A Palestine Liberation Organization official blasted US President Donald Trump’s reported plan to abrogate “the Palestinian right of return” on Sunday, describing it as “worthless nonsense.”
On Saturday, Israel’s Hadashot News reported that the Trump administration “is expected to announce a new policy in the coming days that essentially abrogates the Palestinian right of return.”
The new policy is slated to include a series of measures, including the publication of a report which puts the total number of Palestinian refugees at approximately 500,000, the TV report said.
According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, a UN body that provides Palestinian refugees with education, health, social welfare and other services, there are 5.3 million Palestinian refugees.
In sharp contrast to the definition of a refugee set out by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNRWA tally uniquely counts the millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, including those who have citizenship in other countries, a policy that has drawn fierce criticism from Israel.
In peace talks, the Palestinian leadership has always publicly demanded a “right of return” to Israel for these millions. Israel has long rejected the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their former and ancestral homes in Israel, arguing that such a move would spell the end of the country as a Jewish-majority state.
The Trump administration is also expected to announce that it rejects UNRWA’s policy of granting refugee status to the descendants of Palestinian refugees, and ask Israel to reconsider its mandate for UNRWA to operate in the West Bank, according to the report.
“The issues of Palestinian refugees is the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the region,” Abu Holi, the head of the PLO Department of Refugee Affairs, said in comments published on the official Palestinian Authority news site Wafa, in response to the report. “Its resolution can only be achieved through the implementation of United Nations resolutions, including most importantly [UN General Assembly] resolution 194.”
Issued in the middle of the Israeli War of Independence in December 1948, UN General Assembly resolution 194 says that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date” and adds that “compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property.”
Abu Holi, who also is a member of the PLO Executive Committee, added that the US administration did not have the right to determine the mandate of UNRWA.
“The party responsible for UNRWA’s mandate is the United Nations, which has the authority to decide its fate, determine the number of Palestinian refugees and set the definition of a Palestinian refugee,” he said, adding “no one in the world has the right to concede our refugees’ right of return to their homes.”
On Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett praised the Trump administration’s reported intention to change its policy with regard to Palestinian refugees.
“An American cancellation of the recognition of the fictitious ‘right’ of return and of the fictitious refugee-by-descent status would be a courageous and just step that uncovers layers of lies,” Bennett said in a statement.
In December 1949, UN General Assembly resolution 302 created UNRWA to aid Palestinian refugees in the aftermath of the war in 1948.
The fate of Palestinian refugees has long been one of the most sensitive issues in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Earlier this month, Foreign Policy reported that Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, pushed Jordan to rescind the refugee status of more than two million Palestinians residing within its borders, citing Palestinian officials.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called in the past for UNRWA to be dismantled. Last July, he accused the organization of inciting against Israel while doing nothing to help the plight of Palestinian refugees. He asked why they needed a specific body, when the UN High Commission for Refugees has helped tens of millions of displaced persons since World War II.
“The time has come to dismantle UNRWA and have its parts be integrated into the UN High Commission for Refugees,” he said.
On Friday, Pierre Krahenbuhl, the head of UNRWA, suggested that the United States had been slashing his budget to punish the Palestinians for their criticism of the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and warned that the Palestinian refugee issue would not go away.