It’s become clear we’re never going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until we first resolve the fake refugee fiasco. I turned to noted ME scholar and director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East Asaf Romirowsky to gain his thoughts on why being a Palestinian is such a badge of honor.
So Asaf, you’ve spent much of your life’s work researching the feckless maneuverings of the UN and especially the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). What is your take on the Right of Return fiasco the Palestinians drive when no other refugee in the world has a lock on inner-generational status?
Romirowsky: A few thoughts to consider when you think about Palestinians. First, three core issues come into play. They are: 1) A shared capital, Jerusalem; 2) 67 borders; and 3) Right of Return. To understand the Palestinians steadfast claim to the Right of Return you have to understand it’s hardwired into Palestinian national identity. It means something in the Arab world to claim you are a Palestinian refugee. Palestinians wear this club association like a badge of honor. That’s why from [Gamel Abdel] Nasser in his day all the way up to [Osama] Bin Laden, belonging to the Palestinians has meant something. Palestinians entire existence is woven tightly into the narrative that the land was stolen from them and they’re just trying to recoup it. The way it plays out over six decades later is that Palestinians are staking a claim since they didn’t get awarded a chunk of land back in 1949, so they are now engaged in unilateral moves with the UN to make it happen.
Arab countries don’t seem interested in resolving the Palestinian refugee problem either. They’re quick to cast Israel as the Goliath yet not one has stepped forward in 64 years to tackle the issue head-on in a meaningful way.
Romirowsky: Arab states have allocated some funds, but besides that it’s not necessarily in their best interest to resolve the refugee problem and repatriate Palestinians. Besides when Lebanon gave some Palestinians partial citizenship status, there has been no real move by Arab states to give Palestinians full citizenship. My entire work and focus has been on solving this issue. There is a historical side to why this issue is playing out and then there is a policy side that occurs in Washington. This means there is an inherent cognitive dissonance when you refer to the terms Palestinian “refugee.”
Would you say this same cognitive dissonance explains why a year can’t go by without Washington gutting its taxpayers to hand yet another multi-billion dollar dole to the Palestinians via PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s outstretched hand?
Romirowsky: The term refugee usually refers to individuals fleeing from their lives from hostile areas like Sudan, Somalia, Darfur and other war-torn areas of the world, and Washington doesn’t want to be in a position where it’s starving Palestinians.
Doesn’t that say something about the intelligence of our politicians when they label Palestinians as “starving” when the Economist reported (via data gathered between 1999 – 2003) that West Bank men and women rated number 8 and 3 respectively among the highest obesity in the world?
Romirowsky: Well, I wouldn’t say stupid, but the State Department has a certain degree of sympathy for the greater Arab cause and for the Palestinians. With the legislation occurring in the past 10 – 15 years, scholars have become astute at dissecting this issue and solving it. Steven J. Rosen and Daniel Pipes have taken it on via Senator Mark Kirk’s H.R. 5758 (Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Act, 2013), and now people are starting to wake and realize Palestinians shouldn’t have any better status than any refugee group in the world.
So you’re saying most of the “refugees” who claim Palestinian status and make up the growing 4.7 million strong are fake and should not to be in the same lot with the original 1948 refugees?
Romirowsky: Yes, it’s becoming quite clear that just because someone wants to be a Palestinian refugee it doesn’t make them so.
So just because you may happen to be a son or daughter of a Palestinian refugee or even a grandchild or great-grandchild of one, this by itself can't pass for being the same as an original 1948 refugee?
Romirowsky: Yes. That’s why generation after generation grows up with the fallacy they are somehow Palestinian refugees. Before this bill was proposed by Kirk and company, no one was defining who really was a refugee. That is really the question at the crux of the Right to Return issue. To say you are no longer a refugee doesn’t necessarily prevent you from getting public services. In the U.S. these same service are known as welfare.
Is UNRWA just as feckless as the United Nations? I have blogged about UNRWA and the UN numerous times as worthless entities but I often sense those who need to know most are tone-deaf.
Romirowsky: The legislation is going forward because we have to cap the burgeoning refugee Palestinian problem. All the work that myself and others like Rosen, Pipes and Kirk, etc. have done on it is finally gaining ground. When Canada said they would no longer fund UNRWA but would instead fund Palestinian projects, it was clear UNRWA lacked transparency and accountability and had become one big black hole.
So the answer boils down to classifying only one generation of Palestinians - those original 1948 refugees as real refugees, and giving public assistance to their descendants if needed?
Romirowsky: Yes. Then you’re talking about 30,000 refugees and it’s doable. I mean, even back in 1951 and 1952 Israel agreed to take in about 300,000 Palestinian refugees, but the only sticking point was the Palestinians still would not agree that Israel should exist. There are many in Arab states who wish to keep the Palestinians victims so they remain an open wound and so the narrative continues.
So if we view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of Hollywood director Ang Lee’s Life of Pi flick and see the Israelis as the boy in the boat and Hamas as the tiger (since the PA is feckless and a no-show entity), how do we tame the tiger?
Romirowsky: Well the difference lies in the Zionist movement, which has been very successful in nation state building. On the one hand, groups like Hamas or even the PA have not been successful in this arena. The Arabs haven’t really engaged in nation-state building because victimhood is the key to world sympathy. Every underdog cause in the world has championed the Palestinian cause like LBGT Rights to Women’s Rights to whatever. They all say our cause is embodied in the eternal underdog and that’s it. That’s why you have human rights groups all over the world vouching for the Palestinian cause.
So the real fix is to count only the actual 1948 refugees?
Romirowsky: Yes, what happened between the Arabs of Palestine and the Jews of Palestine in 1948 isn’t the same as what's occurring with their millions of descendants on the ground today.
I came to some conclusions of my own after the call ended with Asaf. After spending many years post-undergrad working with parents and children in need including over three working directly with welfare recipients in Texas, no lawmaker on the planet is doing the Palestinians any service by allowing their descendants to be classified as refugees.