Whose Middle East Policy Is It, Anyway?
The State Department contradicts Obama and previous presidents on the “right of return.”


Clifford D. May

There is a larger issue here: As Rosen explained to Rogin, by calling all 5 million UNRWA aid recipients “refugees,” State is suggesting that this entire population has a “right of return” not to the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza), but to Israel.

One State Department official complained that the “Kirk amendment, based on commentary surrounding it, is meant to set a stage for the U.S. to intervene now with the determination that 2nd and 3rd generation descendants have no claims and in fact aren’t even Palestinians.”

But Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama all “intervened” with “determinations” that a two-state solution can succeed only if most displaced Palestinians become citizens of a Palestinian state rather than the Jewish state; and only if, as President Clinton phrased it at Camp David in 2000, there is “no specific right of return to Israel itself.” These and other American leaders understood that for Israel to grant citizenship to millions of anti-Israeli Palestinians would mean national suicide. American policy, by tradition, has not been to suggest that allies kill themselves.

As for the “commentary” surrounding Kirk’s measure, I’m not aware of any — certainly not mine or that of my colleague Jonathan Schanzer in Foreign Policy magazine, or that of Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post — that questions who is a Palestinian.

But there are 1.8 million Palestinians who hold Jordanian citizenship and yet are counted as refugees, despite the fact that under international law — specifically, the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Article 1C, the “Cessation” Clause) — a person stops being a “refugee” once he “has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality.”

Would anyone suggest that a Pakistani citizen, the descendant of a Muslim who left India following the post–World War II partition of the subcontinent into two states, should be classified as a refugee?

It should be obvious that UNRWA’s beneficiaries are being used as cannon fodder. They have been told by their own leaders that they will be denied Palestinian citizenship even in a future Palestinian state. “They are Palestinians, that’s their identity,” Abdullah Abdullah, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, stated last year. “But . . . they are not automatically citizens. . . . Even Palestinian refugees who are living in [refugee camps] inside the [Palestinian] state, they are still refugees. They will not be considered citizens.”

Why not? Because statelessness makes them more lethal weapons of war. Ambassador Abdullah explained: “When we have a state accepted as a member of the United Nations, this is not the end of the conflict. This is not a solution to the conflict. This is only a new framework that will change the rules of the game.”

That the State Department would provide support for such rejectionism — disregarding the policy of three administrations and failing to comprehend how this undermines any possible “peace process” — is breathtaking. In the days ahead, it will be instructive to see whether President Obama insists that the State Department follow his policies — or whether he permits Foggy Bottom to overrule him.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism.


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