RAMALLAH, May 27 (JMCC) - Members of the United States Congress are working to limit the number of Palestinian refugees recognized by the State Department and also limit US funding for the United Nations agency supporting them, reports
On Thursday May 24, a Senate committee passed an amendment by unanimous voice vote that would require the State Department to differentiate between Palestinian refugees who were displaced first-hand and those born after to families who were refugees.
The senator behind the amendment was [Illinois Senator Mark] Kirk, who is close to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and has received over a million dollars from Israel oriented political action committees during his political career. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) expressed concern at the bill and modified the amendment, but it still contains the State Department reporting requirement that Kirk was pushing. Kirk celebrated the passing of the amendment in a May 25 press release: With U.S. taxpayers providing more than $4 billion to UNRWA since 1950, the watershed reporting requirement will help taxpayers better understand whether UNRWA truly remains a refugee assistance organization or has become a welfare agency for low-income residents of the Levant.
An earlier version of the bill pushed by Kirk would have made it US policy to classify as a refugee only those Palestinians personally displaced by Israeli forces. In practice, this would mean erasing the refugee status of almost all registered Palestinian refugees, cutting down the number to about 30,000.
It’s unclear how far the amendment will go in the legislative process. The State Department has come out strongly against Kirk’s idea to redefine Palestinian refugees. Their position, as Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy reports, is that “final status issues can and must only be resolved between Israelis and Palestinians in direct negotiations. The Department of State cannot support legislation which would force the United States to make a public judgment on the number and status of Palestinian refugees.” Rogin also reports that the State Department puts the number of Palestinian refugees at 5 million--the amount registered with UNRWA--and that US policy is in line with UNRWA’s practice of granting refugee status to descendants.