugees registered in Jordan, all but 167,000 hold Jordanian citizenship. (In fact, approximately 80 percent of Jordan’s population is Palestinian — not surprising, since Jordan occupies more than three-fourths of the area historically referred to as Palestine.) By adopting such a policy, UNRWA is flagrantly violating the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which states clearly that a person shall cease to be considered a refugee if he has “acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality.”
But UNRWA’s plan is to continue expanding — rather than shrinking — the Palestinian refugee population ad infinitum. According to UNHCR projections, by 2030 UNRWA’s refugee list will reach 8.5 million. By 2060 there will be 25 times the number registered by UNRWA in 1950 — even though not one of those who actually left Israel is likely to still be breathing.
Everyone understands what it would mean if all these refugees were actually to be granted a “right to return” to Israel. “On numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take five million, or indeed one million,” Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said on March 24, 2009. “That would mean the end of Israel.”
May’s colleague at FDD, Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President for Research had a Status Update of May’s piece published in Foreign Policy on May 21st, just prior to today’s markup of Senate legislation with an Amendment by Sen. Kirk that “could slash the number of Palestinian refugees -- and open a world of controversy.” Schanzer notes:
In recent years, politicians and policy wonks, including one former UNRWA administrator, have called for UNRWA reform. The agency hasn't merely demurred; it has girded for battle. UNRWA set up shop in Washington with two Hill-savvy professionals, despite the fact that its operations are entirely based in the Middle East, anticipating the need for what looks a full-scale lobby effort to defend its mission. The agency even toyed with changing its name last year in an attempt to burnish its image in the West.
UNRWA's time to defend itself has unquestionably arrived. The Kirk amendment would require the secretary of state to report to Congress on how many Palestinians serviced by UNRWA are true refugees from wars past -- those who could prove that they were personally displaced. That number is believed to be closer to 30,000 people. This new tally would then become the focus of America's assistance to UNRWA for refugee issues.
Despite congressional Republicans' current fervor to rein in America's out-of-control debt, the bill's proponents do not call for a full cutoff to the descendants. Rather, they seek to ensure that UNRWA services keep flowing to those who are needy. The United States would simply not view them as refugees -- just people living in the West Bank or Gaza and below the poverty line.
But funding for the future would not be guaranteed. As Kirk's office explains, Congress will soon need to consider tough questions, like whether U.S. taxpayers should be footing the bill for welfare programs in the West Bank and Gaza, or whether such services should be provided by the Palestinian Authority.
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In Washington, a coalition is still forming. Rep. Howard Berman (D- CA), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, broadly backs this idea but has yet to introduce language on the House side. However, bipartisanship may not be enough: The State Department, which pledged an additional $10 million in UNRWA in March, is expected to put up a fight. The legislation would undoubtedly anger some of Washington's Arab allies, and Foggy Bottom tries to avoid that at all costs.
In short, the Kirk legislation would strip Palestinian the descendants of their political symbolism.It would be a landmark for this generations-old conflict, but whether it paves the way for peace or conflict remains to be seen. There are few more potent symbols of the Palestinian cause. Don't expect Palestinians to give it up easily.
Sen. Kirk’s interest in reining in the UNWRA program goes back to his days as a US House Representative.
When we interviewed him in 2008, the topic of the UNWRA camps came up. He noted:
When we use the term refugees we think about a person forced across an international border against their will. That applies to all refugees everywhere in the world except for people who left what is Israel. The definition for their refugee status is anyone pushed across international borders or their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and all descendents thereof. We end up with a “refugee” community that has never lived in Israel and now may be two to three generations from this bitter experience inside Israel proper. UNWRA is different. When you think about a UN agency conducting humanitarian operations. You think about Mexicans, Bolivians, Swiss and Japanese employees under the aegis of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. But UNWRA is run by 98% Palestinians. They have deep connections to the politics of both West Bank and Gaza including Hamas, the terrorist organization.
We wish Sen. Kirk continued success in his endeavors to roll back the UNWRA program eligibility and funding. Hopefully today’s mark up session will be the start of that long overdue process.