For decades, Arab governments have justified their decision to maintain millions of stateless Palestinians as refugees in squalid camps as a way of pressuring Israel. The refugee problem will be solved, they say, when Israel agrees to let the Palestinians have their own state.
Yet after years spent in terrible conditions, not a single Palestinian refugee has been returned to Israel, and a few aging apparatchiks have made it back to the West Bank or Gaza. Instead, failed peace plans and shifting political winds have resulted in a second Palestinian nakba, or catastrophe - this one at hands of the Arab governments.
The fact that the divided Palestinian political leadership is silent about the mistreatment of these refugees by Arab states does not make such behavior any less reprehensible - or less dangerous.
"Marginalized, deprived of basic political and economic rights, trapped in the camps, bereft of realistic prospects, heavily armed and standing atop multiple fault lines," a recent report by the International Crisis Group in Lebanon observed, "the refugee population constitutes a time bomb."
After the Persian Gulf War of 1991, some 250,000 Palestinians were chased out of Kuwait and other gulf states to punish the Palestinian political leadership for supporting Saddam Hussein. Tens of thousands of Palestinian residents of Iraq were similarly dispossessed in the Iraq war.
Today, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are most at risk. In 2001, the estimated 250,000 Palestinians then in Lebanon were stripped by parliament of the right to own property or pass on property to their children - even as they are banned from working as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists or in 20 other major professions.
Along with this marginalization has come a new and frightening turn toward the radical Pan-Islamic ideology of Al Qaeda in refugee camps like Ain al-Hilweh, where more than 70,000 Palestinians live outside the legal framework of the state. One of the 9/11 hijackers dedicated a poem to Ain al-Hilweh's most prominent jihadist in his videotaped will, and dozens of Palestinian fighters from the camp joined Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Even in Jordan, the only Arab nation that has integrated large numbers of refugees as full-fledged citizens, insecurity is growing. Speaking to the Arabic-language newspaper Al Hayat, Jordanian Interior Minister Nayef al-Kadi recently suggested that some Palestinians might be stripped of their citizenship to counter a supposed Israeli plan to turn Jordan into Palestine. While Jordanian officials have sought to quell such fears, many of the people we spoke to recently in the Baqa'a refugee camp there claimed they knew someone whose card had been revoked, or whose status had inexplicably been changed.
The refusal of most Arab governments to grant basic legal rights to Palestinian residents who are born in and die in their countries, combined with periodic mass expulsions of entire Palestinian communities, eerily parallels the treatment of Jews in medieval Europe. According to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, states "shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees" and "make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings."
After 60 years of failed wars and failed peace, Arab governments should allow Palestinians to keep their national dream alive, while also enjoying the basic freedoms to work, vote and own property.
Judith Miller is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. David Samuels is a contributing editor at Harper's and a contributor to The Atlantic and The New Yorker.