US set to announce it rejects Palestinian ‘right of return’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

US set to announce it rejects Palestinian ‘right of return’ — TV report

Israel’s Hadashot News says Trump Administration will also declare it opposes UN criteria for determining Palestinian refugees, and will move to further weaken UNRWA refugee agency

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks while US President Donald Trump listens before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks while US President Donald Trump listens before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)

The Trump Administration will announce in the next few days that it rejects the long-standing Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for million of refugees and their descendants to Israel, an Israeli television report said Saturday night. The US will announce a policy that, “from its point of view, essentially cancels the ‘right of return,’” the report said.

The “right of return” is one of the key core issues of dispute in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians claim that five million people — tens of thousands of original refugees from what is today’s Israel, and their millions of descendants — have a “right of return.” Israel rejects the demand, saying that it represents a bid by the Palestinians to destroy Israel by weight of numbers. Israel’s population is almost nine million, some three-quarters of whom are Jewish. An influx of millions would mean Israel could no longer be a Jewish-majority state.

According to the Hadashot TV report Saturday, the US in early September will set out its policy on the issue. It will produce a report that says there are actually only some half-a-million Palestinians who should be legitimately considered refugees, and make plain that it rejects the UN designation under which the millions of descendants of the original refugees are also considered refugees. The definition is the basis for the activities of UNRWA, the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

The US — which on Friday announced that it had decided to cut more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians — and has also cut back its funding for UNRWA — will also ask Israel to “reconsider” the mandate that Israel gives to UNRWA to operate in the West Bank. The goal of such a change, the TV report said, would be to prevent Arab nations from legitimately channeling aid to UNRWA in the West Bank.

Created in 1949 in the wake of the 1948 War of Independence, UNRWA operates schools and provides health care and other social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

Employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and their families protest against job cuts announced by the agency outside its offices in Gaza City on July 31, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Hadashot said the new US position represented a further endorsement of Israel’s positions, months after the administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocated the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The TV report said officials at the Trump Administration National Security Agency were refusing to comment on the story, but that the officials said that “the administration will announce its policy on UNRWA at the appropriate time.”

US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner (right) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 22, 2018. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Jerusalem/Flash90)

Earlier this month, Foreign Policy reported that Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, has been pushing to remove the refugee status of millions of Palestinians as part of an apparent effort to shutter UNRWA.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called in the past for UNRWA to be “dismantled.” Last July, for instance, 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, accusing the body of “perpetuating” the plight of Palestinian refugees.

On Friday, 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.

In this Aug. 23, 2018 photo, the head of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Pierre Kraehenbuehl speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Jerusalem (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

“One cannot simply wish 5 million people away,” Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the UNRWA commissioner, said.

On Friday, the State Department announced a cut of more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians, indicating that those tax-payer funds no longer served American interests.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the move as an attempt to “blackmail” the Palestinians into abandoning their demand for East Jerusalem and the Old City to serve as the capital of their hoped-for independent Palestinian state.

Friday’s move was the declared result of a review of US assistance to the Palestinian Authority that Trump ordered in January, following Palestinian outrage over his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there.

“As a result of that review, at the direction of the president, we will direct more than $200 million … in Economic Support Funds originally planned for programs in the West Bank and Gaza,” a State Department official said. “Those funds will now address high-priority projects elsewhere.”

This is not the first time Trump has cut longstanding aid bound to the Palestinians. In January, the White House announced it also would withhold $65 million in assistance to UNRWA.

Earlier this month, the administration released millions of dollars in frozen aid to the PA, but only for Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, an administration source said.

The funds withheld Friday are directed toward health and educational programs, as well as initiatives to make Palestinian governance more efficient. They are used both in the PA-administered West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The Trump administration said the terror group’s control of Gaza was one of the main reasons it wanted to cease its aid to the coastal enclave.

