the Palestinian ‘Refugee’ Scam
Goldberg and Jonathan Schanzer
July 5, 2018
President Trump wants to promote peace in the Middle East, his first step should
be to declassify a key State Department report that would end the myth of
United Nations Relief and Works Agency is singularly devoted to the Palestinian
refugee issue. Unrwa labels more than five million Palestinians
“refugees”—an impossible figure. The first Arab-Israeli war, in 1948,
yielded roughly 800,000 Palestinian Arab refugees. Perhaps 30,000 remain alive
today, but Unrwa has kept the refugee issue alive by labeling their
descendants—in some cases great-great-grandchildren—as “refugees,” who
insist on the “right of return” to their ancestors’ homes. Israel
categorically rejects this demand.
operations run counter to the broader mission of the U.N. High Commissioner for
Refugees, which is to resettle those displaced by war. Unrwa’s mission, on the
other hand, keeps the conflict’s embers glowing by refusing to resettle
Palestinians in neighboring countries or even in the Palestinian territories.
Mr. Trump wants his peace plan to have a chance, he has to challenge false
Palestinian narratives. He did this by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of
Israel and moving the U.S. Embassy there. For decades, Palestinian leaders
issued maximalist claims on Jerusalem. Mr. Trump’s move sent the message that
making peace requires accepting reality.
Trump can send the same message by declassifying one document. In 2012 Congress
ordered the State Department to disclose how many Palestinians currently served
by Unrwa fled the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and how many are merely their
descendants. The Obama administration classified the report, citing national
security—as if revealing foreign census data were a threat to America.
year and half into office, Mr. Trump hasn’t reversed this policy, but momentum
is building against it. In April more than 50 House members urged State to
declassify the report. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has done the same.
the label of “refugee” from millions of Palestinians wouldn’t hurt them.
Instead, it would unlock their economic potential and create an opportunity for
lasting peace. Perhaps that’s why the Palestinian leadership is fighting it.
Once the refugee issue is exposed as a scam, Palestinian leaders would have to
learn how to govern, not merely stir up antagonism with Israel.
The inability of Palestinian leaders to detach from this 70-year-old story raises real concerns about whether peace is possible. But if Mr. Trump is committed, he can send a clear message to the millions living in Unrwa camps: Your leaders want to keep you in squalor, while America wants you to prosper. It’s the most pro-Palestinian step an American president could take.