December, 1948 was notable for one other event: the passing of UN General Assembly Resolution 194. The non-binding resolution has been cited innumerable times by Arabs as the source for Israel's obligation to accept all Palestinian Arab refugees. It says nothing of the sort.
The resolution included a number of parts, none of which has ever been implemented:
- Protection of all holy sites in the area and allowing free access,
- Placing Jerusalem under UN control,
- Allowing free access to all parts of Jerusalem by everybody,
- And, most famously: "Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible."
This paragraph does not only apply to Arab refugees but to Jews as well.
Throughout the succeeding decade, Israel steadfastly emphasized the section saying "refugees wishing to...live at peace with their neighbors" and the Arab world equally steadfastly ignored that phrase. Israel's position was that the Arabs who fled, by and large, were not willing to live in peace with a ruling Jewish government, and it felt that this provision could only be implemented in the context of a full and comprehensive peace plan with all neighboring Arab states. Not surprisingly, the Arabs rejected that interpretation.
Meanwhile, most of the Palestinian Arab refugees suffered at the hands of their respective host countries.
In 1949, the UN appointed an Economic Survey Mission to the area, headed by Gordon Clapp, former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Its findings suggested that the UN create a set of development and public works projects meant to employ Arab refugees, increase their standard of living, improve the economies of the host Arab countries and thereby increase the chances for peace. As a result, the UN created in December, 1950 the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, to implement these recommendations as well as to continue to provide direct aid to (Arab) refugees that had been done by other interim UN agencies.
In April, 1949, King Abdullah officially changed the name of his country to The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, clearly planning to annex the West Bank and to implement his initial plans for a Greater Syria. Sure enough, a year later Jordan did annex the West Bank and offered citizenship to all the Palestinian Arab refugees in Jordan, making it the only Arab nation ever to offer citizenship to Palestinian Arabs.
Back in 1947, right before the UN partition vote, King Abdullah secretly met with Golda Meir and they agreed to a peace treaty and probably agreed to divide up the Arab partition of Palestine between them. This agreement was effectively abrogated when the Arab Legion attacked the new state of Israel as soon as it announced independence. Now, King Abdullah was unilaterally implementing his own annexation of part of Western Palestine, although almost no nations recognized this as legal.
It is not clear how ordinary Palestinian Arabs felt about being in the middle of all this political activity. Time magazine in 1949 stated that most Arab refugees had an "aversion" to returning to their homes similar to Jewish attitudes to returning to Europe. But by the early 1950s, the UNRWA reported that most Palestinian Arabs did want to return to their homes. Both accounts may be right.
From the Arab perspective, the UN Resolution 194 gave them a huge incentive to make Palestinian Arab lives miserable. The language states "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date." This meant that the refugees who didn't want to return to their homes would have to settle in other Arab countries, something that the Arab leaders did not want. (Again, Jordan was the exception, willing to take in the Palestinians as long as it gained land as part of the deal.) The Arab leaders therefore dragged their feet in implementing any of the UNRWA suggestions on building up large public works projects, as the only possible result would be that the refugees would get more comfortable in their new lands and want to stay.
Even though they signed agreements with the UNRWA on development and employment programs for the Palestinians, the Arab states continuously opposed those same programs as being a back door through which Palestinians would be resettled in their lands. For its part, the UNRWA intended exactly that, as it deemed the chances of Israel allowing all the refugees back to be exceedingly low.
Palestinian Arab refugees who had wanted to move and start new lives in other Arab lands were forced to stay in near-starvation conditions in refugee camps - and were told by their Arab hosts that Israel had the sole responsibility for their well-being, and that they can only move back to Israel. Given such circumstances, it is no wonder that most Palestinian Arabs would choose to move to Israel rather than stay in refugee camps indefinitely.
The Arab states continued to use the Palestinian refugees as pawns in their attempts to destroy Israel. Even after Jordan offered citizenship to 500,000 refugees and their children, the Arab nations continued to lobby for Israel to repatriate them to Israel. The Arabs would also tell the UN, year after year, that Jewish immigration to Israel needed to be stopped, under the pretense of refugee welfare.
