How 30,000 Remaining Palestinian Refugees From ’48 Morph Into 5 Million
The Times of Israel reported Sunday that, during his meeting with Barack Obama last Monday, Mahmoud Abbas not only refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but reiterated his refusal to abandon the so-called “right of return” for Palestinian “refugees.”
To understand why Abbas continues playing the “refugee” card, a brief look at how the world’s refugees are treated is necessary.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the UN agency responsible for aiding all the world’s refugees – “all” the world’s refugees, that is, except for the Palestinians. The tens of millions of actual refugees this agency helps receive initial assistance – which often entails helping to resettle them in a new state – and then they are no longer refugees.
According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – the UN agency which deals exclusively with Arabs of Palestinian descent – ‘Palestinian refugees‘ are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” And the number of Palestinian refugees from the ’48 war who are still alive – out of the initial 711,000 or so – is estimated to be roughly 30,000. However, due to UNRWA’s expansive definition of who qualifies for “refugee” benefits – which includes the children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren of Palestinian Arabs who may have once lived in Historic Palestine – more than 5 million Arabs of Palestinian descent are considered “refugees.” This means that 99 percent of their clients are NOT in fact refugees.
Remarkably, under UNRWA’s bizarre rules, even Arabs of Palestinian descent who are citizens of other Arab states – such as Jordan – are still considered “refugees.”
(Additionally, given that there are 30,000 actual Palestinian refugees, and UNRWA has a payroll of 29,000 employees, the ratio of UNRWA employees to actual refugees is nearly 1:1. In contrast, UNHCR, which handles roughly 43 million refugees throughout the world, has a payroll of only 7,685.)
Keep this mind when reading the following passage from Karma Nablusi’s op-ed at ‘Comment is Free’ titled Despite the cruelties heaped on them, Palestinian refugees’ spirit has not broken, from March 21:
The only thing heard nowadays about the majority of the Palestinian people – those made refugees in the Nakba of 1948 – is that they must consider themselves and their fate entirely forfeited. Surrendering their right to return to the place they were expelled from – the most basic right every refugee has under international law – is apparently a given.
However, there is no such “right of return” enshrined in international law – and certainly no such right afforded to descendants of refugees.
When Nablusi, Mahmoud Abbas, and most Palestinian advocates speak of the so-called ‘right of return‘ in international law for 5 million Palestinians, they’re possible referring to an amorphous passage from the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which says “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”
Or, more likely, they’re alluding to UN General Assembly Resolution 194 – a non-binding resolution from December 1948, which reads in part:
This Resolution established a Conciliation Commission for Palestine and instructed it to “take steps to assist the Governments, and authorities concerned to achieve a final settlement of all questions outstanding between them.” Paragraph 11 deals with the refugees: “The General Assembly … 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.”
Regardless of the proper interpretation of Resolution 194 regarding the status of the 30,000 remaining refugees from 1948, there appears to be no serious legal argument that would support the inclusion of the descendants of Palestinian refugees, those who were never Israeli citizens or residents – which, again, constitutes 99 percent of the total Palestinian “refugee” population.
Such an expansive definition would, if applied universally, guarantee the right of millions of descendants of Jewish refugees to ‘return’ to the Arab nations from which they were expelled.
Given that UNRWA and the international community refuse to resettle this population into their host countries in the Middle East where most had lived for generations – and because Palestinian leaders won’t allow them into the future state of Palestine – there will likely be no end anytime soon to the ‘refugee crisis.’
If those truly inspired by a desire to reach a two-state deal would honestly grapple with finding a just resolution to the problem of 30,000 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 War, a solution could easily be found.
However, if we fail to challenge the fabricated figure of 5 million, then – even when the last actual Palestinian refugees from ’48 have passed on – Palestinian leaders (and activists provided a forum by sympathetic media groups) will still have an endless supply of ‘refugees’ to use to bludgeon Israel and thus stymie a possible peace agreement – all of which helps to explain the position of the Palestinian President at the White House last week.
Adam Levick is the managing editor of CiF Watch, an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).