Ted BelmanThe author is a retired attorney and the editor of Israpundit. In 2009 he made aliya and is now living in Jerusalem.
The problem with UNRWA goes way beyond counting or definition. It should never have been created in the first place. So Sen. Mark Kirk’s amendment, though well-intentioned, fails to address the fundamental problem.
He proposed an amendment to the 2013 Appropriations Bill that would have changed the definition of a Palestinian refugee and would have required the State Department to count heads and report back.
According to Shoshana Bryen, an aide to Sen Kirk said: “Senator Kirk, a former prosecutor, has worked tirelessly for years to force the State Department to quantify U.S. assistance to the Palestinians through UNRWA. He has been thwarted at every turn. “
The Bill that was passed unanimously on May 25/12, was a watered down version of Kirk’s amendment due to the strong objections of the State Department set out in a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, which read in part:
"This proposed amendment would be viewed around the world as the United States acting to prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue.
“The Department of State cannot support legislation which would force the United States to make a public judgment on the number and status of Palestinian refugees."
"This action would damage confidence between the parties at a particularly fragile time, undercut our ability to act as a mediator and peace facilitator, and generate very strong negative reaction from the Palestinians and our allies in the region, particularly Jordan,"
But the question must be asked: how did this become a final status issue in the first place? The international community has never forced the repatriation of refugees to their former country following a war nor spearheaded their claims for compensation. It certainly didn’t do either in the case of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Nor has it ever demanded that a victorious country withdraw from land it conquered in a defensive war as it has of Israel countless times.
America has no qualms against demanding East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine nor of demanding 100% withdrawal nor of demanding that settlement activity stop. Are not such positions, prejudging the outcome? Why doesn’t she similarly come out against any “right of return”?
Usually the parties to a war are left to their own devices in arriving at a peace agreement or avoiding it, but not here. America was a player in the piece right from the beginning and stood with the Arabs all the way along.
On May 14, 1948, Israel declared the establishment of the State of Israel, against the wishes of the surrounding Arab countries and the US government. Immediately thereafter, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia invaded Israel with the intention or eradicating it. Either due to the fear of the Israelis or the urging of the surrounding Arab countries, about 700,000 Arabs fled Israel and the land she conquered.
I November of that year, the General Assembly passed a resolution providing financial assistance for their immediate needs. Israel passed a resolution barring their return. A few days later the UNGA passed Res 194 which resolved inter alia:“ 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;”
This resolution, like all resolutions of the UNGA, is a recommendation only and not binding in law. Furthermore the resolution was unprecedented.
According to the late Ami Isseroff: “Resolution 194, was passed soon after the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte, attributed to the LEHI , and partly expresses the anger of the UN member states over the assassination.”
Thus its passage was intended to punish Israel.
That’s not surprising as the U.S. State Department was adamantly opposed to the declaration of statehood by Israel and did everything in its power to prevent it. As disclosed by recently unearthed diplomatic cables, it even threatened to stoke anti-Semitism by publishing documents that would “do great harm to the Jews” for doing so. It tried unsuccessfully to force Ben Gurion to return to the original Partition lines when it was “mediating” the Armistice Agreement.
In essence the State Department was siding with the Arabs who vastly outnumbered the Israelis and who possessed vast quantities of oil. Even today, it is averse to upsetting its “allies in the region, particularly Jordan”, as it said in the letter above.
Had the State Department not wanted to punish Israel or reverse the result of the war, the conflict would have been long settled.
In April of the following year, Israel and Jordan signed an Armistice Agreement which ended hostilities. Then, in December 1949, the UNGA passed Resolution 320 which gave birth to UNRWA. Its purpose, as set out in this resolution, was to carry out “direct relief and works programmes”. Its contemporary mandate “is to provide relief, human development and protection services to Palestine refugees and persons displaced by the 1967 hostilities“ in addition to the refugees from the ’48 war. Although this Agency was intended to be a temporary, the General Assembly has renewed it repeatedly pending the just resolution of the question of the Palestine refugees.
Normally refugees are handled by UNHCR whose mandate is to resettle them. In contrast, UNWRA’s mandate is to maintain them. Had the State Department not wanted to punish Israel or reverse the result of the war, the conflict would have been long settled.
Subsequent to the war, an equal, if not greater number, of Jews were expelled by all Arab countries, which countries also confiscated their wealth.
