In Cairo a little over a year ago, President Obama proclaimed "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world." After reminding his Arab audience that "six million Jews were killed" by the Nazis, he added immediately that, for their part, the Palestinians too "have endured the pain of dislocation" and many still "wait in refugee camps . . . for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead." At the time, a number of commentators objected to the President's seeming equation of the abundantly funded refugee camps run by the United Nations with Nazi death camps. Few, however, pointed out that his explanation of the plight of the Palestinian refugees was false, confusing historical cause and effect.
For it is not the absence of peace that keeps Palestinians "waiting" in refugee camps. Rather, most Arab leaders since 1948, including the current Palestinian leadership itself, insist that the refugees—originally numbering between 500,000 and 750,000 but now swollen through natural increase to over four million—must remain in those camps until allowed to return en masse to Israel. This insistence in turn makes it impossible to achieve any resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, let alone a "new beginning" in the Middle East.