The UNRWA continued to try to build its public works program through the early 1950s but it met with little success as the Arab nations continued to stonewall. It had other formidable obstacles as well - many Palestinian Arabs would lie to census takers and "borrow" children from friends to increase their ration cards, and the UN had a very difficult time determining the number of refugees truly in need. UNRWA recognized in 1951 the efforts of organized "troublemakers" to try to indoctrinate the refugees, at that time with only limited success. There was also a concerted anti-UN campaign in the Arab world designed to hurt UNRWA, both in the press and from a series of bombings, which the UN believed to be centrally managed. The bulk of its budget came from the United States.
The Arab opposition to an economic solution to the Palestinian refugee problem meant that the UNRWA morphed from its original goal of using economic means to eliminate the refugee problem into an almost-purely aid organization. To facilitate its mandate to provide relief to the refugees, the UNRWA was forced to create a working definition of "refugee" that is totally at odds with any legal definition. While no official document defined them this way, the UNRWA working definition is "Palestine refugees are persons 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. UNRWA's services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. UNRWA's definition of a refugee also covers the descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948."
When the UNRWA initially included children of refugees as being refugees themselves, it was no doubt for practical reasons as it ensured that they could continue their relief efforts. Over time, though, as no other definition surfaced, the UNRWA's working definition has taken on its own life and paradoxically it has ensured that the Palestinian "refugee" problem would only increase over time, as opposed to every other refugee problem in history.
The agency continued to try to provide jobs to Palestinian Arabs, and not surprisingly, the UNRWA hired many Arabs itself. This had the effect over time of turning the UNRWA from its original purpose of helping solve the refugee problem to one that more recently only helps perpetuate it, and the early warnings that it gave about the dangers of an entire people at the mercy of welfare has come true under its own watch. The Palestinian Arabs throughout the 1950s changed from a proud, independent people who wanted more than anything else to honorably raise their families into a defeated and despised people who were utterly dependent on outside, Western help just to eat.
Israel showed far more flexibility on the refugees than it is given credit for nowadays. Its first proposal, in mid-1949, was to act like Jordan intended - to annex Gaza and take responsibility for all 200,000 Gaza refugees, making them all citizens of Israel. This was rejected outright by the Arab nations.
Israel then proposed, in August 1949, to accept 100,000 Arab refugees (increasing its Arab population to 250,000) as long as this acceptance was part of a comprehensive solution to the refugee plight, including Arab resettlement of the remainder. This was also considered unacceptable to the Arabs. All Arab counterproposals involved either Israel accepting practically all refugees or Israel compensating the Arab nations with land in exchange for some responsibility for refugees.
There was a stark contrast between how Israel handled refugees from 1948 within its borders and how Arab nations handled their refugees. Israel ended up with some 48,000 refugees under UNRWA care within Israel's borders after the 1948 war (17,000 Jews and 31,000 displaced Arabs) by 1952 Israel agreed with UNRWA that its services would no longer be needed and the remaining refugees would be taken care of by Israel alone. The UN described Israel's feelings of taking handouts for its citizens, Jewish and Arab, as "repugnant."
Beyond that, Israel also allowed some 30,000 additional Arabs to come into Israel and become citizens as well, mostly in the interests of family unification. These 30,000 also became citizens and integrated into Israeli society. Israeli officials pointed out that if the Arab world would have accepted the same proportion of Arab refugees to their own population, there would have been no refugee problem at all.
Unfortunately for the Palestinian Arabs, such a solution was not forthcoming. Even many of the Jordanian refugees were kept in camps. Not only that, but continuous Arab incitement against Israel started raising up a rootless population indoctrinated in hate for the Jewish state, far beyond any antipathy the Palestinian Arabs felt towards Zionists before 1948.
Palestinian Arabs started terror attacks against Israel from neighboring states shortly after the war ended. The "Fedayeen" were actively supported by Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, although primarily trained by Egypt. Effectively, these Palestinian Arabs were encouraged to engage in a crime and terror campaign against Israel - the first raids were more aimed at stealing equipment than at murder, but by 1952 it had morphed into a full-blown terror campaign. More than 400 Israelis were killed and 900 injured during these terror operations from 1949-1956. The Egyptians did not deny their involvement behind these attacks, they even boasted about it in their media although the raids were in clear violation of the 1949 Armistice Agreement.