* Lebanese researcher and academic.
The information leaked regarding the proposals made by Jared Kushner, adviser to the U.S. president, and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, and their discussion with the king of Jordan about the possibility of permanently settling 2.2 million refugees in Jordan appear to be just the tip of the iceberg in the so-called “deal of the century,” especially when this trend is combined with cutting $365 million in U.S. aid to UNRWA following a previous decision to freeze $300 million of the total amount paid in 2017.
Of course, things did not stop at placing financial pressure on the U.N. agency. It was accompanied by a targeted political and media campaign that vented its anger at the role played by the international agency in preserving the Palestinian refugee cause and passing down the status of refugee from one generation to another, thereby perpetuating the Palestinian cause and ensuring the survival of the demand for the right of return. This was accompanied by two bills under consideration by Congress to limit the status of Palestinian refugee to the generation that witnessed the Nakba in 1948, which then brings the number of refugees to a figure set by some American authorities at only 40,000 Palestinians. As for the remaining millions of refugees registered with UNRWA in its five areas of operation, the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, they should hold the nationalities of the countries in which they reside. The United States would then redirect the money allocated to UNRWA to the countries concerned. This would be accompanied by the de facto abolition of UNRWA as a U.N. organization, even if not legally abolished at the United Nations, and the transfer of refugees registered with it to the UNHCR, which must manage their settlement.
Of course, Jordan announced its rejection of the U.S. proposal, especially as it entails more than the liquidation of the Palestinian refugee cause. It conceals from view that this approach aims to turn Jordan into the alternative Palestinian homeland for the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967 in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, by considering that the place of the Palestinian state should be outside “Judea and Samaria.” If this is not achieved, in the Gaza Strip and part of the Sinai area there is enough space to accommodate the establishment of an airport and industrial zone, which alleviates the overcrowding in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. administration does not recognize the existence of refugees in Gaza, although there are more than a million refugees there, nor the principle of the return of refugees from Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to their homes. Therefore, it is working to get rid of the refugee cause altogether as part of its efforts to end the thorny and unresolved issues between the Palestinians and Israel. Thus, there are moves forward on the path to resolving the “Middle East issue” and the Arab-Zionist conflict by reducing the number of refugees through a comprehensives system of measures, including economic and financial pressures to encourage them to emigrate and leave the region.
The fact is that there is a permanent settlement project owned by President Donald Trump’s administration that envisions settling large numbers of Palestinian refugees in their temporary places of residence in the host countries, with the UNHCR managing the migration of those who cannot be absorbed in those countries. It seeks to turn the page on the issue of Palestinian refugees, making responsibility for refugees limited to the UNHCR and consecrating the Jewishness of Palestine by making the nation-state law a reality. Thus, the measures will be complete: from recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the occupying state to moving the embassy there, along with all the punitive U.S. political and financial measures taken against the Palestinian people and their leadership.
Of course, this is not the first time that a settlement project has been produced for Palestinian refugees by the U.S., Israeli or others. In fact, settlement projects have accompanied the refugee cause since 1948. They have been developed by envoys sent by successive U.S. administrations, or by initiatives from companies, institutions and even individuals. The first of these projects was developed by McGee, followed by Clapp, Blandford, Eric Johnston, among others. What they had in common was considering it the gateway to settlement, thus getting rid of the refugee cause economically and developmentally. They included agricultural, industrial and vocational projects, and providing infrastructure (roads, sewers, water dams, reclamation of land, industrial and service establishments and housing plans) in Syria and Jordan, leading to the settlement of refugees in these two countries in particular, with the reduction of the number of refugees in Lebanon. Some projects added Iraq, as it can take in 1 million refugees over a period of 20 years (a British Foreign Office project in 1955 discussed this with the U.S. government as it appeared in report No. 115625/37/F), with the U.S. and other countries providing the funding for these projects.
First, the U.S. policy began with the principle of maintaining Israel’s special status and role, and confronting the Soviet threat and the communist tide. Now, the Arab fragmentation is being used to get rid of the essence of the conflict and to place its responsibilities on Arab governments. The projects have constantly faced a unified Arab-Palestinian stance that insists on the right of return, prompting Israel to prepare a file on the Jews who left Arab countries and the value of their property and having it ready, turning the cause of the return of Palestinian refugees or compensating them into the return or compensation of Jewish refugees.
It should be said that the previous projects and attempts were all aimed at getting rid of Resolution 194 (adopted on Dec. 11, 1948, at meeting No. 186, with a majority of 35 countries, with 15 voting against and eight abstaining), which consecrated the right of return or compensation. It includes many details addressing not only the protection and management of holy places, and establishing an international regime for the Jerusalem area under the supervision of the United Nations, but also stipulated linking the recognition of this decision with the recognition of the state of Israel. Yet 70 years after the resolution’s adoption, Israel does not contemplate returning refugees, but rather bringing in Jews from other countries and settling them in their nation-state.