A Palestinian woman sits with a child after receiving food supplies from the United Nations’ offices at the United Nations’ offices in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, February 11, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

“This decision takes into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance in Gaza, where Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation,” the State Department official said.

The official did not give an exact amount of the funds to be cut, but said it is more than $200 million that was approved in 2017. The US had planned to give the Palestinians $251 million for good governance, health, education, and funding for civil society in the current budget year that ends September 30. But with just over a month to go before that money must be used, reprogrammed to other areas, or returned to the Treasury, less than half has actually been spent.

Washington’s withdrawal of the aid comes as Trump’s team tasked with brokering an Israeli-Palestinian accord is expected to release its long-awaited peace plan.

Kushner and Trump’s special envoy for Middle East peace Jason Greenblatt are expected to roll out the proposal in the near future, though they have provided no timetable for when that might happen.

Friday’s move was immediately castigated by the Palestinians, who said the cuts were “cheap blackmail.”

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.”

Liberal US Jewish groups also cast the cuts as detrimental to efforts, and said they would exacerbate Palestinian suffering.

The left-wing Middle East advocacy group J Street said Trump’s decision would “have a devastating impact on innocent women, children, and families,” arguing that they were intended to “cruelly punish Palestinian civilians and marginalize and undercut Palestinian leadership.”

US President Donald Trump salutes his supporters after speaking at a political rally at Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia on August 21, 2018. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

On Tuesday, Trump told a campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia, that Israel will “pay a higher price” and the Palestinians “will get something very good” in any future negotiations in return for the US having recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“It was a good thing to have done,” Trump said of his recognition of Jerusalem and the relocation of the US embassy to the capital, “because we took it off the table. Because every time there were peace talks, they never got past Jerusalem becoming the capital. So I said, let’s take it off the table. And you know what? In the negotiation, Israel will have to pay a higher price, because they won a very big thing.”

Later, seeking to allay Israeli concerns, senior US officials told Israel’s Channel 10 that “the US will not impose unacceptable conditions on Israel in its peace plan.”

UNRWA grants refugee status to all descendants of Palestinians who left or fled Israel with the establishment of the state in 1948, swelling the number to an estimated five million at present, when the number of actual refugees from that conflict is estimated to be in the low tens of thousands. In peace talks, the Palestinian leadership has always demanded a “right of return” to Israel for these millions — an influx that, if accepted by Israel, would spell the end of the Israel as a majority Jewish state.

Israel argues that the Palestinian demand is an UNRWA-facilitated effort to destroy Israel by demographic means. The Palestinians also seek an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Months of ongoing violent protests fueled by Hamas at the Gaza border with Israel were initiated in March under the banner of a “March of the Return,” and encouraged by Hamas leaders with the declared ultimate goal of erasing the border and destroying Israel.

Israel often argues that an independent Palestinian state, if agreed upon in negotiations, would absorb Palestinian refugees and their descendants, just as Israel absorbed Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern and north African countries over the decades.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Kushner said pushing to close UNRWA, end refugee status for Palestinian millions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Kushner said pushing to close UNRWA, end refugee status for Palestinian millions

Report quotes Palestinian official saying US peace envoys asked Jordan to move toward halting UNRWA’s operations there as part of wider apparent efforts to shutter agency

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner in the East Room of the White House in Washington, May 18, 2018. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner in the East Room of the White House in Washington, May 18, 2018. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, has been pushing to remove the refugee status of millions of Palestinians as part of an apparent effort to shutter the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, a report on Friday said.

Under Trump, the US has frozen hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, with the US president linking the decision to the Palestinians’ refusal to speak with his administration after he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

According to emails published Friday by Foreign Policy magazine, Kushner has been highly critical of UNRWA, with he and other White House officials weighing its closure as part of their peace efforts.

“It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Kushner wrote in an email dated January 11, just days before the US froze $65 million in funding for UNRWA. “This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”

“Our goal can’t be to keep things stable and as they are… Sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there,” he added in the email, according to Foreign Policy.

