BEIRUT — “Insulting.” “Shameful.” “A disgrace.” Those were some of the words used by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon on Wednesday to describe a White House plan for ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
At refugee camps across the country, Palestinians staged strikes, protests and sit-ins a day after US President Donald trump revealed the long-awaited details of the plan, denouncing it as ridiculously lop-sided and saying it gives them no rights.
“Trump’s words mean nothing to us. This isn’t his land for him to bargain or sell or give to someone else,” said Sawsan Warde, a middle-aged Palestinian woman at the crowded Bourj al-Barajneh camp in the Lebanese capital. “He can give the Jewish people or Netanyahu a part of his land, but Palestine is for us. It was, it is and will always be ours.”
The words reflected the deep bitterness felt by Palestinians at the plan unveiled by Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Tuesday. The plan supports the Israeli position on nearly all of the most contentious issues in the decades-old conflict and falls far short of Palestinian demands, leaving them with disjointed areas and allowing Israel to annex its settlements in the West Bank.
“A thousand no’s,” said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in response.
Among Palestinian refugees, many likened the plan to the Balfour Declaration, the British government’s promise in 1917 to Zionists to create a Jewish home in Palestine.
“This is an extension of the Balfour declaration,” said Mariam Gebril, who took part in a protest at the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp — an overpopulated, sprawling territory just south of Beirut that houses up to 70,000 refugees and their descendants.
“Trump thinks he controls the world and other countries. He imposes sanctions, opens and closes embassies as he wishes. … The world doesn’t work this way,” she said, saying Palestinians need to fight back with weapons because diplomacy and negotiations do not work.
Protesters burned tires and pictures of Trump and Netanyahu. They also set on fire to American and Israeli flags. Many expressed outrage at Gulf Arab countries they see as complicit in the plan unveiled Tuesday. Representatives from the Arab countries of Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates were present at the White House on Tuesday, but there were no Palestinian representatives.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war around its creation. Those refugees and their descendants now number around 5 million and are scattered across the region. The Palestinians believe they have the “right of return” to former properties, something Israel has always rejected, noting that the demanded influx of millions would destroy Israel’s Jewish character, and opposing the UN’s designation of generations of descendants of the original refugees as refugees in their own right.
The White House plan says “there shall be no right of return by, or absorption of, any Palestinian refugee into the state of Israel.” It says refugees can live in the state of Palestine, become citizens of the countries where they live or be absorbed by other countries, adding that the US will try to provide ”some compensation” to refugees.
At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.
No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.
“It is shameful and it makes you want to cry,” said Warde. “The collusion by Arab countries is what makes us want to cry even more. Whether from Bahrain or the UAE, we would never have thought an Arab country would take this stance.”
Many warned a return to armed conflict was now inevitable.
“Neither Trump nor Netanyahu can decide for the 13 million Palestinian people that this land belongs to Israel,” said Mahmoud al-Haj, whose family hails from the city of Safed in northern Israel.
“This is the land of our grandfathers and we will not give up Palestine which will only come back through resistance and arms.”