Ma’an reported earlier this week:
A new bill was introduced in the United States Congress this past week which several US senators are attempting to pass into law that recognizes only 40,000 Palestinian refugees instead of 5.3 million refugees.
The newly introduced bill would ensure that the contributed to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) would go towards the resettlement of Palestinians displaced by the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, and not their descendants – who are a total number of 5.3 million people.
The bill was initiated by Republican Congressman, Doug Lamborn, who entitled it as “The UNRWA Reform and Refugee Support Act.”
Lamborn said in a statement that the “refugee status is not something that can be handed down from generation to generation,” referring to the descendants of Palestinian refugees who were born and are living in other countries.
Responses from Palestinian leaders and Arab media have been predictable – and these reactions themselves show how untenable their position is that Palestinians remain refugees forever.
Middle East Monitor dismisses the proposal this way:
The secret American proposal says the US can continue to support the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) if it reduces the number of refugees it acknowledges from 5.3 million to only 40,000. This would mean the decedents [sic] of those violently evicted from their homeland in 1948 would not be eligible for aid in spite of continuing to live as refugees in a foreign country.
If that is the criterion for being a “refugee,” then there are no refugees living in Gaza or the West Bank – since it is not a “foreign country” – nor are there too many in Jordan, since most of them are citizens.
Magically, this Arab definition just eliminated 4 million “refugees.”
Saeb Erekat tries another argument:
Efforts by the US Congress to pass a new law that recognizes only 40,000 Palestinian refugees instead of 5.2 million will not change anything on the ground because the rights of refugees are guaranteed by United Nations General Assembly resolutions, particularly 194 and 302, experts and officials said on Monday.
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said US efforts to draft a new law that recognizes only 40,000 Palestinian refugees instead of 5.2 million is unacceptable and illegal and will not affect the status quo.
Erekat stressed that the rights of refugees are protected by UN Resolution 194, which cannot be bypassed. He said neither the US Senate nor Congress has the right to override international law and impose their laws on other countries.
UN General Assembly Resolutions are not international law. And 194 does not guarantee descendants of Palestinians who fled in 1948 to be refugees anyway. There is no international law that gives Palestinians refugee rights denied to all other peoples. In fact, 194 refers to “refugees” on both sides – it does not single out Arabs – so therefore does Erekat consider the descendants of Jewish refugees who were expelled from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to have the right to return there are well, under international law?
Beyond that, 194 also calls for Bethlehem to be part of the “corpus separatum” of Jerusalem under international rule. Is that international law, too?
The PA Ministry of Information also says that treating Palestinians as refugees forever is international law, saying “attempts to manipulate the number of refugees from our people are a dangerous precedent in international relations, requiring the action of the General Assembly and organizations defending international law.”
International law is clear on the definition of refugees. The 1951 Refugee Convention didn’t give Palestinians a pass where their refugee status can be considered different from all others; it said that Palestinians who were getting support from UNRWA were excluded from being protected under the Convention as long as UNRWA exists.
Which is why UNRWA exists 67 years later.
But there is only one definition for refugee.
And indeed, the UNHCR lists five countries that are the source of the highest number of refugees – Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia – of which only Syria has created more refugees that UNRWA has. Yet it doesn’t include “Palestine” on that list.
One gets the impression that UNHCR is almost embarrassed to be sometimes forced to include Palestinians in its count of refugees because it is dealing with people who are in real crisis, not people who live as citizens in their own lands or who have been excluded by law from becoming citizens in the countries in which they have been born, which other international conventions call for.
In short, there is no international law that singles out Palestinians to be treated differently from other people; that idea is anathema to international law. The claims that Palestinian “refugees” are refugees under international law are ludicrous.
But Palestinian leaders have no other arguments, so they have to lie.
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