Uniquely, UNRWA grants refugee status to all descendants of Palestinians who left or fled Israel with the establishment of the state in 1948, swelling the number to an estimated five million at present, when the number of actual refugees from that conflict is estimated to be in the low tens of thousands. In peace talks, the Palestinian leadership has always demanded a “right of return” to Israel for these millions — an influx that, if accepted by Israel, would spell the end of the Israel as a majority Jewish state.

Israel argues that the Palestinian demand is an UNRWA-facilitated effort to destroy Israel by demographic means. The Palestinians also seek an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Months of ongoing violent protests fueled by Hamas at the Gaza border with Israel were initiated under the banner of a “March of the Return,” and encouraged by Hamas leaders with the declared ultimate goal of erasing the border and destroying Israel.

Israel argues that an independent Palestinian state, if agreed upon in negotiations, would absorb Palestinian refugees and their descendants, just as Israel absorbed Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern and north African countries over the decades.

Palestinians collect food aid at a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

In an email from later in January, an adviser to Jason Greenblatt — Trump’s Middle East peace envoy — suggested UNRWA’s closure as part of the US peace push.

“UNRWA should come up with a plan to unwind itself and become part of the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] by the time its charter comes up again in 2019,” wrote Victoria Coates.

Coates described the proposition as one of the “spitball ideas that I’ve had that are also informed by some thoughts I’ve picked up from Jared, Jason and Nikki,” referring to Haley, the US ambassador to the UN.

Other proposals raised were moving UNRWA to a monthly operating budget and coming up with “a plan to remove all anti-Semitism from educational materials.”

The report also quoted Palestinian officials saying Kushner and Greenblatt in June asked Jordan to remove the refugee status of some 2 million Palestinians in order to end UNRWA’s operations in the country.

“[Kushner said] the resettlement has to take place in the host countries and these governments can do the job that UNRWA was doing,” said Palestinian Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi, according to Foreign Policy.

“They want to take a really irresponsible, dangerous decision and the whole region will suffer,” she added, claiming the White House wanted Gulf states to pick up the tab for whatever this would cost Jordan.

Saeb Erekat, speaks at the Haaretz and New Israel Fund conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York on December 13, 2015. (Amir Levy/Flash90)

Shortly after the reported request, top Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Kushner and Greenblatt of seeking the “termination” of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency.

“They want to terminate the role of UNRWA by proposing direct aid to the countries hosting the Palestinian refugees and sideline the UN agency,” Erekat said at the time. “On top of this, they are planning financial aid to the Gaza Strip worth one billion dollars for projects, also separate from UNRWA and under the title of solving a humanitarian crisis.”

He added: “All this is actually aimed at liquidating the issue of the Palestinian refugees.”

The White House would not directly comment on the Foreign Policy report, though an official told the magazine that the US position on UNRWA “has been under frequent evaluation and internal discussion. The administration will announce its policy in due course.”

Israel, which has also sometimes accused UNRWA of employing Palestinians who support terrorism, says UNRWA’s definition of Palestinian refugees helps to perpetuate the Palestinian narrative of Israeli illegitimacy. It notes that UNRWA’s policy of granting refugee status to the descendants of Palestinian refugees, even when they are born in other countries and have citizenship there, does not apply to the refugees cared for by the UN’s main refugee agency, UNHCR, which cares for all other refugees worldwide. The population of Palestinian refugees thus grows each year, even as other refugee populations in the world shrink with each passing generation.

A spokesman for the Israel Embassy in Washington, Elad Strohmayer, told Foreign Policy: “We believe that UNRWA needs to pass from the world as it is an organization that advocates politically against Israel and perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem.”

US President’s peace process envoy Jason Greenblatt, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the President’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The Foreign Policy report came as US officials say the Trump administration is staffing up a Middle East policy team at the White House in anticipation of unveiling its long awaited but largely mysterious Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

The National Security Council last week began approaching other agencies seeking volunteers to join the team, which will work for peace pointmen Kushner and Greenblatt, according to the officials.

