How to End the Palestinian Refugee Crisis

by Hugh Fitzgerald

In its beginnings, UNRWA was not quite as corrupt as it soon became. It publicly bewailed the fact that it could not arrive at accurate numbers: the Palestinian refugees were constantly moving, now to this country and now to that, and many non-Palestinian Arabs joined the queue. “The Palestinian refugee hoax,” by Mitchell Bard, Israel Hayom, January 31, 2021:

In 1951, UNRWA lamented the inability to conduct an accurate census. “It is still not possible to give an absolute figure of the true number of refugees as understood by the working definition of ‘a person normally resident in Palestine who has lost his home and his livelihood as a result of the hostilities, and who is in need.’ “

UNRWA at that point was still willing to admit to its inability to have an accurate account, and in early 1951 it seemed as if it would adhere to the traditional definition of a refugee: “a person normally resident in Country X who has lost his home and his livelihood as a result of the hostilities, and who is in need.” But that went quickly by the wayside.

UNRWA now says, “When the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.”…

UNRWA passes over without comment the unique definition of a “Palestinian refugee” to include all of his progeny. It makes no remark, either, about its inability to arrive at an accurate census in 1951, and blandly remarks that it was – justifiably – “responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees” without discussing the various kinds of frauds that were perpetrated to increase those refugee numbers. And then, without explaining how such an explosion in its rolls occurred, it simply states that “today some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.

It is important to remember that the original refugees could have been settled soon after the war if the Arab states were willing to accept them. They were not, however, and confined them to camps where they could stew and become radicalized. Israel offered to take back 100,000 in the context of a peace agreement, but Arab leaders were still committed to Israel’s destruction. In the interim, the refugees were useful propaganda tools – evidence, Arabs claimed, of Israel’s aggression and perfidy.

The Arab refugees might have been settled in the countries to which they fled — tiny Israel succeeded in swiftly integrating some 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands — but the Arab states didn’t want to integrate them into their own societies, and believed that their uncertain status, and often wretched living conditions, would only help their cause in the eyes of the world.

In 1957 Dr. Elfan Rees, the Adviser on Refugees to the World Council of Churches, wrote of the failure of Arab states to integrate the Palestinian Arab refugees:

I hold the view that, political issues aside, the Arab refugee problem is by far the easiest postwar refugee problem to solve by integration. By faith, by language, by race and by social organization, they are indistinguishable from their fellows of their host countries. There is room for them, in Syria and Iraq. There is a developing demand for the kind of manpower they represent. More unusually still, there is the money to make this integration possible. The United Nations General Assembly, five years ago, voted a sum of 200 million dollars to provide, and here I quote the phrase, “homes and jobs” for the Arab refugees. That money remains unspent, not because these tragic people are strangers in a strange land, because they are not, not because there is no room for them to be established, because there is, but simply for political reasons which, I re-emphasize it is not my business to discuss. (From the report of Dr. Elfan Rees, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs and World Council of Churches’ Adviser on Refugees, Geneva, 1957.)

Mitchell Bard resumes his remarks on this deliberate failure by Arab states to integrate their populations of Palestinian Arab refugees:

Even today, more than 70 years after the war, only Jordan has accepted Palestinians as citizens. More than 1 million Palestinians are citizens of Israel, but none are citizens of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt or other Arab countries. Palestinians can be citizens in the United States, Europe – almost anyplace else.

UNRWA operates 58 refugee camps with nearly 1.6 million inhabitants. That is more than twice the Palestinian population in 1948. Twenty-seven of those camps (19 in the West Bank, eight in Gaza), with more than 800,000 “refugees,” are controlled by the Palestinians. Nothing prevents the Palestinian Authority and Hamas from closing the camps, moving the refugees into permanent housing and thereby solving the problem.”

The “Palestinian refugees” have been kept in camps not only by the governments of other Arab states – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan – but also by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, that is, by their own leaders. Those leaders, who have taken great care to supply for their own wellbeing (two Hamas leaders, Khaled Meshaal and Mousa Abu Marzouk, have each amassed fortunes of at least $2.5 billion, while the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas has a $400 million nest egg), don’t want permanent housing, that might promise better lives, for the “refugees”; their unsettled status wins them sympathy in the “international community,” and promotes greater animosity toward Israel, seen — quite unfairly — as the cause of their continuing distress.

When Israel controlled Gaza, it routinely proposed closing the camps and building permanent homes for the Palestinians, but the Arab states objected and voted at the United Nations to condemn Israel for even proposing such an idea….

Israel, trying to improve the lot of the Palestinians in Gaza, and the West Bank, repeatedly suggested two decades ago that it could help move Gazan and West Bank Arabs still living in camps into permanent housing. And as with similar proposals for placing Palestinian “refugees” in Arab states into permanent housing, this plan was turned down, and Israel attacked for its offer of trying to ameliorate the lives of Palestinians then under its jurisdiction, which the Arabs described as an insidious attempt to put an end to the Palestinians’ claims on the world’s sympathy.

If the accepted number of Palestinian refugees was less than 35,000, as it should be, how difficult would it be to solve the problem? Israel should have no problem accepting that number of Palestinians over 65 as a humanitarian gesture (more than 150,000 have been admitted in the past). Problem solved.

What about the other 5 million? Well, they’re not refugees from 1948 and are not Israel’s concern. They are the problem of the PA and the Arab states where they are living now.

Israel would certainly be willing to accept those Palestinian Arabs who meet the definition of refugees applied to all other refugee groups. Bard has done the arithmetic for us, and shown his work: there cannot possibly be more than 35,000 legitimate Palestinian refugees still alive in the world, and Israel can live with that number. What it cannot tolerate any longer is the pretense that Palestinian Arabs are different from all other groups of refugees, for they alone can hand down to their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren (and so on, world without end). Israel is not going to admit five million more Arabs west of the Jordan; this would, Bard calculates, give Israel a population of at least 7 million Arabs and 6.9 million Jews. Israeli leaders have certainly made errors over the years, been too willing, for example, to accept uncomplainingly a “cold peace” with Egypt and Jordan, but even the most left-leaning among them will not accept national suicide.

First published in Jihad Watch


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