Refugee crisis precludes possibility of peace

The efforts for achieving peace in the Middle East are admirable. However, they will fail. The most serious issue of the Palestinian crisis is not being addressed. This is the plight of the Palestinian refugees.

Until that issue is addressed, this crisis in the Middle East will continue with increasing ferocity and terror. In Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, confronting an invasion by five Arab armies, 750,000 Palestinians became refugees. They were scattered in deplorable refugee camps in the West Bank occupied by Jordan and Iraq and in the Gaza Strip occupied by Egypt. Many also were scattered in the neighboring Arab countries.

The United Nations passed Resolution 194 in 1948, which said these refugees must either have the right of return granted, or they must be compensated. The error in this approach was that they were all left stateless, completely in limbo, with no place to call home. Only Jordan gave citizenship to the Palestinians who live there. However, even the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled there were kept in limbo as stateless refugees in camps. That is, in fact, the response of the whole Arab world, Jordan being the most generous.

Today, 54 years later, the number of Palestinian refugees has climbed to 3.7 million. That is how many are registered with the United Nations Refugee Relief Works Agency, thereby being completely dependent on the United Nations for social, educational and welfare support.

This is an amazingly disgusting reality, and it is not Israel’s fault. First, consider there have been almost 60 million refugees worldwide since World War II – almost all of them are no longer refugees. Think of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the Balkan wars just several years ago. Of them, nearly all of them are no longer refugees. What has happened to them? They were resettled in new lands, given economic assistance and integrated into the new societies.

Why are the Palestinians still languishing as refugees? It’s because the Arabs have betrayed them and lie about this to the world, keeping all the blame falsely against Israel so that someday they can conquer Israel in war.

In addition to the many several massive refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza that were created by Jordan, Iraq and Egypt in 1948, there are 59 other large refugee camps in the neighboring Arab countries. Lebanon has 18, Syria has 12, Jordan has 15 and Egypt has 22. Those are shocking numbers.

In contrast to the tens of millions of refugees who have wandered the world in the past several decades, the Palestinians are one of the most easy to solve by their fellow Arabs. They all share the same language, culture, religions and other social bases of the Arabs. There are vast unused tracts of land in Iraq, Syria, Jordan and elsewhere that would benefit greatly by the influx of human capital. And what about the massive oil wealth of the Gulf Arabs and Iran that could be used to assist them?

Instead, these refugees have remained in desperate and awful conditions for 54 years! You might have fallen for the propaganda that this is Israel’s fault. What you are missing is the fact the Arabs have done next to nothing to help the refugees – in fact, Israel’s occupation of the camps after 1967 was the only time in which large-scale
development of the camps occurred. That’s when refrigeration and electricity were introduced, medical facilities were multiplied and improved, educational facilities were funded and grew and, as a result, life expectancy and mortality rates improved greatly, partially due to the fact other humanitarian relief programs were brought in. That was when Israel occupied the camps. Notably, in lieu of the Oslo Accords and the Palestinian Authority’s takeover of the camps, conditions have only worsened since.

To see exactly how little the Arabs really care about the refugees, consider that UNRRWA’s budget is funded 30 percent by the United States and 22 percent by the EU, while the Arabs collectively fund less than 5 percent! And while this has been going on, Israel over the past 54 years has absorbed millions of Jewish refugees fleeing from extreme repression, given them citizenship and assistance, and today none remain as refugees inside Israel.

The condition of the Palestinian refugees is an indictment of the first magnitude against the Arabs. A former U.S. ambassador to the Arab countries, Marc Ginsberg, explains the Arabs “are least concerned about making sure that these refugees are left anywhere but as a dependent part of the United Nations because they want this issue to remain alive as an issue that they don’t want to resolve themselves. They believe that by keeping the issue alive, it deflects away from their own preoccupation with other domestic issues.” Ginsberg emphasizes the refugees “are the people who most need the greatest support from the international community because they are providing the hotbed for terrorist activities.”

This is the root of the problem. As long as the refugees remain in limbo in those camps, there will be a war cry in the region that will always be targeted against Israel. This is unjust, wrong and false. But, so far, the international community is quite unaware of this. The Arabs have confused the issue for years, and now we almost seem blind to the reality of these refugees.

Consider Jenin, where recent attention has been focused. Let me pose a question that is never asked: Why is there a refugee camp there? For several years, Arafat and the PA controlled it, all the while receiving billions of dollars, and yet there 15,000 refugees remain packed in a camp for 54 years. Of course such a camp has become a hotbed of terrorism, and when the Arabs, Arafat and the PA, and the international community ignore their condition, that inevitably leaves the responsibility upon Israel to attack back against that camp as it balloons with terrorist growth.

In contrast to all the fudging of the realities in diplomacy over the Middle East right now, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has been very direct about what must be done: “The essence of the problem is this … The refugee camps must be closed and the refugees be dispersed in the Arab world, and be given economic assistance. As long as you have three million – constantly growing – Palestinians in refugee camps, you have a constituency that has a vested interest in, and an understandable vested interest, in the destruction of Israel.”


Joe Roche is an alumnus. Send comments to
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