Redefining Refugee Status

State Department opposes Senate amendment that would recognize fewer Palestinian refugees

May 24, 2012

Update: A Senate amendment aimed at finding exactly how many Palestinian refugees are benefitting from U.S. tax dollar has passed a major procedural hurdle despite "enormous opposition" by the State Department, Jordanian government, and the United Nations’ refugee arm, according to a senior Senate GOP aide familiar with the bill.

The bill "passed with its core reporting requirement intact, now forcing the State Department to quantify exactly how many people served by this UN agency actually lived in Palestine from 1946-1948 and were displaced by the 1948 conflict," a senior GOP aide told the Free Beacon. "This will have major implications for future negotiations over final status issues with regard to refugees."

The final language as adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee requires the Secretary of State to submit a report within a year that details the approximate number of people who, in the past year, have received UNRWA services, who resided in Palestine and were displaced as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and who exactly are descendants of displaced persons.

The Obama State Department is gearing up to oppose a Senate amendment that would potentially alter the number of recognized Palestinian refugees from around 5 million to about 30,000, according to a senior GOP foreign policy aide familiar with the legislation.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) offered a contentious amendment that would instruct the State Department to report on numbers of Palestinian refugees who were physically displaced from their homes in Israel versus those who are descendants of refugees.

Opponents of the amendment believe the amendment—which is slated to be debated by the Senate Appropriations Committee this morning as it examines fiscal year 2013 funding for the State Department—argue that it is the first step to cutting the amount of aid the U.S. contributes to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which currently cares for around 5 million Palestinian refugees.

Josh Rogin reported on the Kirk amendment this morning:

The amendment is just a reporting requirement and doesn't change the way the United States classifies refugees or how it gives more than $250 million annually to UNRWA, about a quarter of the agency's budget. But a battle is already raging behind the scenes over what it might mean if the State Department started separating original Palestinian refugees from their descendants, and opponents of the Kirk amendment fear the end goal is to cut off U.N. aid to millions of Palestinians.

A Kirk aide told Rogin, "The amendment simply demands basic transparency with regard to who receives U.S. taxpayer assistance."

Multiple reports, including this one from the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, have indicated that the U.N. is actually making the Palestinian refugee problem worse.

The Free Beacon will update as the debate moves forward.