ZOA Supports Requiring Count of UNRWA Refugees as Amendment to State Department Appropriations Bill Sponsored by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL); Outraged at Threats from PLO
June 1, 2012

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has expressed support for the amendment, originated by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), to the State Department Authorization Bill for 2013 requiring the Administration to give a count for the number of refugees serviced by UNRWA who were actually alive at the time of Israel’s independence, and who qualify for the widely accepted definition of a refugee used in all other conflicts around the world.  According to the JTA (May 24, 2012), it is estimated  that of the 5 million Palestinians receiving benefits from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), as few as about 30,000 would meet the normative definition of a refugee used by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The amendment was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee after being modified by Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-VT), who first tried and failed to prevent the entire issue from consideration.


The ZOA also expressed outrage at the statement from the PLO’s refugees’ affairs department head, Zakaria al-Agha, who called the Senate amendment  a conspiracy to liquidate the issue of refugees UNRWA’s role, and threatened serious repercussions if the bill is approved.  The ZOA agreed with the comments of a Capitol Hill staffer quoted in the Washington Post today by Jenifer Rubin, who said “If this statement is allowed to stand, Congress can only assume that the PLO is issuing a veiled threat … incitement to violence against the United States in retaliation for an internal congressional reporting requirement.”


The legislation, if passed by the House and signed into law, would not directly affect the very large contribution the US gives to UNRWA.  In FY 2011, the US gave UNRWA nearly $250 million, and according to FP magazine (May 21, 2012) the total contribution since 1949 has exceeded $ 10 Billion in current dollars. The supporters of the amendment want to highlight how many of the people actually served by UNRWA are truly  refugees, and how many are political pawns being used to put political pressure on Israel’s very existence. The total number of refugees UNRWA claims to have helped when it started its services in 1949 was only 750,000, but now UNRWA claims 5 million persons are eligible.


The provision was passed by the committee over the explicit objections of the State Department, which maintains that the issue of Palestinian Refugees is too sensitive for the US Government to take any stand on, and that the measure would begin to align the US with the Israeli interpretation of the refugee issue. There is no such provision in the language of the amendment.



ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “This counting requirement introduced by Sen. Kirk is the least that the US Congress can do to start the process of reforming UNRWA.  It has become a dysfunctional organization that employs hundreds of Hamas terrorists in Palestinian schools and camps. The textbooks and maps they distribute continue to deny the very existence of Israel, and UNRWA is directly responsible for teaching every new generation of Palestinian children to hate Israel and America. What is really at work here is the continued Arab political effort to fatally sabotage the State of Israel by requiring it to make provision for millions of refugees under the fraudulent Palestinian doctrine of the ‘Right of Return.’  Nowhere in the world is such a right recognized, and in the case of the Arabs, it is doubly fraudulent, since the actual numbers of refugees by an objective definition is very small. This legislation will require the State Department to say exactly how small the population of true refugees is.


“There is no excuse for the United States to allow threats from the PLO on our internal government deliberations. The State Department has taken the wrong position on this matter, and it is outrageous that a foreign entity like the PLO is dictating to the US what reports can be generated by our own government. Once again the most outrageous actions and statements of the PLO results in no consequences to the offending officials.”


ZOA Co-Directors of Government Relations Joshua London and Dan Pollak said: “This report, when it comes out next year, should be the start of a serious discussion about the way the US subsidizes the Arab’s rejectionist strategy. Nothing has been changed since the UN first redefined the definition of a refugee for Palestinian Arabs only, to allow all descendants of the original refugees to be counted as though they themselves had been made homeless by war. The US continues to pay the bills. In fact, the Arab world and the UN itself has conspired together to keep these people in refugee camps so they can be used to pressure Israel. It is well known that all of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish Refugees who were forced to leave their homes in Arab countries have been settled successfully in Israel as citizens, but Arab countries surrounding Israel have refused to grant any rights to the Palestinian Arabs.  To this day, a Palestinian Arab living in Lebanon, for example, cannot work legally there. As a first step, recognition of the fact that only a few thousand of the beneficiaries of these UNRWA programs are even refugees in any sense of the word is an essential milestone towards true reform.  We commend Sen. Kirk and the Senate for getting started with this process.”


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