President Trump vs Palestinian Refugees - Creating a Foundation for Peace?

Sunday, August 26, 2018 |  Ryan Jones

US President Donald Trump says he has already taken Jerusalem "off the table" when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Now, he's reportedly set to demolish another of the Palestinian Authority's unacceptable hard-line positions: the right of return for millions of so-called "Palestinian refugees."

Israel's Hadashot News reported over the weekend that the Trump Administration will soon declare its opposition to the unique criteria by which the United Nations counts Palestinian refugees.

There were up to 800,000 legitimate Palestinian Arab refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. But the United Nations decided to let those original refugees pass on that status to their descendants, and their descendants after them, something it has never been done for any other refugee population.

As a result, even those descendants of the original refugees who are entirely resettled in other countries are still being counted as Palestinian refugees.

And the Palestinian Authority insists that as part of any final status peace deal, Israel must open its gates and allow those estimated 5-7 million Arabs to resettle in the Jewish state.

The Trump Administration sees the situation as ludicrous, and an obstacle to concluding a genuine peace agreement. That is something Israel has been saying for decades. Even the most liberal Israeli government would never be able to sign a deal that so threatens the Jewish demographic majority.

Instead, Trump is reportedly set to demand that the Palestinians and the international community apply to the Palestinian refugees the same rules it does to every other refugee population, which would result in there today being no more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees, a number Israel could much more reasonably work with.

The first consequence of this new approach would be the US slashing its contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a body established to aid the Palestinian refugee population, the only refugee population to get its own dedicated UN agency. Trump will also ask Israel to revoke its own approval for UNRWA to operate in the West Bank so as to choke the agency out of existence, according to the report.

Many Israelis are surprised by the no-nonsense approach Trump is taking to the conflict, after decades of American leaders trying in vain to give both sides everything they want.

The status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian "right of return" have long been the two major sticking points in peace negotiations. A firm majority of Israelis have made clear they will never surrender any part of their holiest city, Jerusalem, the division of which would anyway create a security and political nightmare. Likewise, even left-wing Israeli lawmakers have for years said they simply can't accept a Palestinian right of return that would demographically destroy the Jewish state.

Without either side budging on these issues, a genuine peace never had a chance. Will Trump taking them both "off the table" bring us any closer to that desired outcome?

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