Why Aren't Palestinian Refugees Treated Like All Others?

Thursday, September 06, 2018 |  Israel Today Staff

The simple answer to that question is that if Palestinian refugees had to meet the same criteria as refugees from any other place on earth, they would cease to be a pressing issue, and one of the primary tools used to bash Israel would become almost irrelevant.

Most Israelis are convinced that that is precisely the reason why the United Nations, via UNRWA, its dedicated agency for Palestinian refugee, established a unique hereditary refugee status for those Arabs who fled their homes during the 1948 Israeli-Arab war.

And that is why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year openly called for UNRWA's mandate to be absorbed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is responsible for all refugees except for the Palestinians. It's also why he lobbied US President Donald Trump to end American financial support of UNRWA, which Trump did just this week.

A former UNRWA legal adviser cited by The Times of Israel noted that if the standard refugee criteria used by the UNHCR is applied to the Palestinians, there would today be just over half-a-million Palestinian refugees. That's a whole lot less than the 5 million Palestinian refugees UNRWA currently has registered under its special set of rules.

In most cases, refugee status isn't passed on to descendants at all, especially when the original refugees have successfully resettled and obtained alternative national or residency status. Under the most strict application of the UNHCR criteria, there would be only a few tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees, given that most of that generation has by now passed away, and the vast majority of their descendants have status in the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

The reality is that the Palestinian refugee issue should, in fact, be a non-issue. Instead, it has been transformed into one of the main obstacles to peace.

Can Trump finally rectify the situation?

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