JERUSALEM – As the international community gears up for next week’s U.S.-sponsored Annapolis summit aimed at outlining a Palestinian state, a new diplomatic initiative that proposes Jordanian citizenship for the Palestinians has been gaining some support here from across the political spectrum.
Named the Israeli Initiative, the alternative plan seeks to end widespread backing for the Palestinian Authority, dismantle what are termed Palestinian refugee camps and have Jordan grant citizenship to Arabs remaining in the West Bank while the Jews there maintain their Israeli citizenship. Israel would extend its sovereignty over the entire West Bank.
“The actions of Israeli governments to establish a Palestinian state have not brought about peace but rather a whirlpool of blood,” said Knesset member Benny Elon, the Initiative’s founder.
“It is time for new thinking, for learning from our mistakes, and for re-reading the regional map toward a revitalized and genuine quest to achieve peace,” said Elon, who is chairman of the National Union party and is a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Elon’s plan calls for millions of Palestinians living in 59 U.N.-maintained camps to be given rehabilitation packages and the option of moving to outside participating countries, where agencies would work to help with resettlement, employment and housing solutions.
The Palestinians who wish to remain in the West Bank would become Jordanian citizens who could remain in the territory – controlled by Israel – while the Jordanian Kingdom would serve as their representative body.
Jordan has yet to officially react to the plan. The country previously occupied the West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem for almost 20 years until the area was recaptured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War. The Jordanian monarchy continued to grant citizenship status to West Bank Palestinians until the late 1980’s when the Palestinians launched their first intifada.
The Israeli Initiative cites multiple recent independent Israeli and Palestinian surveys showing many Palestinians living in U.N. camps would accept compensation and emigration to outside countries.
According to a 2004 poll, about 50 percent of Palestinian society would not rule out the option of permanently moving to another country if they had the ability and means to relocate. That survey was conducted by Ma’agar Mochot, a leading Israeli polling agency, in cooperation with the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion
Two other polls this year conducted by Palestinian universities also showed strong Palestinian support for rebuilding their lives in another country.
Elon said rehabilitation packages would be paid for by the international community.
States the plan: “Billions of dollars are expended every year on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This includes American dollars poured into the regional arms race and immense sums of European money transferred to the accounts of the Palestinian Authority … The U.S., Europe, and Israel, together with the Arab oil-producing countries, can directly finance a program that would provide full and generous rehabilitation for the refugees.”
The Israeli Initiative calls for the disintegration of the Palestinian Authority with weapons being collected or taken from armed militias and for U.N. refugee camps to be progressively dismantled.
The plan is in stark contrast to the initiatives slated to be announced at next week’s Annapolis summit at which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is widely expected to outline a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank, ultimately handing the strategic territory to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization.
Earlier this week, WND quoted senior Palestinian negotiators stating Olmert agreed in principle to allow a number of Palestinian Arabs living in U.N. camps to enter Israel as part of an Israeli-Palestinian accord.
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.
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 – 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.
Israeli initiative gains broad backing
Unveiled only recently, Elon’s Initiative has already gained broad backing, including from some leftist lawmakers and U.S. politicians.
Marina Solodkin, a member of Olmert’s Kadima party, said she would endorse part of the Initiative.
“Benny was right to emphasize the refugee issue in his plan,” Solodkin said.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, chairman of the Likud party, read from the plan this week at the Knesset plenum in a show of solidarity.
Elon said he received support on Capital Hill during a visit to Washington this week, including what he called “positive meetings” with House of Representatives whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.; and Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.
‘Heart of the land of Israel’
Elon explains the West Bank, also known as the biblical territories of Judea and Samaria, “represents the heart of the land of Israel.”
“Here Abraham walked with his son Isaac, here Jacob pitched his tents, here our forefathers drove out the Canaanite nations under the leadership of Joshua Bin Nun. In the hills of Judea and Samaria, there are tens of sanctified sites of historical and religious significance.”
About 200,000 Jews live in the West Bank, which borders Jerusalem and is within rocket range of Tel Aviv and Israel’s international airport.
Many villages in the West Bank are mentioned throughout the Torah.
The Book of Genesis says Abraham entered Israel at Shechem (Nablus) and received God’s promise of land for his offspring. He later was buried in Hebron at the city’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, the second holiest site in Judaism. Hebron is the oldest Jewish city in the world.
The nearby town of Beit El, anciently called Bethel meaning “house of God,” is where Scripture says the patriarch Jacob slept on a stone pillow and dreamed of angels ascending and descending a stairway to heaven. In that dream, God spoke directly to Jacob and reaffirmed the promise of territory.
And in Exodus, the holy tabernacle rested in Shilo, believed to be the first area the ancient Israelites settled after fleeing Egypt.
Elon said Israeli forfeiture of biblical territories would “expresses the Jewish people’s rejection of its roots and lead to a loss of awareness of our rights to the country.”
His plan calls PA control over the West Bank “dangerous” for Israel and for regional stability.
“This would be a strategic catastrophe of the first magnitude. After the northern region of Israel was paralyzed following the presence of Hezbollah on our border, and after the Western Negev is absorbing a rain of Qassam rockets [following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza], it is not difficult to imagine what the central region – including Jerusalem – will look like when dominated by enemy forces.”
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