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Thursday, May 24, 2012

US Senate may change definition of "Palestinian refugees"

Great news, from The Times of Israel:

Nearly everyone agrees that around 650,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes between June 1946 and May 1948. But when it comes to counting the number of Palestinian refugees alive today, the math gets fuzzy.


According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – the main body tasked with providing assistance to Palestinian refugees – there are more than 5 million refugees at present. However, the number of Palestinians alive who were personally displaced during Israel’s War of Independence is estimated to be around 30,000.


This enormous disparity is explained by UNRWA decisions in 1965 and 1982 that extended the definition of “refugees” to include the children and grandchildren of displaced Palestinians. Today, UNRWA’s annual budget stands at approximately $600 million, of which $250 million is contributed by the United States. Overall, America has contributed $4.4 billion to the UN agency since its establishment in 1949.


Writing in Foreign Policy, Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies cites a study that projects nearly 15 million Palestinian refugees by the year 2050 if UNRWA does not reform its method of accounting. Nevertheless, Schanzer predicts a lot of resistance to the Senate provision.


“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,” he says. “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 like 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.”
The US State Department, which pledged an additional $10 million in UNRWA funding earlier this year, is also making noises opposing the measure. But Schanzer says “such grumblings will likely pale in comparison to the expected outcry in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Palestinian refugee camps in neighboring Arab countries.”
“The refugee narrative is a sacred one in Palestinian political culture. Palestinian leaders will not simply table it because Congress passes new legislation. Rather, it’s a fair bet they will mobilize. When UNRWA merely mulled a name change in July 2011, Palestinians organized protests and sit-ins.  Proposing real changes to UNRWA could even prompt violence,” he says.
In Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Lara Friedman of the left-leaning Americans for Peace Now criticizes Kirk for trying to “unilaterally” resolve the refugee issue “outside of negotiations.” She believes the issue should be solved in bilateral permanent status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and adds that, even if made into law, the Kirk amendment wouldn’t work.
“Palestinians who consider themselves refugees don’t do so simply because UNRWA, or anyone else, gives them permission to do so,” she says. “They do so because this is their personal experience and their personal narrative.  Forcing the UN to redefine millions of them to no longer officially qualify as refugees won’t change that self-definition, and it won’t make the issue easier to solve in the future.  In truth it will just make it harder, since the new, Kirk-approved terms of reference will be totally disconnected from the actual issues at the heart of the conflict.”
Kirk’s office explains, however, that the legislation does not call for a total cutoff to needy Palestinian descendants receiving aid from UNRWA.
Instead, it changes the way the US views them – as people living below the poverty line rather than as refugees.They say the amendment will improve the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace, as it could yield a Palestinian “right of return” without resulting in demographic suicide for Israel.
The Lara Friedman quote shows how much some Jews have gone off the deep end.

Although I don't believe for a minute that the State Department or White House would allow this to happen, the real effect of creating a universal definition of "refugee" would be to pressure Arab states to naturalize the many Palestinians who were born in their countries, as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states explicitly:
Article 7

1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and. as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.

2. States Parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.
Arab countries that discriminate against Palestinian Arab children, including Lebanon and Syria, have signed this convention. And they flout it.

So there is a universal definition of refugee created by the UN - with the exception of Palestinian Arabs. There is a universal convention on assigning citizenship to children - except for Palestinian children. And there is even a Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, that apparently doesn't apply to Palestinians either:
A Contracting State shall grant its nationality to a person born in its territory who would otherwise be stateless.
Palestinians really are exceptional, aren't they?

This is a false refugee problem that has not been resolved directly because of Arab discriminatory actions against Palestinians. The US has chance to be a leader in eliminating this problem and solving a huge humanitarian crisis created by the Arab nations. The hundreds of millions of dollars now going to UNRWA can be properly channeled to allow Arab countries to naturalize their Palestinian Arab "guests."

It is only sixty years too late.