Already in Resolution 302 of the UN General Assembly of December 1949, by which UNRWA was established, it was stated: "A plan must be presented for a time when the welfare program will no longer be needed."
Later resolutions dealt with the transfer of treatment of refugees to the countries they settled in order to integrate them. But all the proposals were rejected, in theory and in practice, by the Arab states.
The result has been an ongoing distortion that has been going on for nearly 70 years. The US Department of State's announcement, it should be noted, is actually implementing UN resolutions from those years. Not the perpetuation of refugee status, but rather rehabilitation.
The change in policy began in 2012 when Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) passed an amendment to the US Foreign Assistance Act requiring the State Department to prepare a report on the actual number of Palestinian refugees, while distinguishing the original refugees, only some of whom can be considered refugees, from their descendants, who according to any international definition are no longer considered refugees.
The initiative to amend the law was that of Dr. Einat Wilf, then a member of the Labor Party. Even then, as now, there was a dispute over the initiative, which had nothing to do with the constant and tiring dispute between "left" and "right."
Wilf then made it clear that she was also against continued construction in the settlements and against the continued granting of refugee status to the descendants of the refugees, because both of these things harmed the prospects for peace.
Even then, the top echelon of the defense establishment took a hesitant stance. Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's diplomatic bureau, wrote at the time: "Minimizing the refugee problem is a clear Israeli interest. At the same time, UNRWA plays an important role in providing assistance to the Palestinian population... let’s avoid a situation that will endanger the continuation of that aid which is in Israel’s interest." The Israeli position has not changed since then.
The State Department prepared the report as required by the amendment, but during the administration of John Kerry as secretary of state and Barack Obama as president, the report became classified.
It can be assumed that the top echelon of the American administration did not want to cause a commotion when the actual number of refugees became known.
The official number of refugees according to UNRWA is 5.3 million. The actual number, without descendents, is between 20 and 30,000 people at most, because some of them have already been granted citizenship, for example in Jordan, and others have become financially established, so according to the UN definition they are not refugees.
Therefore the actual number of refugees, according to the conventional definition, stands at a few thousand. In any case, UN General Assembly Resolution 194 deals with them, and only them, and not with second- and third-generation descendants.
The so-called "Palestinian refugee problem" would have been resolved if only standard refugees procedures been implemented with the Palestinians as well.
The fear by security officials of a vacuum, that would be filled by Hamas, if UNRWA leaves the Gaza Strip, is a little strange, because in any case, in the recent elections for UNRWA institutions, in which nearly 11,500 of the organization's employees voted, the Hamas associated "Professional List" won a crushing victory. Despite all the denials, education at UNRWA institutions primarily produces Hamas activists.
The United States could have made the change in a slightly more coordinated fashion, but the direction is right. After almost 70 years of the big refugee scam, the time has come for a change.