For the first time, the U.S. government said it considers the descendants of those who fled or were expelled from Palestine in 1948 to be refugees, Foreign Policy magazine reported Friday.
The U.S. has also placed the number of Palestinian refugees – who live in the West Bank, Gaza and the countries surrounding Israel – at 5 million, according to the report.
Advocates of Israel worry that the move could give an advantage to the Palestinians in terms of their right of return.
Steve Rosen, a longtime official with AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby group, argued that calling 5 million Palestinians refugees, including some 2 million who are citizens of Jordan, means recognizing their right to return, even though Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have said that a two-state solution would mean most refugees would not return to Israel proper, Foreign Policy reported.
"How many generations does it go?" asked Rosen. "I'm Jewish, and as a grandchild of several refugees, could I make a claim on all these countries? Where does it end? Someday all life on Earth will be a Palestinian refugee."
However, the magazine referred to a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama in June 2011, in which he stated, "A lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people."
In January 2008, while a presidential candidate, Obama said, "The right of return [to Israel] is something that is not an option in a literal sense."
In a statement to Foreign Policy, the State Department said that it agreed with UNRWA in that Palestinian descendants of refugees are in fact refugees, but cautioned that the final resolution of their status must be negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians.