Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Experts Call For Change in UN Palestinian Refugee Policy

March 13, 2013 8:30 am 3 comments

The entrance to the Aida Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. Photo: Mrbrefast/Wikimedia Commons.

NEW YORK – The way that Steven J. Rosen sees it, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is being held back because of mathematics.

“Multiplication of numbers does not lead to peace,” said Rosen, an associate fellow at Middle East Forum and former AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) executive, referring to Palestinian claims about their current number of qualified “refugees.”

Rosen joined Israeli Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ron Prosor and other experts last week at the Harvard Club of New York City for a conference to discuss the application and implications of the designation “refugee” as it applies to descendants of the roughly 700,000 Palestinians who left the nascent state of Israel in 1948.

Prosor said the refugee issue is the “principal stumbling block” to a peace agreement.

“No one will admit it, the real obstacle is the [demand for the] right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees,” he said.

The Palestinians have long demanded that 5 million foreign Arabs who they claim are descendants of the 700,000 that fled in 1948 be allowed into all of Israel—not just Gaza and the West Bank—as part of the what they call their “right of return.”

Typically, the UN’s policy is that only those who flee their countries themselves are considered “refugees,” not their descendants. But the UN makes an exception for descendants of Arabs who fled Israel. In many cases, the countries where these descendants currently reside have refused to grant them citizenship.

While bodies such as the European Union repeatedly condemn Israeli construction beyond the 1967 Green Line as an obstacle to peace, Prosor warned that in his mind, the largest obstacle is the Palestinian refugee population, which as currently defined by the Palestinians “would cause Israel’s destruction.”

“It is essential to talk about the right numbers and the right image,” Prosor said. He said the real number of refugees, those who fled themselves, is about 50,000.

“Without a solution to this issue, there is no discussion of peace,” Prosor reiterated.

A major objective of the New York conference—titled “Changing U.S. Policy on UNRWA and the ‘Palestine Refugees'” and hosted by the Middle East Forum—was to assure that the regulations of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (the United Nations’ aid agency for the Palestinians) fall in line with U.S. immigration policy.

Discussions at the conference focused on redefining “refugee” as applied to a Palestinian population cohort that, under existing practice, retains that status generationally. Questions raised included the implications of citizenship granted to persons born in a country—a process that would remove millions of Palestinians from “refugee” status—and bringing the UNRWA designation into conformity with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization definition of “refugee.”

The solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, said Rosen, “is not returning to Israel.”

“Addressing this problem does not harm peace… Negotiators will have to give the most intractable party enough room to make the deal happen,” he said.

After World War II some 100 million people around the world were categorized as “refugees.” By 2013, only the Palestinians retained their refugee status, even with citizenship in another country. Rosen noted that several American presidents have urged that the Palestinians move away from the “right of return” demand.

“The United States has never addressed UNRWAs pernicious practices,” he said, noting that the State Department “has effectively endorsed UNRWA’s operation.”

Rosen said the United States “remains a party to the UNRWA practice of listing Palestinians as refugees for generations.” He cited several sections of U.S. immigration law that limit shared immigration status to a child under 18 who can accompany parents as refugees. UNRWA’s listing practices violate U.S. immigrations laws that should be applied with consistency to bring those practices into compliance with U.S. standards, according to Rosen.

“It is time to get the Congress to order the State Department to bring U.S. UNRWA policy in compliance with American law and the pursuit of peace,” he said.

According to the 1949 UNRWA definition, anyone who was a resident of the British mandate of Palestine between 1946 and 1948 and lost home or livelihood qualifies as a refugee. In 1965, UNRWA’s definition was expanded to include descendants of those who fled, a standard that does not apply applied only to the roughly 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Some of the reluctance to relinquish refugee status may stem from the Palestinians’ belief that doing so will end their right to claim compensation for property they fled in 1948. But former Member of Knesset Einat Wilf told the New York conference that Palestinians do not need to have refugee status to be compensated in cases where they have clear titles to properties. Daniel Pipes, president of Middle East Forum, reminded the crowd that the number of Jews expelled from Arab countries is approximately equivalent to the original number of Palestinian refugees, and that the Jewish property left behind had substantially greater value.

Fiorello Provera, vice chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee of the European Parliament, discussed the relationship between UNRWA and the EU. He noted that the EU provided over 1.7 billion euros to UNRWA between 2004 and 2007, costing every European citizen 342 euros. Funding for other refugees was limited to 13 euros per European during the same period.

Provera also discussed the need to “shatter the opacity” of the UNRWA system and eliminate the use of Palestinian refugees as a political tool in the struggle against Israel. “Europe sees the Palestinians with guilt,” he noted, describing the “refugees” as “hostages in the struggle of Palestine and Israel.”

Dr. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies challenged UNRWA’s claim that it is “pro-Palestinian.” The agency, he said, had effectively created a “manufactured refugee crisis.” Only Palestinians—and no other global population—can have citizenship in another national state and still maintain refugee status, he noted.

“Palestinian nationals have been about the rejection [of Israel] rather than about creating something,” Schanzer said.

Schanzer noted that about 2 million of those the Palestinians claim to be refugees are citizens of Jordan and some 1 million lived in Syria. The Palestinian refugees, he said, have become “a living symbol, not a solution,” and their “manufactured crisis” has become “an insurmountable task,” he said.

“If the numbers can be deflated, [a solution] is a doable task,” Schanzer said.

Concluding the program, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the former presidential candidate, suggested that speaking about the Palestinian refugee issues “in terms of truth” would create “a counter narrative.” She stressed that there is bipartisan interest in Congress in looking at the issues of Palestinian incitement and the issue of properly calculating refugees.


  • I was just thinking about this prior to the article someone has to blow the cover. where is the compensation for the Tunisian Libyan Egyptian Moroccan and all the other Middle East countries where the mizrahi Jews suffered lost there businesses and many Jewish lives because of Arab nationalism and nazi propaganda. Israel was a desert when the Jews from Europe and the Middle East came. look at it now and than look at the Syria Libya Egypt as so on. Saudi Arabia because of oil money builds these monstrous cities where foreigners can spend their money. Saudi family buys diamond covered Mercedes while all they teach in their schools is the Koran.



    keep tuned for the continuing saga

  • Daniel Pipes is not strictly correct – the number of Jewish refugees exceeded that of Palestinian refugees (850,000 v 700,000 or less). The numbers who exchanged places in Israel were roughly the same.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Features Opinion Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Late Friday night, on November 13, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris. It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying. It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →