Congress parses Palestinian refugee status
May 24, 2012 3 Comments
By Ari Bildner, Staff Writer
Washington, May 24 – As U.S. Senate committee approved today a measure to distinguish between Palestinian refugees and their descendents, a particularly sensitive but recurring topic in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict negotiations.
The Senate Appropriations Committee waded into one of the most contentious areas of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict when it approved the amendment introduced by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that requires the State Department to report within a year on the number of actual Palestinian refugees assisted by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) separate from those who are the children and grand-children of refugees.
“The amendment simply demands basic transparency with regard to who receives U.S. taxpayer assistance,” Kirk spokesperson Kate Dickens told Foreign Policy today. “A vote against this amendment is a vote to deny taxpayers basic information about an agency they are funding.”
The UNRWA says an original 750,000 Palestinan refugees displaced in 1946-1948 eligible for its aid programs have now become five million including descendants, and the United States is a major funder of the UNRWA.
For Israel, the issue has become a huge obstacle in rounds of talks with the Palestinians who often have demanded a full or partial “right of return” for all refugees and their children as part of an end-of-claims deal. That frustration has spilled over to the generations of U.S. policymakers involved in such talks.
Yet the news agency JTA wrote that the measure could “deliver a diplomatic blow to Palestinian efforts to leverage their refugee status in peace talks with Israel by aligning U.S. policy with Israel on the matter.”