It is not only the Trump administration that wants to alter, to the point of negating, the Palestinian right of return. On Tuesday, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas made statements that conform to the scheming of Israel and the US. Apart from insisting upon a future demilitarised Palestinian state, Abbas also clarified that he does not envisage a Palestinian right of return that would alter Israel's demography.
The comments were made during a meeting organised by the PLO's Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, in which influential Israelis were present, including retired Mossad officer Ari Shuali, according to the Times of Israel. Abbas's comments were said to have been confirmed by a Palestinian official who asked to remain anonymous. The only contention raised by the PA official was over the terminology used by Abbas who, he said, "Does not want to 'drown' Israel with refugees" as opposed to the previously reported "destroy Israel". The end result, which remained obscured from reports, is the destruction of the Palestinian right of return.
Abbas's remarks are not without precedent. On several occasions, he has sought to downplay the importance of Palestinian refugees, eliminating the fact that it is the forcibly displaced population which embodies Palestinian history and memory. In 2014, he also considered the deployment of NATO forces on the borders of a hypothetical future Palestinian state. Now, Abbas has stated that he "supports the deployment of American forces along the borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state."
Within the context of having a state (which is still not a definite outcome), the possible deployment of either NATO or US forces should be seen as entrenching Israel's colonial occupation. However, despite not having revealed all of their plans, the US and Israel are clearly conspiring from a very possible starting point that a Palestinian state will never actually materialise. Hence, Abbas's comments which refute the Palestinian right of return for all refugees are more dangerous than talk of foreign military deployment for the time being.
With more than five million Palestinian refugees deprived of their land, the PA should clarify its intent first and foremost to the generations who have been deprived of everything but their memories. It should declare itself overtly to be an entity dedicated to facilitating Israel's colonisation of Palestine at the expense of Palestinian refugees. The latter, remember, have no formidable diplomatic representation to make the case for their legitimate rights.
In the past, Abbas was ridiculed for his dismissive comments regarding the Palestinian right of return. Ridicule, however, was the wrong strategy. As the US revealed its intent to refuse recognition of Palestinian refugees and disrupt the limited but essential work of UNRWA, it is clear that the PA is employing contradictory rhetoric to conceal its ultimate strategy of enforcing a division between Palestinians and their legitimate rights, to the point that all avenues for reclamation of rights are closed to the people.
To preserve Israel, Abbas is squandering the right of return in a tangible manner, in line with US and Israeli intent. Nevertheless, Palestinian refugees will always remain refugees, regardless of what new definitions are concocted and imposed to safeguard Israel's colonial project. Without Israel, there would never have been refugees in the first place. The PA is contributing to yet another violation where their definition is tethered only to the Palestinian collective experience, while the same experience is marginalised from international obligations and thus deprived of a right that is directly tied to, and as a result of, Israel's colonial violence and its consequences.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.