The head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group cautioned Saturday that a long-delayed US peace plan could see Palestinian refugees and their descendants permanently settled in host countries across the region.
Speaking days after the US announced a June conference in Bahrain to lay out economic aspects of its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned of an “ominous deal aimed at eliminating the Palestinian cause.”
He said the conference’s focus on economic issues “may open the door wide open to the question of naturalizing the Palestinian brothers in Lebanon and the countries where they are located.”
A “right of return” for the few tens of thousands of surviving refugees from among the hundreds of thousands who were expelled or fled during the creation of the State of Israel in the late 1940s — and, crucially, for their millions of descendants — is a key pillar of the Palestinian cause. Israel firmly rejects the extension of refugee rights to subsequent generations, arguing that this treatment of the Palestinians is atypical of UN treatment of other refugees, and that the demand for millions to “return” to Israel amounts to a bid to demographically destroy the Jewish-majority state. The US administration, too, has been bitterly critical of the UN refugee welfare agency, UNRWA, and slashed its funding.
Many Palestinians cling tightly to hopes, enshrined in a key UN Security Council resolution, of “returning” to lands their families once owned but which are now inside Israel.
An estimated 174,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon, according to a census by national authorities in 2017. The UN estimates there are tens of thousands more.
Hezbollah has long championed the Palestinian cause, but the Palestinian presence is controversial in Lebanon, where many blame them for causing the bitter civil war that ravaged the country between 1975 and 1990.
Lebanon’s Palestinian camps suffer poverty, overcrowding, unemployment, poor and dangerous housing conditions and a lack of infrastructure.
Today, “it’s not enough to say we’re all against naturalization — the danger of naturalization is approaching,” Nasrallah said during a televised address marking the 19th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon.
He called for an urgent meeting between the government and Palestinian officials in Lebanon to “develop a plan to confront the danger.”
The Palestinians have boycotted the US administration since December 2017, when Trump broke with decades of international consensus and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Palestinians consider the eastern part of the city the capital of their future state, and fear the US plan will be heavily biased in favor of Israel.
The Palestinian leadership has said it will boycott the June 25-26 meeting in Manama, where the declared aim is to promote Palestinian prosperity as part of Trump’s “deal of the century.”
The Trump administration is expected to unveil its long-awaited plan possibly as early as next month.
The Bahrain conference could see large-scale investment pledges for the Palestinian territories but is unlikely to focus heavily on the political issues at the core of the conflict, such as the question of Palestinian refugees.