The United States government under Donald Trump, controlled in this regard by the pro- Greater Israel billionaire Sheldon Adelson, has waged a brutal campaign against the rights and survival of Palestinian refugees since 2017, cutting US aid to both American and international organizations like UNRWA that have supported them, and trying to defund UNRWA and end the refugee status of Palestinian refugees. This is based on a kind of magical vein in Zionist thinking – that if you ignore a serious issue, it will cease to exist; even when it takes the form of millions of people.
A MAGIC WAND TO MAKE PALESTINIAN REFUGEES TO DISAPPEAR
It has been Zionist and ‘Western’ illusion since 1948 that Palestinians would just ‘disappear’ among the Arab populations of the Middle East: If you ignore them, they won’t exist.
This has basis in underestimating the strength of Palestinian identity and it also oddly overestimates the eagerness of the host countries of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East to accept and assimilate them. United States’ presidents one after the another have declared how it is impossible for Israel to accept large number of returning Palestinian refugees, while taking it for granted that neighbouring countries can and are willing to assimilate large number of refugees after marginalizing them for over 70 years.
We hear it repeated still by those, like the various members of the Trump administration, who demand that UNRWA should be closed and Palestinian refugees’ refugee status removed. This, according to people who otherwise declare that people who themselves practice Judaism, or whose ancestors did, have a right to return to Palestine after 1900 years, would solve the Palestinian refugee problem.
Just wave a magic wand and all Palestinian refugees disappear!
NO ALTERNATIVE TO RIGHT OF RETURN
Israel, which has treated Palestinian refugees with extreme hostility, campaigns for this, expecting other states to put aside their own demographic fears and embrace those whose homes and homeland Israel itself stole.
The other states across the Middle East have no intention to do so. Nor are those ‘Western’ states, which have been successfully courted by Israeli regime to support them in international diplomatic arenas, have any interest in receiving any Palestinian refugees themselves for settlement. The solution, according to them, is again just to forget that Palestinian refugees exist: 5 900 000 registered refugees will, apparently, just vanish into thin air if you take away their refugee status.
At best the other Middle Eastern states will continue to tolerate Palestinian refugees to differing extent, but they won’t naturalize them, and Palestinian refugee camps will continue to be marginalized enclaves of poverty and possible sources of instability to societies which host but refuse to naturalize or fully integrate their inhabitants. The Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, whose populations have greatly increased with arrival of both Palestinians and non-Palestinian Syrians from Syria since 2011, are an example.
This is not a sustainable situation in the long term and it’s barely sustainable today, as the situation of Palestinian refugees in Syria for example show. Over 4000 have died in the war, over 300 are missing and hundreds of thousands have had to become refugees again either inside Syria or abroad. Palestinians rank among the most common refugees trying to cross the Aegean into Europe from Turkey.
Neighbouring Lebanon, which has had no census since the French rule in 1932 for domestic political reasons, will not allow Palestinians to become full Lebanese civilians with equal rights, not only because it would create a precedent for Syrian refugees but also because up to 470 000 new, largely Sunni, citizens would call into question the delicate power-sharing arrangement existing since the end of the civil war. Trump offering Lebanon $6 billion dollars for signing into his ‘Deal of the Century’ has received condemnation across the political board, from Maronite Christians to Shiite groups like Amal and Hezbollah: No major political group will accept naturalization of Palestinian refugees.
The Hashemite kingdom of Jordan’s extended leadership fears it would not long exist (or at least keep its status and privileges) if all Palestinian refugees would be given equal rights – which, of course, would have to mean a larger process of democratic reform. Few billions of dollars from the USA would be a little comfort then. The old Israeli claim, repeated daily in social media, that “Jordan is Palestine”, is too well known – even when the same anti-Palestinian Israeli politicians, who repeat it like a religious mantra, have been one of the pillars on which the clay-feet Hashemite rule has rested for the last fifty years.
The memory of the conflict of 1970, when king Hussein II humiliatingly turned to ‘Western’ and Israeli support against Palestinian resistance groups, lies heavy over the authoritarian kingdom, and its elite has heard often enough the joke that US State Department officials from generation to generation keep telling: That the United States will hand West Bank to Israel and Jordan to Palestinians. When the regimes on which you depend for your political survival demand that you accept refugees, while joking what will happen to you if you do so, what is the Jordanian autocracy to think?
For the Palestinian refugee problem there is only one solution – returning the exiled Palestinians back home to their own, native land. There is no alternative to right of return. No one can claim it would be a painless process, but the longer it is delayed, the larger regional problem it becomes. For the sake of justice, the Jewish populations that have been forced, or have emigrated more or less willingly, since 1948, should of course be offered similar right. But Israel has not been keen to pursue the Jewish right of return when it would take this form.