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May 25, 2012 11:42 am

U.S. Senate Bill Alters Palestinian Refugee Status and “Right of Return”

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U.S. Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois. Photo: wiki commons.

The U.S. State Department and Jordan are lobbying to block a Senate bill that would bring the number of Palestinian refugees recognized by the United States to 30,000, from the current 5 million.

The bill, which was introduced by Senator Mark Kirk, would drastically cut the hundreds of millions of dollars Washington gives to the UN body that oversees Palestinian refugees every year, and could change the landscape for future negotiations between Israel and Palestinian leaders on the issue of “right of return” – one of the most intractable matters facing negotiators on both sides.

“The amendment simply demands basic transparency with regard to who receives U.S. taxpayer assistance,” Senator Kirk said.

The definition of Palestinian refugees used by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees differs from all other refugees in the world, granting refugee status to the descendants of those who were displaced following Israel’s independence in 1948.  Jordan, which has close to 2 million people living in the country that are defined as Palestinian refugees, having allowed for hundreds of millions of dollars to flow into the Heshimite Kingdom, has joined the State Department in opposition to Senator Kirk’s bill.

Along with other Arab nations, Jordan has not granted citizenship to the descendants of those refugees who were displaced in 1948.  Doing so would diminish the idea of a “right of return” for Palestinians, which would send a certain amount of refugees back into Israel following a peace agreement between the Jewish state and Palestinian leaders.  Israeli leaders reject the idea of a “right of return” while Palestinian leaders contend it is a must for any signed deal between the two sides.

“This will have major implications for future negotiations over final status issues with regard to refugees,” a senior Senate aide said.

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