JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed in principle to allow a number of Palestinian Arabs living in what the United Nations terms refugee camps to enter Israel as part of an Israeli-Palestinian accord, according to a senior Palestinian negotiator speaking to WND.
Palestinians have long demanded the “right of return” for millions of “refugees,” a formula Israeli officials across the political spectrum warn is code for Israel’s destruction by flooding the Jewish state with millions of Arabs, thereby changing its demographics.
Allowing any number of so-called Palestinian refugees to enter Israel would serve as an admission on Israel’s part that millions of Palestinians living in U.N.-maintained camps are indeed refugees and have a legitimate right to live in Israel.
The Palestinian negotiator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Olmert’s team agreed in principle let a select number of Palestinians living in U.N.-maintained refugee camps into Israel in a series of phases that could take up to 15 years.
Though the negotiator said an exact number had not yet been determined, he indicated there could be as many as 20,000 Palestinians living in U.N. camps, with an initial phase of several hundred entering Israel with one year of an agreement. He said the first batch of entering Palestinian Arabs would consist of a sampling from the oldest residents of various U.N. camps.
David Baker, a spokesperson for Olmert, had no comment on the report Olmert agreed to allow a number of declared refugees to enter Israel.
The Palestinian negotiator said the Israeli and Palestinians teams have been hammering out the exact language to be used at a U.S.-sponsored summit slated for Annapolis later this month at which Olmert is widely expected to outline a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank in a joint agreement of principles signed by the Israeli leader and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Various media reports – denied by Olmert – claimed in recent weeks Israel would also evacuate sections of Jerusalem and would negotiate what are considered core Israeli-Palestinian issues – primarily the status of Jerusalem and the so-called return of refugees.
When Arab countries attacked the Jewish state after its creation in 1948, some 725,000 Arabs living within Israel’s borders fled or were expelled from the area that became Israel. Also at that time, about 820,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries or fled following rampant persecution.
While most Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel and other countries, the majority of Palestinian Arabs have been maintained in 59 U.N.-run camps that do not seek to settle those Arabs elsewhere.
There are currently about 4 million Arabs who claim Palestinian refugee status with the U.N., including children and grandchildren of the original fleeing Arabs; Arabs living full-time in Jordan; and Arabs who long ago emigrated throughout the Middle East and to the West.
Other cases of worldwide refugees aided by the U.N. are handled through the international body’s High Commission for Refugees, which seeks to settle the refugees quickly, usually in countries other than those from which they fled.
The U.N. created a special agency – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA – specifically to handle registered Palestinian refugees. It’s the only refugee case handled by the U.N. in which the declared refugees are housed and maintained in camps for generations instead of facilitating the refugees’ resettlement elsewhere.
The U.N. officially restricts the definition of refugee status worldwide for nationalities outside the Palestinian arena to those who fled a country of nationality or habitual residence due to persecution, who are unable to return to their place of residence and who have not yet been resettled. Future generations of original refugees are not included in the U.N.’s definition of refugees.
But the U.N. uses a different set of criteria only when defining a Palestinian refugee – allowing future generations to be considered refugees; terming as refugees those Arabs who have been resettled in other countries, such as hundreds of thousands in Jordan; removing the clause requiring persecution; and removing the clause requiring a refugee to be fleeing his or her “country of nationality or habitual residence” – allowing for transient Arabs who didn’t normally reside within Israel to be defined as Palestinian refugees.
Palestinian leaders including Abbas routinely refer to the “right of return,” claiming the declared right is mandated by the U.N. But the two U.N. resolutions dealing with the refugee issue recommend that Israel “achieve a just settlement” for the “refugee problem.” The resolutions, which are not binding, do not speak of any “right of return,” and leave open the possibility of monetary compensation or other kinds of settlements.
To interview Aaron Klein, contact Tim Bueler Public Relations by e-mail, or call (530) 401-3285.