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.”

The_Kirk_AmendmentAt 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.”

Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) declined to include that language, and still refused to support the resolution even when it was reduced to little more that a reporting requirement. Leahy feared Israel’s neighbors, including Jordan, home to an estimated 2 million Palestinian refugees, would opposed any effort that might reduce international support. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides also chimed in, claiming Kirk’s proposed amendment “would be viewed around the world as the United States acting to prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue.”

Nonsense. What is at stake is that American taxpayer support ought to be given on the basis of an accurate population count. Yet the collateral possibilities of such a count, i.e. that Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and other Arabs states might actually have to take care of a population generations removed from the original group of refugees, was an obvious non-starter. Thus, the language of the Amendment was softened and Jordan withdrew its objections when it was assured the resolution was nothing more than an internal U.S. government reporting requirement. The new language:

The Committee directs the Secretary of State to submit a report to the Committee not later than one year after enactment of this act, indicating –

–(a)the approximate number of people who, in the past year, have received UNRWA services -(1)whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and who were displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict; and (2)who are descendants of persons described in subparagraph (1);

–(b)the extent to which the provision of such services to such persons furthers the security interests of the United States and of other United States allies in the Middle East; and

–(c)the methodology and challenges in preparing each report.

Thus, the ongoing scam remains effectively in force. Kirk’s spokesperson Kate Dickens admitted as much when she told The Cable the amendment “simply demands basic transparency with regard to who receives U.S. taxpayer assistance. A vote against this amendment is a vote to deny taxpayers basic information about an agency they are funding.” Making taxpayers aware of exactly how much money the government is giving to Palestinians (now $400 million annually), even as that funding is based on phony numbers, is important. Furthermore, in the unlikely event such a resolution were to be approved by Congress, it is all but certain the president would veto it.

Critics oppose the amendment of course, even in its watered-down version, because they view it as a “slippery slope” that will abrogate the Palestinian “right of return,” a demographic Sword of Damocles hanging over Israel’s head that is worsened by the swelling ranks of the so-called “refugees.” As their ulimate objective is to destroy the Jewish State in one way or another, Palestinians covet their refugee label. It is why the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon recently admitted, “Even a [Palestinian] state accepted as a member of the United Nations, is not the end of the conflict.” Why? Because citizenship in that state, as opposed to refugee status, would require such “refugees” to forfeit their right of return. Palestinians would rather insist on remaining financially supported “refugees” — five million and counting — until they can re-settle in Israel.

And until that day comes, Americans will continue underwriting the lion’s share of support for Palestinian “refugees,” who remain so for no other purpose than to challenge Israel’s right to exist, even as — ironically — a substantial number of them do not exist.

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Arnold Ahlert is a former NY Post op-ed columnist currently contributing to JewishWorldReview.com, HumanEvents.com and CanadaFreePress.com. He may be reached at atahlert@comcast.net.