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.

3 Comments

  • 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.

  • UNDERLINE THE FOLLOWING;

    ARABS LEFT VOLUNTERLIY THINKING BY THE WORDS OF THE SURROUNDING ARAB NATIONS…
    THAT THEY (ARABS) WILL DECIMATE ALL ISRAEL OF JEWS AND YOU(ARABS LEAVING) CAN RETURN TAKING OVER ALL JEWISH PROPERTY.

    WELL THE ‘ONE G-D’ OF ISRAEL HAD OTHER PLANS….
    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 *

More...

  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    JNS.org – Alan Gross used to be nothing more to me than a tragic headline. When I started my position at this news service in July 2011, Gross had been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for what that country called “crimes against the state.” Gross, a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development, went to Cuba to help the Jewish community there access the Internet. After his arrest, he received a trial he describes as a “B movie,” […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    JNS.org – When I saw the recent Academy Award-winning film “The Big Short,” I was struck by the sheer genius of the financiers who devised the schemes and packaged the loans for resale, but it left me with unanswered questions about how the properties these loans represented were moved. “The Big Short” was largely about paper transactions, big money, and wealthy investors, and it mildly touched on the way the actual end-users — the home buyers and brokers — played into this […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Why do we think so negatively about psychiatrists that we still insult them by calling them shrinks? Some medics might be quacks, but we don’t generally refer to them as witches! Shrinks; The Untold Story of Psychiatry, by Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, is a sobering account of how psychiatry has swung from a marginal, unscientific mixture of weird theories into one of the most common and pervasive forms of treatment of what are commonly called “disorders of the mind.” Is it […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion At Forbes Summit in Israel, Entrepreneurship Is a ‘Common Language’

    At Forbes Summit in Israel, Entrepreneurship Is a ‘Common Language’

    JNS.org – Nine months ago, Seth Cohen, director of network initiatives for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Randall Lane, editor of Forbes Magazine, were schmoozing about the “vibrancy of Tel Aviv and soul of Jerusalem,” as Lane put it. They dreamed about how they could bring young and innovative millennials to the so-called “start-up nation.” From April 3-7, Forbes turned that dream into a reality. Israel played host to the first-ever Forbes Under 30 EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) […]

    Read more →