Daniel Pipes

The fetid, dark heart of the Arab war on Israel, I have long argued, lies not in disputes over Jerusalem, checkpoints, or "settlements." Rather, it concerns the so-called Palestine refugees.

So-called because of the nearly 5 million official refugees served by UNRWA (short for the "United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East"), only about 1 percent are real refugees who fit the agency's definition of "people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict." The other 99 percent are descendants of those refugees, or what I call fake refugees.

Perversely, UNRWA feted its 60th anniversary in 2009, as though this were something to be proud of.

Worse: those alive in 1948 are dying off and in about fifty years not a single real refugee will remain alive, whereas (extrapolating from an authoritative estimate in Refugee Survey Quarterly by Mike Dumper) their fake refugee descendants will number about 20 million. Unchecked, that population will grow like Topsy until the end of time.

This matters because the refugee status has harmful effects: It blights the lives of these millions of non-refugees by disenfranchising them while imposing an ugly, unrealistic irredentist dream on them; worse, the refugee status preserves them as a permanent dagger aimed at Israel's heart, threatening the Jewish state and disrupting the Middle East.


Daniel Pipes

Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.