HOW MANY PALESTINE REFUGEES?
January 13, 1999
I enjoyed reading Ambassador Eilts article on the Wye accords [ãThe Wye Memorandum: Breakthrough or Band-aid?ä WINTER 1999]. Respectfully, I would like to correct one of the points he made. The number of Palestinian refugees spread about the world outside of theWest Bank and Gaza is well over the 2.5 million he claims. There are over 2.4 million just in Jordan. Jordan’s population now is about 4.5 million. About 1/2 of the population is Palestinian, including the wife of Crown Prince Abdalla. The Palestinian population of Syria is about 400,000. Lebanon also has about 400,000. When we add these figures to the figures for Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, the USA, the EU, Asia, etc etc. we reach over 4 million. By the year 2025, given present popullation growth rates of Palestinians averaged worldwide, there may be more than 10 million. The Palestinians account for about 10% of all of the world’s refugees. The only groups that come close to that figure are the Afghans (externally displaced, mostly in Iran) an the Sudanese (mostly internally displaced).Professor Paul Sullivan
Prof. Sullivan teaches economics in the Middle East program at the American University in Cairo. His commentary entitled “Some Notes on U.S. Policy Toward Iraq” appears in the current issue of this journal.
AMBASSADOR EILTS RESPONDS:
February 19,1999[The questionerâs] figures, it seems to me, represent the total number of Palestinians, and more particularly their first and second generation descendants, who left their homes in the 1948 war. In a sense, of course, all such people can claim refugee status. And you may be sure that they will do so when and if, in final status talks, the issue of compensation for Palestinian refugees comes up for discussion.As the person who handled Palestinian refugee matters in the State Department in the early nineteen sixties, I consider Palestinian refugees those who were handled by UNRWA and continue to be so. [T]he issue of Palestinian refugees has from the outset been a problem. When I took over the State Department Palestinian refugee job, there was a dispute as to numbers. UNRWA had some 850,000 persons on its rolls who fitted into that category, but there were complaints that UNRWA did not include Bedouins or young family members of refugees. Israel argued at the time that there were no more than 500,000, basing its estimates on British mandate population figures. In fact, UNRWAâs estimates were at best soft. No one was anxious to have UNRWAâs registrations further increased. Additionally, Palestinians refugees were selling their UNRWA ration cards to merchants and we had a great problem, especially in Jordan, about UNRWA ration cards from dead Palestinians being sold to merchants and dead Palestinians continuing to be registered by their families for UNRWA ration cards. We finally had to press the Jordanian government to take effective action to stop this in refugee camps in that country, which Jordan was reluctant to do. Eventually, however, it acted to stop Palestinian UNRWA ration card abuse.
The situation was further complicated when in the 1967 war some 350,000 (some say more, some say less) Palestinians had to leave the Israeli-occupied West Bank for Jordan. A distinction was made at the time, rightly or wrongly, between such persons and 1948 refugees. Such 1967 West Bank evacuees were called ãdisplaced personsä and did not qualify for UNRWA refugee status, i.e., UNRWA ration cards.
Since that time, of course, the situation has gotten worse. With second and third generation Palestinians from what were originally UNRWA-recognized refugee families having been born, and many of the original refugees having passed on, the question of what is a Palestinian refugee has today become increasingly controversial. My figure of refugees is based on UNRWA-supported refugees of about a year ago. It does not include all Palestinians who left Palestine in 1948 and were never registered for UNRWA assistance or, of course, their descendants.[The questionerâs higher] figures represent Palestinians living in the various countries that he mentions. He could add another two million or more in the U.S., Latin America, and elsewhere. But the bulk of these larger numbers never received UNRWA assistance. Hence, I repeat, my figure is based upon continuing UNRWA-supported Palestinian refugees, not the many who went abroad and succeeded in making new lives÷and in some cases, fortunes÷for themselves. [The commentatorâs] figures÷and they are at best estimates in the various countries that he mentions÷deserve underscoring for another reason. As I indicated above, when and if in the final status talks the issue of compensation for Palestinian refugees arises, we shall undoubtedly see all kind of Palestinian claimants coming out of the woodwork in order to claim a share of what they hope will be a financial bounty. Many will be second and even third generation descendants of original Palestinian refugees, and the ãdisplaced personsä of 1967 and their descendants will doubtless join the throng of people hoping for compensatory handouts.
