A day after US President Donald Trump declared that he had taken the vexed issue of Jerusalem’s fate “off the table” for peace negotiations, Israel’s next goal is to have the US similarly make plain that it rejects demands for a so-called “right of return” of millions of Palestinians to Israel, a TV report said Friday.
Quoting what it said were diplomats who are following the process, Hadashot TV news said that now that Trump has declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, “the assessment is that the next step will be to remove the ‘right of return'” from the list of final status issues to be resolved.
After that is done, the TV report said, Trump will present the “proposal for peace” that he spoke of on Thursday — a proposal, the Hadashot TV reporter remarked, that might better be described “perhaps as the Netanyahu plan” since it is expected to meet many of the Israeli prime minister’s demands.
The Palestinian Authority has been boycotting the Trump administration since December 6, when Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said he would move the US embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv. In that address, the president said the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem would still have to be negotiated by the two sides, and thereby did not negate Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem. Sitting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos on Thursday, however, Trump said: “We took Jerusalem off the table, so we don’t have to talk about it anymore.” He added, turning to Netanyahu, “You won one point, and you’ll give up some other points later on in the negotiation.”
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.
In his unscripted remarks to the press on Thursday, Trump said the US would no longer transfer monetary aid to the Palestinians unless they entered peace negotiations with Israel, and excoriated the Palestinian leadership’s reaction to his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“That money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace, because I can tell you that Israel does want to make peace, and they’re going to have to want to make peace, too, or we’re going to have nothing to do with it any longer,” he said.
The US is also considering shutting down the offices of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, the de facto embassy of the Palestinian Authority in the US, if Ramallah continues to refuse to take part in peace talks, Hadashot TV news reported Thursday.