There have been recent media reports regarding projects to liquidate the Palestinian refugee issue by means of liquidating the legal basis for their right of return to their homeland. US lawmakers began taking action to enact a law that would liquidate the issue of Palestinian refugees by recognising only about 40,000 of them, representing about 1 per cent of the over 5 million refugees. Members of the US Senate are trying to pass this law and it is associated with the reconsideration of annual aid contributed to UNRWA, as a new number of refugees not considered under UNRWA will be determined, and accordingly financial aid will be granted, depending on the number of refugees recognised by the agency as Palestinian refugees. Moreover, the UN General Assembly resolution 194 of 1948, as well as relevant resolutions, will apply to them.
The American draft law coincides with Israeli approaches to erase the Palestinian refugees' right of return. Israel's UN representative, Ron Prosor, was quoted saying that the main obstacle to the peace process was the right of return for Palestinian refugees, not settlements. He considered that the transfer of the refugee status to the children of Palestinian refugees who left their villages and cities after the establishment of Israel is misleading, noting that in 1950 the number of refugees was 700,000 and now they have reached over five million. According to Prosor, the matter depends on how they are counted.
Prosor criticised the UNRWA policy allowing Palestinian refugees to transfer this status to their children, considering the international agency's work in this field misleading. Accordingly, a small conference was held at the Harvard Club in Manhattan New York recently, attended by senior figures and experts, including Prosor, who discussed the issue of Palestinian refugees. He considered their cause to be the main hindrance to reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the PLO. The conference focused on the need to formulate legislation in the US that aims to end the "automatic transfer" of refugee status from Palestinian fathers to their children, a process that has been taking place since 1948.
Alongside the Israeli-American effort to erase the right of return by annulling the legal basis, the Israeli establishment is trying to fabricate the idea of Jewish refugees to confront international resolutions calling for the right of return of Palestinian refugees, beginning with Resolution 194. The Israeli media recently revealed an official Israeli document that refers to the official position that Israel is supposed to present in the case of "Jewish refugees" in international circles. The document is the outcome of an Israeli political decision, the source of which is the prime minister, that requires the Israeli negotiator to make the so-called issue of displaced Jews from Arab countries a key issue during possible negotiations on a permanent solution with the Palestinian side.
Without resolving this issue, the Israeli decision is not to approve the declaration of an end to the conflict. According to Israeli reports, the Israeli National Security Council, on orders by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, prepared the document.
It mainly included recommendations on how Israel would deal with the so-called Jewish refugee issue, such as demanding compensation for Jews who immigrated from Arab countries to Israel, as an important negotiating point on a possible negotiating table with the Palestinian side.
The document goes even further to define Jewish refugees from Arab countries as a Jew who left his home in an Arab state and immigrated to Israel. As for the number of refugees, it was calculated beginning from the date of the United Nations Partition Plan in November 1947 to 1968. Accordingly, the document counted 800,000 Jewish refugees, compared to the 600,00-700,000 Palestinian refugees in the period mentioned.
The US bill is an illegal endeavour and cannot impact the current situation. It is a part of the "deal of the century" which aims to revoke the Palestinian refugees' right of return and works hand in hand with the Israeli racist Nation State Law, considered the cornerstone for the deal that is targeting the Palestinians' rights. The rights of the Palestinians are protected by UN Resolution 194 and related international resolutions, and neither the US Senate nor Congress has the right to overrule international law and impose their laws on the world and on the Palestinian people. Their national rights have been established and confirmed by a number of resolutions issued by the UN General Assembly, the Security Council and other United Nations bodies.
This article was first published in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 5 August 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.