THE fetid, dark heart of the Arab war on Israel, I have long argued, lies not in disputes over Jerusalem, checkpoints, or "settlements". Rather, it concerns the so-called Palestine refugees.So-called, because of the nearly five million official refugees served by the UN's Palestinian refugee relief agency UNRWA, only about 1 per cent are real refugees who fit the agency's definition of "people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict".
The other 99 per cent are descendants of those refugees, or what I call fake refugees.
Worse: those alive in 1948 are dying off and in about 50 years not a single real refugee will remain alive, whereas their fake refugee descendants will number about 20 million.
In this context, the Australian government's recent decision to allocate an additional $90 million over five years perpetuates and exacerbates this problem.
This matters because the refugee status has harmful effects. It blights the lives of these millions of non-refugees by disenfranchising them while imposing an ugly, unrealistic, irredentist dream on them.
Even worse, the refugee status preserves them as a permanent dagger aimed at Israel's heart, threatening the Jewish state and disrupting the Middle East.
Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, in short, requires ending the absurd and damaging farce of proliferating fake Palestine refugees and permanently settling them. 1948 happened: it's time to get real.
In part based on the work carried out by the Middle East Forum's Steven Rosen and myself over the past year, the US Senate appropriations committee unanimously passed a limited but potentially momentous amendment on May 24 to the US$52.1 billion fiscal 2013 State Department and foreign operations appropriations bill.
The amendment, proposed by Republican Mark Kirk, requires the State Department to inform congress about the use of the annual US$240m of direct American taxpayer funds donated to Palestine refugees via UNRWA.
How many recipients, Kirk asks, meet the UNRWA definition cited above, making them real refugees? And how many do not, but are descendants of those refugees?
Were the State Department compelled to differentiate real Palestine refugees from fake ones, the US and other Western governments (who, together, cover more than 80 per cent of UNRWA's budget) could decide to cut out the fakes and thereby undermine their claim to a "right of return" to Israel.
Sadly, the Obama administration has badly botched this issue.
A letter from Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides opposing an earlier version of the Kirk amendment demonstrates complete incoherence.
On the one hand, Nides states that Kirk would, by forcing the US government "to make a public judgment on the number and status of Palestinian refugees, prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue".
On the other, Nides refers to "approximately five million refugees", thereby lumping together real and fake refugees -- and prejudging exactly the issue he insists on leaving open. That five million refugee statement was no fluke. When asked about it, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell confirmed that "the US government supports" the guiding principle to "recognise descendants of refugees as refugees".
Through all of Israel's 64-year existence, one American president after another has resolved to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, yet every one of them ignored the ugliest aspect of this confrontation -- the purposeful exploitation of a refugee issue to challenge the very existence of the Jewish state.
Bravo to Kirk and his staff for the wisdom and courage to begin the effort to address unpleasant realities, initiating a change that finally goes to the heart of the conflict.
If Bob Carr really wants to contribute to Middle East peace, the Foreign Minister should follow Kirk's example and compel UNRWA to distinguish real refugees from the fakes.
*Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum and the Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University