Washington Post Wrong on Refugees

Excerpts from a letter to the Post's Foreign Editor concerning a January 12th article by Howard Schneider entitled “For Palestinian Refugees, Rhetoric Confronts Reality.” The article, unfortunately, was marred by unsubstantiated information and internal contradictions.

... Schneider makes the surprising claim that:

The fate of an estimated 8.6 million displaced Palestinians and their descendants, including more than 3 million registered for humanitarian aid in Gaza, the West Bank and nearby Arab countries, is among the central issues to be resolved in any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The highest number heard from advocates of the Palestinian “right of return” in the context of Israeli- Palestinian peace agreements is 5 million. (Even this number, though, is highly exaggerated when compared to U.N. data on the numbers of Palestinian refugees.) While there may be as many as 8.6 million Palestinians in the world, it is wrong to characterize this entirety as “displaced” and also to state that the fate of the world’s entire Palestinian population is a “central issue” in the talks.

Furthermore, Schneider’s statement is undermined and contradicted by another claim that he makes further along in the report. He states that “[a]bout 40 percent of the refugees and their descendants, for example, live in Jordan.” If that were the case, and if there were really 8.6 million displaced Palestinians and their descendants, as Schneider claims, then there would be approximately 3.4 million displaced Palestinians and their descendants residing in Jordan. Again, this number is at variance with the reality. According to the “Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East - 1 July 1997 - 30 June 1998,” the total of Palestinian refugees (including descendants) was 3,521,130. Of these, 1,463,064 were Jordanian citizens, according to another U.N. document. How does Schneider explain the alleged existence of some 3.4 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, when the entire number of Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA barely exceeds the supposed total for Jordan?

In another contradiction, Schneider notes that “3 million [are] registered for humanitarian aid in Gaza, the West Bank and nearby Arab countries.” He then provides the breakdown for some of these locales – West Bank and Gaza (1.4 million); Lebanon (376,000 - 476,000); and Syria (383, 000). The total for the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria is, according to Schneider, 2,259,000. How then can his 3 million total for the West Bank, Gaza, and nearby Arab countries possibly include the 3.4 million supposedly living in Jordan? Clearly, more than a few of the numbers that Schneider offers cannot possibly be accurate.

The number for UNRWA-registered Palestinians is approximately 3.7 million. Does Schneider arrive at the total of 8.6 million displaced Palestinian and their descendants by including in that number Palestinians who are not registered with UNRWA? In other words, does he maintain that there are close to 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants in the world who are not registered with UNRWA? If so, is there a Palestinian in the world that Schneider would not characterize as “displaced”?

Schneider also makes a false and improper editorial comment alleging that:

When forces of the nascent Jewish state began seizing control of what is now Israel in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who then lived on the land fled to neighboring countries.

This wording is, to say the least, an inversion of events in 1948, in which surrounding Arab armies and local Palestinian Arabs attacked the nascent Jewish state in an effort to obliterate it and seize its land after having earlier rejected the UN Partition Plan.

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