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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What a great idea! Kirk wants to count 'Palestinian refugees'

Jonathan Schanzer reports that Senator Mark Kirk (R-Il) is about to stir up a hornet's nest in a good way. Kirk wants to count how many 'Palestinian refugees' are actually serviced by UNRWA. It's certainly not close to the 5,000,000 claimed (up from 750,000 at most in 1948). And not everyone serviced by UNRWA is going to qualify.
UNRWA's time to defend itself has unquestionably arrived. The Kirk amendment would require the secretary of state to report to Congress on how many Palestinians serviced by UNRWA are true refugees from wars past -- those who could prove that they were personally displaced. That number is believed to be closer to 30,000 people. This new tally would then become the focus of America's assistance to UNRWA for refugee issues.

Despite congressional Republicans' current fervor to rein in America's out-of-control debt, the bill's proponents do not call for a full cutoff to the descendants. Rather, they seek to ensure that UNRWA services keep flowing to those who are needy. The United States would simply not view them as refugees -- just people living in the West Bank or Gaza and below the poverty line.

But funding for the future would not be guaranteed. As Kirk's office explains, Congress will soon need to consider tough questions, like whether U.S. taxpayers should be footing the bill for welfare programs in the West Bank and Gaza, or whether such services should be provided by the Palestinian Authority.

The fact that this language has made it to mark-up is nothing short of remarkable. The Israelis have historically avoided locking horns with UNRWA at all costs. In fact, they have quietly lobbied against UNRWA reform in the past. As one Israeli official confided, the Israel Defense Forces don't want to risk being saddled with providing services to the refugees in the West Bank and Gaza should UNRWA unravel. Indeed, one of the Israelis' primary purposes in signing the Oslo Accords and supporting the creation of the Palestinian Authority was to ensure that they were no longer saddled with the responsibility of providing services to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

But today, with the peace process moribund, if not dead, the Israelis believe that UNRWA reform could serve as a defibrillator of sorts. By tackling one of the toughest challenges of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without the bedlam that typically accompanies bilateral negotiations, there would theoretically be one less sticking point when the stars align again for diplomacy. Under the leadership of Knesset member Einat Wilf, this idea now has the backing of the prime minister's office, the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Read the whole thing. The best part about it? It's an election year and therefore it would be politically toxic for Obama to veto it.


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