TEL AVIV – A Palestinian Liberation Organization official slammed President Donald Trump’s alleged plan to formally reject the Palestinian “right of return” for millions of refugees and their descendants to Israel on Sunday, describing it as “worthless nonsense.”
Washington will in the coming days announce a policy that “from its point of view, essentially cancels the ‘right of return,’” a report on Israel’s Channel 2 said.
According to Channel 2, the U.S. is set to release a report in early September claiming that there are only some half-a-million Palestinians who can legitimately be defined as refugees, contravening the existing UN designation.
Palestinian refugees are the only refugees in the world that pass that status on to their descendants in perpetuity and can hold citizenship of other countries at the same time. One of the core issues in the conflict is the Palestinian demand that those refugees and their descendants — who now number over 5 million — be allowed to return to Israel. Israel has categorically rejected this demand, deeming it a bid to destroy the Jewish state by demographics.
“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 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.”
UN General Assembly resolution 194, which was voted on during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, stipulates 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 serves on the PLO’s Executive Committee, said that the U.S. has no right to make decisions regarding UNRWA’s mandate.
“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.”
Also on Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett praised the U.S. over the move.
“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.
On Friday, the U.S. announced that it was cutting more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians.
The announcement came on the heels of a review examining U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority.
According to the official, Washington seeks “to ensure these funds are spent in accordance with US national interests and provide value to the U.S. taxpayer.”
“As a result of that review,” the official continued, “at the direction of the president, we will redirect more than $200 million in [fiscal year 2017] economic support funds originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza. Those funds will now address high-priority projects elsewhere.”
The Trump administration has already cut aid to the United Nations agency for Palestinian “refugees,” UNRWA.
In January, Trump slammed the PA over its refusal to deal with the U.S., saying his administration should not continue to give “massive payments” to the Palestinians when they are “no longer willing to talk peace.”
U.S. officials refused to comment, saying only “the administration will announce its policy on UNRWA at the appropriate time,” Saturday’s TV report said.
Earlier this month, Foreign Policy magazine published emails written by President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and other members of the peace team that slammed the agency and called for it to be shuttered.
In one email, Kushner called UNRWA “corrupt” and “unhelpful.”
“It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Kushner wrote in an email dated January 11, a few days before the U.S. froze $65 million in funding for UNRWA. “This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”
UNRWA has also come under fire on many occasions for spreading anti-Semitic hate in its schools and employing members of terror organizations and supporters of terror. In February, UN Watch released an 130-page report exposing 40 UNRWA school employees in Gaza and elsewhere who engaged in incitement to terror against Israelis and expressed “anti-Semitism, including by posting Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler.”
That month the agency also announced the suspension of an UNRWA employee suspected of having been elected a Hamas leader.
The UN itself released a report in 2015 that found Palestinian terror groups used three empty UNRWA schools in Gaza to store weapons. Moreover, it said that in at least two cases terrorists “probably” fired rockets at Israel from the schools during the 50-day summer conflict in 2014 between Israel and Hamas.
On Friday, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the head of UNRWA, implied that the U.S. aid cuts were in order to punish the Palestinians for their reaction to the U.S.’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“One cannot simply wish 5 million people away,” Kraehenbuehl said.
PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi said the Trump administration “has already demonstrated meanness of spirit in its collusion with the Israeli occupation and its theft of land and resources; now it is exercising economic meanness by punishing the Palestinian victims of this occupation.”
The PLO’s envoy to Washington responded to the latest cut by saying that the Trump administration was “weaponizing” humanitarian aid.
“This administration is dismantling decades of U.S. vision and engagement in Palestine,” Husam Zomlot said in a statement.
“After Jerusalem and UNRWA, this is another confirmation of abandoning the two-state solution and fully embracing (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s anti-peace agenda,” he added in reference to Trump’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the subsequent transfer of the U.S. embassy to the holy city.
“Weaponizing humanitarian and developmental aid as political blackmail does not work,” Zomlot said.
“Only a recommitment from this administration,” he added, “to the long-held U.S. policy of achieving peace through the two-state solution on the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem the capital of the state of Palestine and respecting international resolutions and law will provide a way forward.”