Bahbah: Trump’s Peace Plan--What About Palestinian Refugees?
By: Bishara A. Bahbah/Arab America Featured Columnist
President Trump’s peace plan states in section XVI, “A just, fair and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue must be found in order to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Beyond this reasonable statement on the issue of refugees — except when it comes to how you would define “realistic” — everything else outlined in the plan is unjust, unfair, unrealistic, and one-sided from a Palestinian, humanitarian, and political perspective. So, if anyone is taking notes in Washington, DC,–please do not accuse us of not having communicated our views.
Kindly take the following notes from the son of refugees; from someone whose parents lived in a refugee camp in Zarqa/Jordan; from someone whose family lost an orchard that is 79 dunums between Lod and Jaffa; from someone who has family members who to this day, live as refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon while the lucky ones live in Australia, Qatar, Spain, and the United States.
And, from someone who was born and raised in Jerusalem who was given Israel’s Jerusalem ID card – residency card – as were all of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents after the 1967 War. Yet, my right of residency was revoked in 2009 as though the right to live in one’s city of birth is not a right, but a privilege extended to me by an occupying power!
When it comes to the refugees, here is what is wrong with Trump’s Plan?
1. The plan demands that the Palestinians provide a “complete end and release of any and all claims relating to refugee or immigration status.”
Who can realistically expect refugees displaced, disposed, and disenfranchised for 72 years to forgive and forget with the signing of an agreement that does not provide them with fair compensation for what they have lost and reparations for the pain and suffering that they have endured over so many decades.
2. The plan equates Palestinian refugees with Jews who left Arab countries voluntarily
Admittedly, some were forced to leave. The Trump plan admits that “nearly all of the Jews have since been accepted and permanently resettled in Israel or other countries around the world.” In other words, they are living luxuriously on Palestinian lands and some in Palestinian homes enjoying one of the highest per capita incomes in the world.
How are these so-called Jewish refugees comparable to the Palestinian refugees living in the midst of a devastating civil war in Syria or in a near-bankrupt country like Lebanon, or in an over-crowded and poor country like Jordan?
Jews who left or were forced out of Arab countries after Israel’s establishment found homes in Palestine immediately and have lived in the laps of luxury ever since? It is clear that the Trump plan is trying to take away from what is owed to the Palestinian refugees by bringing up a mute issue.
3. The plan claims that the Palestinian refugee problem has been kept alive to keep the Arab-Israeli conflict alive.
The plan states: “The Palestinians have collectively been cruelly and cynically held in limbo to keep the conflict alive.” Maybe some of that statement is true but no one has perpetuated the conflict more than the United States’ unconditional and unwavering support of Israel which allowed it, without fear of serious repercussions, to confiscate Palestinian lands, build and expand settlements, and refuse to implement agreements signed with the Palestinians.
4. The plan demands that the Arabs absorb the refugees.
The plan states: “Their Arab brothers have the moral responsibility to integrate them into their countries as the Jews were integrated into the State of Israel.” To be blunt and not delusional — the most common factor among Arabs is their language. Beyond that, each country acts in its own self-interest like any other country. Yes, some Arab countries are more sympathetic to the Palestinians than others as much as there are European countries closer to the Palestinians than some Arab countries.
5. The plan states that “There shall be no right of return by, or absorption of, any Palestinian refugee into the State of Israel.”
Yet, it demands that Jewish refugees “who were forced to flee Arab and Muslim countries,” and most of those have “settled in the State of Israel and some settled elsewhere,” their issue, including compensation for lost assets, “must also be addressed.” Trump’s peace plan adds that “the State of Israel deserves compensation for the costs of absorbing Jewish refugees from those countries.”
Let us restate the statements above replacing the word “Jew” with the word “Palestinian” and find out if the authors of the plan will find it acceptable or fair.
Arab states and the State of Palestine “deserve compensation for the costs of absorbing Palestinian refugees” since 1948 and permanently resettling them in a location of their choice once a peace agreement is signed.
