On May 24th, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a resolution virtually certain to create a controversy in Washington, D.C. The Kirk Amendment, named after its drafter, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), authorizes the State Department to submit a report “detailing the number of people currently receiving United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) services.” At issue is whether there are 30,000 Palestinian “refugees,” the actual number of living people “personally displaced” during Israel’s 1948 war of independence — or the nearly 5 million Palestinians who comprise their descendants. The distinction centers around two critical issues: Palestinian “right of return” demands and funding for UNRWA.
UNRWA was established in 1948 to assist the 750,000 Palestinians who either chose to leave or were forced out of Israel. UNRWA has essentially operated as a promoter of the Palestinian cause because it funds all 5 million “refugees.” That support amounts to $1.23 billion annually, $250 million of which is underwritten by the United States, UNRWA’s largest single donor. The larger number assuages progressive sensibilities among the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Israeli politicians, all with a vested interest in maintaining what amounts to permanent victimhood status for Palestinians, as well as enabling constant criticism of Jewish settlements.
The first Palestinian census was completed 15 years ago. At the time, the head of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) admitted it was “a civil intifada,” aimed Jewish settlements. Last December, the Bureau attempted to reprise its demographic misrepresentation, claiming 2.6 million Palestinian Arabs inhabit Judea and Samaria, considered the biblical homeland of the Jewish people. More than 300,000 Israelis currently reside in the area.
Israeli demographer Yoram Ettinger challenged those numbers, characterizing them as “demographic misrepresentations” that overstate the number of West Bank Arabs by 66 percent. He notes that the PCBS’s total is arrived at by counting 400,000 overseas residents, a method that violates international demographic standards, double-counting 240,000 Jerusalem Arabs, and under-reporting Palestinian emigration.
Mr. Ettinger further concluded that Jews now make up 17 percent of the total population of the West Bank, while Arabs make up 20 percent of the Israeli population. Between the Jordan river and Mediterranean, 66 percent of the population is Jewish. And for the last 17 years, Arab birth rates have stabilized while Jewish births have risen significantly on an annual basis. “There is a demographic problem,” Mr. Ettinger concedes, “but there is no demographic machete at the throat of the Jewish state.”
The “machete” to which Mr. Ettinger refers is the claim by Palestinians that demographics, no matter how skewed, is destiny: if Israelis do not accede to their demands, they will soon be a minority between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean. By exposing both the fraudulent Palestinian population totals and the disparate birthrates, Mr. Ettinger undercuts that argument.
The Kirk Amendment also attempts to add further clarification to the issue. For years, the State Department has been willing to go along with the dubious status quo, and were taken aback by Kirk’s efforts to separate the 30,000 “displaced persons” from their 4,970,000 heirs. The original language in Kirk’s resolution read as follows:
“It shall be the policy of the United States with regard to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that a Palestinian refugee is defined as a person whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who was personally displaced as a result of the 1948 or 1967 Arab-Israeli conflicts, who currently does not reside in the West Bank or Gaza and who is not a citizen of any other state.”
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