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Palestinian refugee issue is at stake

There have been many discussions in the media about plans and schemes to liquidate the Palestinian refugee issue and some information about the framework deal – initiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry – has also been leaked by American diplomats. The information shows the framework will include perceptions of a solution for final status issues, mainly the refugee issue, where some American proposals call for settling the refugees in the countries they are currently residing in and giving them the nationality of that country, in addition to moving thousands of them to other countries including Australia and Canada.

Also noticeable was Israel's attempt to stop using the word "refugee" when referring to Palestinians who were expelled from Palestine during the 1948 Catastrophe (Nakbah), and also from Palestinians who left the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem during the June 1967 war, and in following years. Israel argued that these Palestinians have been born outside Palestine and they are therefore not refugees but rather nationals of the areas they were born.

Israeli media outlets pointed out attempts by Israeli foreign affairs officials in the United Nations to change the legal status that is used to define Palestinian refugees.

Attempts to remove decision making ability

Israeli representative to the UN Ron Prosor was quoted as saying; "Settlements are not and never have been the main obstacle to peace. The real obstacle to peace is the Palestinians' demand of return."

Prosor considers transferring the definition of refugee to descendants or Palestinian refugees – who left their villages and cities after the establishment of Israel – is misleading, pointing out that in 1950, the number of refugees was 700,000 people, while today they are 5.1 million refugees, adding that it depends on the mechanism of counting them.

Prosor criticised the policy of the UNRWA which allows Palestinian refugees to transfer this identity to their children saying what the international organisation is doing to be misleading.

A small conference was held in the Harvard Club in Manhattan, New York, a few weeks ago with participation from a number of invididuals and experts, including Prosor who discussed the issue of Palestinian refugees and considers this topic is the main issue that is standing in the way of reaching a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

The Harvard conference focused on the importance of drafting legislations in the United States that aim at ending the "automatic transfer" of the refugee identity/status from Palestinian fathers to their children, a process that has been ongoing since 1948.

This coincided with Israeli requests for the US Administration adopts the idea of pressuring the Palestinian Authority in order to acknowledge the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, in order to set the stage for cancelling UN resolution 194 from the UN General Assembly's agenda and thus, removing the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their home land in Palestine.

Jewish refugees

On the other hand, the Israeli institute is trying to fabricate the idea of "Jewish refugees" to face the international resolutions calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees notably resolution 194 issued in 1948 and other relevant international resolutions.

Recently, Israeli media revealed an official document containing the position of Tel Aviv, the view which is supposed to be represented in the issue of "Jewish refugees" during settlement negotiations with the Palestinians.

The document is the outcome of a political decision that comes from the Israeli prime minister. It imposes on the Israeli negotiator to make the so-called problem of displaced Jews who came from Arab countries a key issue during negotiations of the final status solution with Palestinians.

Without solving this issue, the Israeli decision is not to approve the announcing of ending the conflict. Israeli news indicates that the document had been prepared by the Israeli National Security Council by order of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It mainly included recommendations on how Israel deals with the so-called Jewish refugees' issue, at the forefront of which is calling for compensation for Jews who migrated from Arab countries to Israel as a main point for negotiations and making that point inseparable from negotiations about the Palestinian refugees' issue.

This document goes beyond this where it defines Jewish refugees as Jews who left their homes in Arab countries and immigrated to Israel.

As for the number of these refugees, it has been calculated beginning from the date of partition decision at the UN issued in 1947 up until 1968.

According to this standard, the document counted 800,000 Jewish refugees in comparison with 600,000-700,000 Palestinian refugees during the same period.

The document entitled "Summary of staff work and the Israeli position proposal in the negotiations with Palestinians on the subject of Jewish refugees" recommended the use of the term "double refugee status" in the international terminology being used.

It says that there is an Israeli interest in establishing a connection between the "tragedy of Jewish refugees" and the "issue of Palestinian refugees" stressing the importance of discussing both issues as one block in the negotiations regarding refugees in the framework of the final status solution.

The document also recommended Tel Aviv not only ask for personal compensations for Jewish refugees of Arab origins, but also ask for compensation for the state of Israel which spent resources in order to accommodate them during the 50s and 60s.

The document estimated the value of property Palestinian refugees lost in that period to be nearly $450 million, which is estimated at $3.9 billion now.

As for Jewish refugees, the estimate is that they lost $700 million during that period, which is currently estimated at $6 billion.

According to Israeli media, the Israeli Foreign Ministry instructed its representatives abroad to raise this issue during their political activities and to encourage local Jewish communities to talk about it as well.

Israeli rhetoric

It is noticed that there is unanimity amongst the different Israeli groups regarding the future of the Palestinian refugee issues where the Israeli rhetoric stresses that the refugee issue is a core issue, but Israel is not responsible for it or its political, legal or humanitarian consequences, thus, the solution – according to the Israeli rhetoric – lies in settling these refugees in their current places of residency, in the countries that are hosting them, mainly Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, or to re-displace them to other countries such as Canada.

Numerous academic proposals and conceptualisations have been issued in this regard after the Madrid Peace Conference that was held towards the end of November 1991, where an American academic study pointed out that the cost of settling refugees is estimated at $100 billion dollars, Jordan would get the majority of this amount.

What's left to say is that the issue of Palestinian refugees – which is one of the most important issues of the final status as it deals with a large proportion of the Palestinian people and 78 per cent of the area of historic Palestine – is facing serious risks, mainly with regards liquidating the legal basis represented in UN resolution 194 through discussing American and Israeli proposals that mainly revolve around getting refugees to settle in some of the neighbouring Arab countries and sending the other part to other countries that have huge areas and small populations, such as Australia and Canada in particular.

Translated form Al Jazeera net, March 19, 2014

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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