Ex-Israeli ambassador in the U.S. Yoram Ettinger has compiled a list of sound bites that succinctly explain the background of the "Palestinian refugees."
One of the Palestinian Authority's perpetual demands whenever talk of negotiations with Israel comes up is that the "Palestinian refugees" from 1948 be allowed to return to their former homes inside Israel. Israel has never accepted this demand in any form, because of the obvious consequences of millions of Arabs flooding the country.
Yoram Ettinger, an expert on demographics and Israel-American relations, explains that the PA's demand is totally groundless, on a number of counts. Excerpts from the list are provided here – enough to give an accurate picture of why the "refugees" issue is actually a non-starter:
Since the end of World War II, there have been over 100 million refugees from various countries and conflicts in Europe, Asia and Africa. Nearly all of them have been integrated into their host countries. The main exception is the Palestinian Arab refugees: The Arab countries never accepted any plan, even for good money, to integrate their brother refugees into their countries.
In 1952, the United Nations proposed a three-year, $200 million plan to integrate Arab refugees into their host countries. Jordan was the only Arab country to accept it, the plan never got off the ground, and the words of the then-Secretary General never came true: "The refugees will lead an independent life in the countries which shelter them…. The refugees will no longer be maintained by an international organization….”
Gen. Alexander Galloway, director of UNRWA in Jordan, said this at a May 25, 1953 hearing of the Near East Senate Subcommittee: “The Arabs states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.”
UNRWA was established on December 8, 1949 as a temporary relief agency for the Arab refugees. What was supposed to be a 2-3 year period has never ended. UNRWA is now a permanent UN agency – and its largest one. It deals only with Arab refugees of 1948, estimated then at several hundred thousand, and employs 30,000 people. In comparison, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which deals with all the other refugees around the world - 60 million of them! – employs only 6,400 people.
Ettinger sums up the comparison: "The UN High Commissioner for Refugees resolves/ends refugees’ status and minimizes their numbers; UNRWA perpetuates and exacerbates refugees’ status and inflates their numbers."
This requires explanation: How does the UNRWA inflate the numbers of Arab refugees? The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has declared that refugee status is not inherited by descendants, and is granted only to those who lived in the original country “from time immemorial” and were forced to leave because of war and the like. UNRWA’s definition, however, is much more inclusive: “Every Arab who left Israel in 1948, and who lived there for two years [that is, they need not have lived there for more than that - HF], will also be considered a refugee – he and his descendants.”
Ettinger adds that UNRWA applies refugee status in perpetuity, very liberally without much scrutiny, even to foreign laborers who were in Palestine for only two years before the 1948 war.
In 2014, the United States provided some 40% of UNRWA's billion-dollar budget. In 2nd place was the European Union, which gave $139 million, followed by the United Kingdom and Sweden - $95 million and $80 million, respectively.
Ettinger also notes that UNRWA's ties with Hamas have tightened over the years. In 2012, for instance, UNRWA employees elected Hamas-affiliated candidates to 25 out of 27 seats on a union board. As is well-known by now, UNRWA facilities were used by Hamas in 2014 to store missiles ready to be fired at Israel.
To buttress the well-known fact that Arab countries encouraged the Arabs of the Land of Israel to leave in 1948 – rendering them "refugees" forever since then, Ettinger cites this: "The Cyprus-based British Near East (Arab) Broadcasting reported on April 3, 1949: 'The Arab Higher Committee encouraged the refugees’ flight from their homes.'”