It’s Time to Solve the Palestinian Refugee Problem

September 17, 2019 | Evelyn Gordon
About the author: Evelyn Gordon is a commentator and former legal-affairs reporter who immigrated to Israel in 1987. In addition to Mosaic, she has published in the Jerusalem Post, Azure, Commentary, and elsewhere. She blogs at Evelyn Gordon.

Earlier this month, hundreds of Lebanese Palestinians gathered in front of Beirut’s Canadian embassy to ask for asylum in Canada or the EU. The basis of their claims? Although born in Lebanon, they cannot become Lebanese citizens, and thus have limited job opportunities and are denied many public services. No human-rights organizations have taken up their cause, notes Evelyn Gordon, nor are Western countries accepting their claims for asylum; yet, as a matter of UN policy, and unlike in the case of refugees from every other conflict, neither are Palestinian refugees given any help to resettle in the countries where they live.

[N]o Western country actually makes the argument that Palestinians aren’t real refugees; they all accept [that, unlike for other refugees], refugeehood [is] an inherited status bequeathed to every new generation of Palestinians in perpetuity, even if the “refugees” have citizenship in their country of residence, like most of those in Jordan, and even if they reside in what the United Nations itself has recognized as the Palestinian state, like all those living in the West Bank and Gaza. And so long as the West insists on defining Palestinians as refugees, it has an obligation to grant them the same rights as other refugees, including the right of resettlement.

So why has the West, with ardent support from “human-rights” organizations, continued to deny Palestinian refugees a basic refugee right that the refugees themselves want to exercise? The answer can be found in an astonishing conversation that the journalist Yoav Sorek recounted in Mosaic back in 2014. He and a colleague asked an official from ECHO, the EU’s humanitarian-aid agency, why it didn’t help Gazans who so desired to resettle in other countries. The official replied, “Because if they leave, it’d be like releasing Israel from its responsibility for the nakba”—the Palestinian term (meaning “catastrophe”) for the refugee crisis spawned by the Arabs’ war to prevent Israel’s establishment in 1948.

In other words, the West has kept Palestinian refugees in miserable limbo for 70 years and deprived them of their basic right to resettlement in order to hold a gun to Israel’s head: either make enough political concessions to the Palestinians and/or Arab states that they’ll deign to grant citizenship to their own brethren, or risk being flooded by millions of “refugees” and their descendants, who will destroy the Jewish state demographically. Just like the Palestinian Authority, the West has been treating these Palestinians as political game pieces rather than human beings with needs, wants, and rights of their own. And as the protests in Lebanon show, Palestinians are increasingly fed up with this role.

After 70 years, it’s long past time to stop treating millions of Palestinians as nothing but perpetual pawns in a war to destroy Israel.

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