The Palestinian News and Information Agency reports: “Head of the PLO refugees’ affairs department Zakaria al-Agha strongly criticized in a statement on Thursday a bill submitted by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Palestinian refugees . . . Agha described the bill as ‘a conspiracy to liquidate the issue of refugees and [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees] UNRWA’s role,’ warning of serious repercussions in the region if the bill is approved as it aims to drop the Palestinian right of return and end the function of UNRWA as caretaker of the Palestinian refugees.”
Agha is referring to legislation authored by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) which doesn’t seek to cut funding to UNRWA, let alone “liquidate” UNRWA. Agha is in effect saying that if Congress passes legislation to determine who left in the period 1946-1949 (and who is generations removed and/or actually living in the West Bank) there will be hell to pay in the region. This threat only demonstrates how determined the Palestinian Authority is to keep the “refugee” number as high as possible, an effort supported by the purportedly neutral UNRWA.
A Republican on Capitol Hill well versed in this issue was irate. He told me: “This threat is absolutely outrageous and needs to be addressed immediately by Mahmoud Abbas. If this statement is allowed to stand, Congress can only assume that the PLO is issuing a veiled threat of violence or incitement to violence against the United States in retaliation for an internal congressional reporting requirement that has no direct impact on any Palestinian.”
Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams assesses the broader picture, counseling that the U.S. ignore the “idle threat.” He e-mails me: “There has been no other refugee case ever anywhere in which the number of refugees grows generation after generation and no efforts at resettlement are made. Fortunately, UNRWA is unique; unfortunately, it seems to grow and grow, which is why the legislation is so sensible.”
There is also a larger issue at stake here. Clifford May, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argues that the Obama administration has made a shift in the U.S. approach to the so-called “right of return.” He writes,“Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama all ‘intervened’ with ‘determinations’ that a two-state solution can succeed only if most displaced Palestinians become citizens of a Palestinian state rather than the Jewish state; only if, as President Bill Clinton phrased it at Camp David in 2000, there is ‘no specific right of return to Israel itself.’ ” He notes that meanwhile the Palestinian Authority has done everything possible to expand and concretize the refugee issue:
It should be obvious that UNRWA’s beneficiaries are being used as cannon fodder. They have been told by their own leaders that they will be denied Palestinian citizenship even in a future Palestinian state. “They are Palestinians, that’s their identity,” Abdullah Abdullah, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, stated last year. “But . . . they are not automatically citizens. . . . Even Palestinian refugees who are living in [refugee camps] inside the [Palestinian] state, they are still refugees. They will not be considered citizens.”
Why not? Because statelessness makes them more lethal weapons of war. Ambassador Abdullah explained: “When we have a state accepted as a member of the United Nations, this is not the end of the conflict. This is not a solution to the conflict. This is only a new framework that will change the rules of the game.”
But in this fight about merely identifying who is who among beneficiaries of U.S. taxpayer money via UNRWA, the State Department has sided with UNRWA, the Palestinian Authority and the effort to maintain an ever-expanding mass of “refugees:” As May notes, “That the State Department would provide support for such rejectionism — disregarding the policy of three administrations while failing to comprehend how this undermines any possible ‘peace process’ — is breathtaking.”
In short, it is not only UNRWA that is trying to inflate the refugee problem, but also the State Department, which apparently thinks having millions of Palestinians claiming the right of return is the way to peace in the Middle East. Well, if you think settlements are the root of the Israeli — Palestinian conflict I guess you’ll believe anything.