The Trump plan does not envision “compensating” Palestinian refugees. It envisions gathering funds from the international community to pay off Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt primarily to shut up and absorb the Palestinians within their borders. But where is most of that money coming from? From other Arab countries? How is that fair? Should not Israel, as the occupier of Palestine, have the responsibility to pay compensation and reparations for the Palestinians and the Palestinians refugees.
6. The plan envisions three options for Palestinian refugees seeking a permanent place of residence
a. Absorption into the State of Palestine – the plan states that the rights of Palestinian refugees to immigrate to the State of Palestine “shall be limited in accordance with agreed-upon security arrangements.” In other words, Israel has the final say and, it is all about Israel’s interests first and foremost.
Furthermore, the absorption of Palestinian refugees from outside Gaza and the West Bank into the State of Palestine “shall be agreed to by the parties (Israel and the Palestinians) and regulated by various factors, including economic forces and incentive structures, such as the rate of entry does not outpace or overwhelm the development of infrastructure and the economy of the State of Palestine, or increase security risks to the State of Israel.”
b. Local integration in current host countries (subject to those countries’ consent); or
c. The acceptance of a total of 50,000 refugees over 10 years by individual countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (subject to those individual countries’ agreement).
7. The “So-Called” Compensation Plan for the Refugees
The first and preferred idea of the plan’s sponsors is to provide compensation presumably billions of dollars in economic aid to the State of Palestine to implement the Trump Economic Plan. The funds will be used to develop “all key economic and infrastructure sectors.”
The second idea is that the plan’s sponsors will “endeavor to raise a fund to provide some compensation to Palestinian refugees” to be placed in a trust – the “Palestinian Refugee Trust” – to be administered by the State of Palestine and the United States.
8. Dismantling of UNRWA
“Upon the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, Palestinian refugee status will cease to exist, and UNRWA will be terminated and its responsibilities transitioned to the relevant governments,” according to the plan. And, the Trump Economic Plan will go toward the replacement of refugee camps in the State of Palestine with new housing developments in the State of Palestine.
How quick and convenient! Israel has a list of impossible conditions to even get to recognize the so-called State of Palestine. A state that would resemble a piece of swiss cheese. Yet, the plan gives Israel four years to recognize the State of Palestine, however, when it comes to eliminating the Palestinian refugee status, Trump’s plan states that the “refugee status” of Palestinians will cease to exist immediately “upon the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Agreement.”
In short, Trump’s plan to resolve one of the most intractable issues of the Palestine Question – the issue of refugees – is a dismal failure.
- The number of Palestinian refugees exceeds those who are non-refugees. Without properly addressing the “Right of Return,” the issues of refugee resettlement and compensation seriously, you cannot even come close to addressing the other issues on the table. Dismissing the issue of refugees, the way the Trump plan does is a deal killer.
- There is no guarantee whatsoever that even if the refugees who are willing to settle in Lebanon, Lebanon would accept them. The staunchly pro-Palestinian Hezbollah would be the first to oppose their settlement because they would tip the religious balance in Lebanon in the Sunni’s favor given that most Palestinians are Sunnis. And, how long can the Palestinians caught in Syria’s vicious war wait for Israel to decide who to allow or who not to allow into the new State of Palestine?
- The general framework of the plan regarding refugees is flawed. Israel will control the repatriation and flow of Palestinian refugees into the State of Palestine itself. In that case, that entity should not be called a state because it does not have the basic elements of what constitutes a state. It ought to be called the Israeli-controlled State of Palestine.
- Finally, to implement this plan, you need money. I have not heard of a single monetary commitment to this plan – not from the United States, not from the UAE or Saudi Arabia, and certainly not from Israel.
Without money, there is no plan. And, more importantly, without fairness and justice, there is no plan.
Prof. Bishara Bahbah was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem based “Al-Fajr” newspaper between 1983-84. He was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Peace Talks on Arms Control and Regional Security. He taught at Harvard and was the associate director of its Kennedy School’s Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.
The reproduction of this article is permissible with proper credit to Arab America and the author
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