By Brooke Goldstein & Benjamin Muller
Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) recently proposed a bill examining the United Nations' uniquely absurd definition of a Palestinian refugee. The original bill correctly designated a Palestinian refugee as an individual actually displaced between 1946 and 1948, but not his or her descendants. This (commonsense) definition reduces the actual number of U.N.-termed Palestinian "refugees" from the currently estimated millions to 30,000. However, under the influence of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a watered-down version of the bill requiring that the number of originally displaced Palestinian refugees be counted and reported separately from the number of their descendants.
While millions of refugees around the world must rely on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Palestinians are served by their own special agency -- the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Similar to the term's dictionary definition, UNHCR defines "refugee" as a person who, "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted ... is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." In a highly discriminatory fashion, UNRWA has distinguished the Palestinian refugee from those of any other descent by inventing its own arbitrary definition, applicable only to Palestinians. According to UNRWA, "Palestinian refugees are people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948" or who are "descendants of the original Palestinian refugees." Moreover, and most shockingly, UNRWA allows Palestinians to retain their refugee status even if they have obtained citizenship elsewhere! In Jordan, for example, 82% of UNRWA's Palestinian refugees "do not live in camps and many of them have full Jordanian citizenship."
UNRWA's definition not only fails to differentiate between individuals who voluntarily left their place of residence and those who left due to fear of persecution or who were forced out, but also creates an infinite perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee situation by including the descendants of the so-called "original" refugees. Ultimately, this definition lacks any basis in logic or law.