The problem will be even more difficult on three counts:
First, who is a legitimate Palestinian refugee with a claim to lost immovable property? In this connection, Israel has always argued that such Palestinian losses should be balanced against North African and Middle Eastern Jewish losses sustained when Jews had to leave the North African states, including Egypt, and Iran and elsewhere.
Second, the inflated values of properties lost in the intervening years. I recall being asked to make an estimate of lost Jewish property in Iraq in 1956, which the Grand Rabbi of Iraq (who was still there at the time) estimated at $1.2 billion. How much more is such property worth today for both Palestinian and Jewish claimants?
And third, who, if anyone, is going to be willing to pay Palestinian or other claimants even if there is some eventually acknowledged right to compensation? Until 1967, Israel had set up an escrow account for seized Palestinian properties. Proceeds were to be used for an eventual compensation arrangement. But that was dropped following the 1967 war. Israel has ever since indicated it will contribute to an international fund for Palestinian refugee compensation if it ever comes to that, but it expects the international community to pay the bulk of any such compensation payments. Can you imagine an American Congress these days being willing to contribute to such a fund when most of the Palestinian claimants will be second and third generation? It is going to be one God-awful mess, when and if the issue arises, and Palestinian claimants÷grandiose though their expectations may be÷will get little if anything.
Hermann Frederick Eilts
Note: Amb. Eilts completed a thirty-year career in Middle East affairs as a career diplomat with his assignment as American ambassador to Egypt, 1974-79.
May 6, 1999
My name is Kaashif Eazazuddin. I am a 7th Grade student who goes to the West Windsor-Plainsboro Middle School. I am participating in a project called Model Congress. The topic that I have chosen to do has to do with American foreign policy and to what extent should the United States Armed Forces be in foreign lands.
I have some questions to ask of you, kind sir. Are there any restrictions to foreign policy? Also, what do you think should happen to our foreign policy? Why? Do you think we have any right to send our forces into foreign lands? If so, to what extent?
Thank you for your cooperation. I really appreciate it. Please consider my request and e-mail me. You can reach me at email@example.com.
You raise some interesting and complex questions in your e-mail message. For definitive answers, I fear you will have to consult a few reference books in one of your local libraries. One of the best, if available, is the four-volume Encyclopedia of U.S. Foreign Relations edited by Jentleson & Paterson (1997). Other authors (from a variety of perspectives) you might look for on the making of foreign policy are Kennan, W. A. Williams, Howard Jones, La Feber., and Bailey. Of course, you can seek sources on the Internet dealing with diplomacy, foreign policy, or international affairs and the like.
Because U. S. foreign policy in broad outline is made very largely by elected officials÷the President and members of the Congress÷within the guidelines of the Constitution, we can say that here, as in most democracies, the limits on diplomacy ultimately lie with the people who vote. Additionally, professionals in the foreign policy establishment concern themselves with policies, but mainly in terms of recommendations, guidance, and implementation.
The question of what should happen to our foreign policy is such a tough one that I don’t have any ready answer. Maybe if we put your question in its entirety up in the “Letters” section of the Internet journal, some of our readers might be able to respond.
Americaâs right to send forces into foreign lands is another sticky, debatable point, especially with respect to the extent (and duration) of using U.S. forces in combat situations overseas. Over a period of many years, dating back to the late 18th century, the U. S. President as Commander in Chief of the armed forces has exercised the authority to engage forces in combat abroad as deemed necessary, only rarely with a formal declaration of war by Congress as provided in the Constitution. While this authority has been limited somewhat as to duration by the War Powers Act of 1973, obviously the President still exercises considerable freedom of action in this regard. To what extent should he have this power, you ask? Another good one. But long-standing historic precedents set by the occupant of the position of Commander in Chief, as modified by the fairly recent War Powers limitation of Congress, may well be a reasonable set of guidelines÷if the latter limitations are fully enforced.
What do you think?