The creation of a White House team is the first evidence in months that a plan is advancing. Although Trump officials have long promised the most comprehensive package ever put forward toward resolving the conflict, the emerging plan has not been described with even a small amount of detail by Kushner, Greenblatt or any other official.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Hamas official: 50 of the 62 Gazans killed in border violence were our members

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hamas official: 50 of the 62 Gazans killed in border violence were our members

Salah Bardawil’s confirmation means number of acknowledged members of terror groups who died on Monday and Tuesday is now 53

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires near the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City, on May 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires near the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City, on May 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

A Hamas official on Wednesday acknowledged that 50 of the 62 Palestinians reported killed during Gaza border riots on Monday and Tuesday were members of the Islamist terrorist group, bringing the total number of known members of terror groups among the fatalities up to 53.

“In the last rounds of confrontations, if 62 people were martyred, 50 of them were Hamas,” said Hamas official Salah Bardawil in an interview with the Palestinian Baladna news outlet.

The Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad had said on Tuesday that three members of its Saraya al-Quds military wing were killed by Israeli forces in Khan Younis.

The Israeli military shared a portion of Bardawil’s interview with an Arabic news outlet, accompanied by English captions.

IDF

@IDFSpokesperson

Hamas official, Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil is clear about terrorist involvement in the riots

“This proves what so many have tried to ignore: Hamas is behind these riots, and the branding of the riots as ‘peaceful protests’ could not be further from the truth,” said IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, 62 people in total were killed during border clashes on Monday and Tuesday.

Israel has not put out its own official death toll, but officials have questioned the accuracy of the Hamas-provided figure. In one case, a Gazan doctor told the Associated Press that an 8-month-old baby, who the Gaza ministry said died after inhaling Israeli tear gas on Monday, had a preexisting medical condition and that he did not believe her death was caused by tear gas.

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday had said that at least 24 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were killed in day-long clashes Monday. At that stage, Hamas acknowledged 10 of the dead were its members.

Hamas press release on May 15, 2918, announcing the deaths of 10 of its Interior Ministry members in clashes with the IDF the day prior. (Courtesy)

The IDF said its number was based on a joint investigation with the Shin Bet security service.

“Most of the people [from terror groups] killed belonged to the Hamas terror group, and some to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” an IDF spokesperson said.

Among the dead, the IDF said on Tuesday, were all eight members of a cell of armed Hamas operatives who were killed in a gun battle as they sought to breach the fence in the northern Gaza Strip.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said 60 people were killed in Monday’s demonstrations, most by gunfire, and more than 2,700 were injured. Another two Palestinian men were killed Tuesday as smaller protests broke out in Gaza, the ministry said.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other senior officers monitor the Gaza security fence during violent protests along the border on May 14, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has blamed Hamas for the deadly violence, saying the terror group encouraged and led the protests, which included attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to breach the border fence. The IDF said Sunday that Hamas planned to send armed terrorists through any breach in the fence to “massacre” Israelis.

After the first “March of Return” protests in March, Hamas acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities, but it subsequently refrained from acknowledging whether its men were among the dead.

On Thursday, Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar said he hoped to see a mass breach of the Israeli border during Monday’s protests timed to coincide with the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem.

For Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza and seeks Israel’s destruction, Monday’s border protest was the culmination of a weeks-long campaign to try to break the blockade on the territory. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from acquiring weaponry and attacking the Jewish state.

Monday’s demonstrations also protested the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, viewed as a major provocation by the Palestinians and the Arab world. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Palestinian protesters look up at falling tear gas cannisters dropped by an Israeli quadcopter drone during clashes near the border with Israel east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 15, 2018. (AFP/ SAID KHATIB)

Hamas has said protests would continue in a weekly format, but it was not clear if it would be able to maintain momentum during the fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this week.

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