Ben Dror YeminiThe author is senior writer and member of the Executive Board of Israel's Maariv newspaper.
The U.S. Senate recently passed a precedential decision regarding refugees, UNRWA and the Palestinian Arabs. To understand the change, one
should mention that UNRWA was formed at an appropriate time to be A UN relief organization for the British Mandate Arabs, most of whom had fled
and some who had been deported, due to Arab aggression seeking to destroy Israel just as it had been established.
But the treatment of refugees changed direction, and instead of a caretaker, UNRWA became a reproduction, exacerbation and perpetuation plant of tremendous size.
There are two UN bodies dealing with refugees. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that handles all the world's refugees, and UNRWA,
which deals only with the ones that turned into the Palestinian Arabs (at first they did not know that they were to be called that. They were Arabs. Their separate identity developed later).
The Commissioner dealt with fifty million people. They received initial assistance, and they are no longer refugees. UNRWA, however, started on its way with 711 thousand, and miraculously has multiplied them into more than five million - all calledl refugees. The Commissioner rehabilitates refugees. UNRWA fosters, multiplies and perpetuates the refugee problem.
This paradox is known to anyone who has eyes in his head. It has many causes. One is the strange definition of an UNRWA refugee as those who:
“... were in the territory of Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and lost both their homes and livelihoods as a result of the Arab- Israeli conflict.” But over time their descendants also came into the framework, and strangely enough, and contrary to the definition, those who were not needy in the first place, and even those whobecame wealthy later were still considered refugees. As a result, the number of “refugees” is rising over the years in a somewhat exponential and strange manner.
Against this background, in recent months, MK Dr. Einat Wilf worked, in cooperation with AIPAC, to influence the primary source of funding for
UNRWA - the United States. The result is the "Kirk Amendment," named after the Republican senator Mark Kirk. His amendment would require
the State Department to report what is the actual remaining number of original refugees, answering to the definition that appears in the origina mandate of UNRWA. It is estimated at only 30,000.
There is something odd about Kirk’s amendment, because the Amendment does not demand a cut in aid or a change in criteria.
These are reporting requirements only - a report on the number of original refugees, and a report on the number of descendants. But reports on the amendment made it clear that it is a first step towards a more fundamental change. Following the report, the question would naturally arise - why should taxpayers pay for those who are not really refugees?
In fact, these questions have been popping up anyway. U.S. Undersecretary of State, Thomas Nides, sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations
Committee, urging them to vote against the amendment. He claims that the issue is particularly sensitive, the U.S. should not intervene in determining the number of refugees, and that this matter should be resolved in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.
The Embassy of Jordan in Washington has put pressure against the adoption of the amendment, and Nides notes in his letter that the
amendment might create "a negative reaction,, especially in Jordan."
Nides's request was denied. The amendment passed. So far, it did not make waves. And it’s a shame. It's time to burst the bloated balloon of ever-swelling Palestinian refugee numbers. On the day the Palestinian "refugees" are treated similarly to the tens of millions of other refugees in the world - the situation will begin to improve, along with prospects for peace.
Because the “refugee problem,” as the Arab side has stated over and over again, “is perpetuated in order to achieve the solution of the elimination of Israel.”
The treatment of the problem of the "refugees" has become the biggest obstacle to peace. It’s time for a change. The U.S. Senate took a
preliminary step, limited and uncertain as it is - it is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the next steps will follow.
And here are some more points to bring to the attention of the Congress: The official UNRWA count cites the number of refugees in Lebanon as
425,000, as of early last year. However, according to a study published by the American University of Beirut, which UNRWA itself has helped finance; it is only 260 to 280 thousand.
They are immigrating and fleeing from Arab countries, because they suffer from severe apartheid in the Arab world (according to the report). So there is no connection between the number registered and funded and the number of those still there. It follows that the United States, which is the primary contributor, should pose the obvious question: where exactly does the money go, when there is a 57% exaggeration in the number of refugees?
And another fraud: under the UN Refugee Convention, Article 1 (A) 2, those who received citizenship in any country, cannot be considered
refugees.According to UNRWA's official publication, Jordan has more than two million refugees, the vast majority of whom have Jordanian nationality. So you can subtract two million in Jordan, another 150 thousand in Lebanon and Syria is likely in a similar situation.
A recommendation to this effect is also found in the report filed by James Lindsey. For seven years, Lindsey served as a senior UNRWA official. After his retirement, he was a research fellow in the “Washington Institute", where he published a comprehensive study including wideranging reform proposals.
And the show goes on. UNRWA has a staff of more than 29,000 people, only two hundred of whom are not Palestinians - a great bureaucracy that
also deals with incitement through the educational system supported by the organization. This is the largest agency of the United Nations. Just
for comparison, UNHCR, the Commission that handles all other refugees of the world, holds a much smaller team of 7,685 employees, and
handles 34 million refugees.
UNRWA has one employee per 172 patients. UNHCR has one employee per 4,424 patients.
UNRWA's per capita budget is also more than double that of UNHCR. Considering that many of those listed aot re already citizens of other countries, or that the lists are inflated, as in Lebanon, it means that a Palestinian Arab “refugee” costs the international community, particularly the U.S., far more than any other refugee in the world.
The parade of absurdities and frauds must be stopped. Uniformity in definitions and norms is necessary. The anti-Israel side argues again and again that Israel should abide by international norms - a fine and just demand. This is exactly what should happen, but why not begin with the "refugees" - the same definitions for “who is a refugee", and the same procedure of rehabilitating the really needy rather than perpetuating them as “refugees.”
This could be the greatest contribution of the international community to promote peace. Senator Kirk began something. Hopefully he will continue it.