Originally, there were about 700,000 Palestinian refugees. Because the Palestinians have rewritten the meaning of the term “refugee,” creating refugees that transcend generations; there are now 4.5 million Palestinian refugees.
The original number of Palestinian refugees is roughly equivalent to the number of Mizrahi Jews that were forcibly evicted from the Arab and Islamic world after the establishment of the state of Israel. Israel, and to a lesser degree the West, absorbed these refugees. Within three years, they ceased being refugees. Today, neither they nor their descendants inhabit dismal, overcrowded camps, living as a people apart and without hope.
The Arab world supposedly cares about the plight of the Palestinians. But the Arabs have done little to transform Palestinian refugees into citizens. With the exception of Jordan, Palestinian refugees have been treated throughout the Arab world as a people apart — people to be showcased, but not to be extended a modicum of civility and compassion.
In 2007, Amnesty International issued a report decrying the conditions of the Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps. Yet there were no flotillas, no campus protests, and no UN resolutions condemning the role of Arab nations or the Palestinian Authority for bottling up Palestinians in refugee camps and condemning them to a life of despair.
In recent days, the Lebanese parliament — after six decades — finally passed legislation opening up to Palestinians those occupations that are permitted to other foreigners. The decision, upon closer inspection, falls short of its publicity value. In Lebanon, foreigners are barred from a long list of major professions. The amelioration of Palestinian suffering is limited, and the camps are still Casabas, self-governing enclaves, generally off-limits to Lebanese police and law.
As the latest round of peace talks inevitably moves in a continuous circle, here is an obstacle to peace that the Arabs themselves could eliminate within years, if not months, by shutting down the refugee camps and integrating their inhabitants into the surrounding communities. This would mean, of course, an end to the demand for Israel’s demographic destruction and an end to the culture of dependence created by UNRWA.
When the Palestinians and the Arab states solve their refugee problem as the Jews solved theirs, then the world will know that the Arabs are truly interested in achieving peace and that they have removed one of the most formidable impediments to its achievement.