OpinionMiddle East

Will Trump’s Mideast deal naturalize Palestinians in Arab countries?

This salutary U.S. initiative has the potential to rescind the recognition of the bulk of the Palestinian diaspora as “refugees.”

U.S. President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at United Nations headquarters in New York City on Sept. 26, 2018. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.
U.S. President Donald Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at United Nations headquarters in New York City on Sept. 26, 2018. Photo by Avi Ohayon/GPO.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

In recent weeks, rumors have been swirling as to the substance of the much-anticipated “deal of the century,” billed by the Trump administration as a compelling blueprint for resolving the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has plagued the region for decades.

Shrouded in secrecy, it has long been held under wraps by the White House, allegedly waiting for an opportune moment to unveil it. In this regard, recent reports suggest that Trump may well be planning to present it publicly, soon after the upcoming elections in Israel in April.

While most of the attention, and speculation, has been focused on the concessions—principally the territorial ones—that the sides will purportedly be called upon to make, there is another element, just as significant, indeed, arguably more so, that is now being alluded to as comprising a central component of the “deal.”

This is the naturalization of the Palestinian diaspora, numbering several million, resident for decades in various countries across the Arab world—particularly, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

This development is an upshot of the Trump administration’s laudable approach to the anomalous U.N. entity, UNRWA (The United Nation Relief and Works). I have detailed elsewhere why UNRWA is such an egregious and injurious anomaly and what pernicious consequences result from this perverse situation. According, it will suffice here to point out that because of the unique (read “anomalous”) definition that UNRWA has for determining who is a refugee and mandate of how they are to be dealt with, the number of designated “refugees” has increased dramatically over time. This is in stark contradiction to all other groups of refugees in the world, who are under the auspices of another U.N. entity, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and whose numbers typically decrease over time

In this matter, the U.S. administration has, despite hitherto unexplained and inexplicable Israeli reluctance, exposed the fraudulent fiasco of UNRWA. As its erstwhile biggest benefactor, the United States, has retracted all funding from the organization. But more importantly, it has focused a glaring spotlight on the myth of the “Palestinian refugees” and the spectacularly inflated number of such alleged “refugees,” which even include those who have long acquired citizenship of some other country.

This salutary U.S. initiative has the potential to rescind the recognition of the bulk of the Palestinian diaspora as “refugees.” Thus, even if they continue to receive international aid to help ameliorate their humanitarian situation, this will not be as potential returnees to their alleged homeland in Israel.

Clearly, once the Palestinian diaspora is stripped of its fraudulent “refugee” status, the door is then open to settling them in third-party countries, other than their claimed homeland, and to their naturalization as citizens of these counties, as is the case with other refugee groups in the world.

In this regard, the Trump administration has reportedly undertaken an important initiative (see herehere and here). According to these reports, Trump has informed several Arab countries that he plans to disclose a citizenship plan for Palestinian refugees living in those countries.

Significantly, Palestinian sources told a London-based news outlet: “Trump informed several Arab countries that the plan will include Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.” According to these sources: “the big surprise [is] that these countries have already agreed to naturalize Palestinian refugees.” Moreover, it was reported that senior U.S. officials are expected to seriously raise an American initiative with several Arab countries, including stipulation of the tools to implement it, the number of refugees, the required expenses, and the logistics demanded from hosting countries for supervising the process of “naturalization of refugees.”

It is difficult to overstate the significance of such an initiative.

For, no matter what the other elements of the “ultimate deal” are, it has the potential to remove the ominous overhang of a 5 million-strong (and counting) Palestinian diaspora that threatens to inundate the Jewish state and nullify its ability to function as the nation-state of the Jewish people. It is therefore an element that deserves firm support and encouragement, and should be resolutely pursued as a “stand alone” initiative—irrespective of how one envisages any prospective division of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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