Following the Trump administration’s acknowledgement of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel, funding cut to UNRWA and closure of the PLO office in Washington a few days ago, media reports confirmed the US President’s intention to announce a fourth step early next year. This is related to the issue of resettling Palestinian refugees in Arab countries, particularly Jordan, Syria and Lebanon; it seems to be the core of Trump’s “deal of the century”.
Hence, in the coming weeks, we can expect a delegation from the US headed by Jared Kushner to be heading to the Middle East to discuss this process and determine the mechanisms for its implementation. This will be determined after counting the number of refugees and figuring out how to cover the cost of resettlement and other expenses needed by the proposed host countries.
The concept of “alternative homelands” is not new. Similar projects were mooted after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. One of the most dangerous was the US plan to resettle five million Palestinians in the Middle East and around the world to remove the refugee issue from the “final status” negotiations. A report prepared by Washington relied on a book by an American professor of international law at Syracuse University in New York, Donna Arzt, for its statistics and way to address this thorny issue. The report said that 5,357,000 out of 6,275,800 Palestinian refugees in the world will be distributed among the Middle East countries and some Western capitals as a permanent solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Jordan, which hosts the largest number of Palestinian refugees — 1,832,000 in the early 1990s — would, under that US plan, be required to host an additional 168,000 taking the total to two million. Meanwhile, Syria would increase the number of refugees it hosts from 325,000 at the time to 400,000. As for Lebanon, it would be required to retain about 75,000 of its refugees during the same period.
According to the report, Israel would be forced to accept the return of 75,000 Palestinian refugees from Arab countries. These would have to prove that they lived in Palestine before 1948 and have relatives in the Occupied Territories. The report suggested that other Arab states could grant citizenship to 519,000 Palestinians. As for the West — specifically Europe and the US — it would also have to shoulder a burden by hosting 90,000 Palestinian refugees in addition to those already living there. With regards to the Palestinians in the West Bank, if that earlier Washington report is the basis of the deal of the century — which is not yet confirmed — then the goal will be to increase the population by bringing in refugees from Lebanon and other countries, and by transferring 350,000 people from the Gaza Strip.
The process of relocating and resettling five million Palestinian refugees will be one of the largest such projects in modern history. The US report suggested that Western countries and some Arab countries should provide the required resources for the task. As far as compensation for the 75,000 Palestinians who will be granted the right of return within the framework of a comprehensive agreement is concerned, Israel will use the compensation it has demanded from some Arab countries in exchange for the property left behind by Jews who moved to the self-declared Jewish State.
Shlomo Gazit, the former head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot achieve a real, radical and viable solution without ending the problem of the Palestinian refugees in all its aspects. He believes that Israel must insist on putting this problem on the agenda and finding a mutually acceptable solution.
At the same time, though, Israel still denies its responsibility for the creation of the refugee issue and rejects, on principle, the concept of the right of return, even though it is guaranteed under international law. However, it will make a psychological concession, says Gazit, by recognising the Palestinian suffering and the need to compensate the refugees for the property they have lost. Gazit’s idea to solve the refugee issue does not go beyond the ideas of rehabilitation and resettlement in the present areas of refuge along with financial compensation; this will be included in Trump’s announcement in early 2019.
Translated from 21 Arabi21, September 2018