In 1956, Egypt committed an act of war against Israel, namely closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. Israel’s response was to conquer the Sinai. America’s response was to force Israel to retreat to the Armistice Lines.
In 1967, the Arab countries once again massed their troops on Israel’s borders intending to drive the Jews into the sea. Once again, they were defeated. But this time Israel had a friend in the Whitehouse, namely President Johnson. He decided not to force a full retreat on Israel and instead crafted UNSC Res 242 to allow Israel to remain in possession until she had an agreement for “recognized and secure borders”. There was no demand for Israel to relinquish all the territories. This resolution also provided for “achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem”. Not only did it not reaffirm Res 194, it wasn’t limited to the Palestinian refugees and included the Jewish refugees as well.
In the Khartoum Conference which followed shortly thereafter the Arabs emphatically rejected this resolution and embraced a policy of no negotiations, no recognition and no peace. A year later, President Nixon attempted to placate the Arabs by proposing the Rogers Plan which required full withdrawal as demanded by the Arabs rather than partial withdrawal as set out in Res 242.
Although this Plan didn’t get traction, the US continued to support the Arabs and specifically the newly invented Palestinians giving them legitimacy even though they were a terrorist organization. Arafat the arch terrorist was invited to speak at the UN which he did while sporting a gun holster. When Israel tried to destroy the PLO in Lebanon in the early eighties, and was about to deliver the coup de grâce, President Reagan saved the Palestinians by evacuating them to Tunisia. It was American policy to use the refugee problem to force Israel to retreat. She needed the PLO to spearhead the Palestinian political movement.
The pressure on Israel continued, resulting in her having secret negotiations with the PLO which lead to the Oslo Accords of ’93 and ’95. Pursuant to these accords, Arafat and the PLO leadership were allowed back into the territories. The Declaration of Principles signed in ’93 provided that “negotiations regarding the permanent status were to commence no later than the third year of the interim period.”
These negotiations were supposed to bring about a final settlement between the two parties. It was understood that these negotiations would cover “the refugee issue, positions on Jerusalem, issue of borders and settlements as well as security arrangements and other issues of common interest.”
It is important to note that the US had no part in drafting this agreement as it was done without its knowledge. As a result, its terms are favourable to Israel. That is not to say that allowing Arafat and his minions back into Israel, was a smart thing to do, but the U.S. was pushing Israel to do it.
Thereafter, the US forced on Israel, acceptance of the Roadmap in 2002. It went far beyond the Oslo Accords and provided many terms adverse to Israel’s interests including provisions for:
- “the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state”
-“land for peace”
- The Saudi Plan calling for 100% withdrawal
- “GOI immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001”.
- “Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)”.
Although the Roadmap mentioned the refugee issue as a final status issue and nothing more, the Saudi Plan which it referenced, required “a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194” and “Assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries.”
So not only was Israel back to square one on the refugee issue but each Arab country could reject the patriation agreed upon if they didn’t like it.
PM Sharon wanted the removal of any reference to the Saudi Plan but the State Department adamantly refused and demanded Israel accept it.
Israel did so subject to 14 reservations which the US pledged to “fully and seriously address”, which pledge she never honored. One reservation demanded the rejection of any references other than to the requirements of Res. 242. It is time for her to seriously address this issue.
It is the requirements of the Roadmap, drafted by the State Department, that make a peace agreement unachievable.
As Shoshana Bryen points out: “The possible outcomes of the Palestinian refugee issue are three: to allow them to go to Israel (the so-called "right of return"); to formulate their resettlement (and compensation) in the new State of Palestine; or formulate their resettlement (and compensation) somewhere else. The first means the dissolution of the State of Israel – which cannot possibly be among the State Department's acceptable outcomes. (Can it?) In either of the other two scenarios, counting would be a prerequisite to resettlement.
“The problem for the State Department is that the Palestinians have rejected the second and third outcomes.”
The State Department has put itself in an untenable position. It cannot satisfy the demands of the Arabs and achieve a peace agreement. Nor can it force Israel to make further concessions. Had the State Department stayed out of it, peace would have been achieved decades ago. Its policy of supporting the Arabs diplomatically and financially has resulted in the intransigence of the Arabs in general and the PA in particular. The PA is now rejecting the US demands.
The Kirk amendment, watered down or otherwise, avoids the root of the problem and won’t solve anything.