Posts Tagged ‘West Bank’

Israel Closes Gaza Crossing Following Clashes at Border Protests

August 19, 2018
The Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

Israel announced Sunday that it has closed the Erez crossing for movement, with the exception of pressing humanitarian cases, due to the ongoing clashes at the border with Gaza that carried on over the weekend.

The Erez crossing, situated along the northern part of the Strip, is used for the movement of people between the Strip and Israel.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that he made the decision to close the crossing after a situation assessment he made on Saturday due to ‘violent events at the border last Friday.’

On Friday afternoon, Gaza’s Health Ministry said that two Palestinians died and hundreds more were injured in clashes with the Israeli military amid a protest. The Israeli military stated that several Palestinians attempted to breach the border fence and that thousands disrupted order in the area, prompting forces on the ground to use riot dispersal means as well as live fire to disperse the demonstrators.

Last week, Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing, the commercial crossing through which fuel, gas and other provisions are passed into the coastal enclave.

The crossing had been closed due to the hostilities that erupted between Israel and the Palestinians after several weeks throughout which Israel’s south was targeted by incessant rocket fire.

Also last week, Israel and Hamas reached a cease-fire agreement that went into effect on Wednesday.

Israeli ministers discussed Wednesday the details of the agreement, brokered by the United Nations and Egypt, in a special meeting on the situation in Gaza.

The understandings are based on the principles that were agreed upon by the parties at the end of the 2014 Operation Protective Edge. These include, in the first stage, lifting restrictions at the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing and on the fishing area in Gaza, in addition to rehabilitation of Gaza infrastructure, in return for a cessation of attacks from both sides.

The agreement was approved in principle by the security cabinet minister on Sunday during a cabinet discussion, though not by vote. The only ones who objected, as publicly announced, were  Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

Lieberman did not object but supported the position of the defense establishment in favor of the agreement. On Wednesday, the agreement entered into force, the details were again presented and the security cabinet received an update on the progress.



Israel closes people crossing with Gaza — After firebombs and IEDs hurled at the border fence, Israel says

August 19, 2018


Israel closed its only crossing for people with the Gaza Strip on Sunday except for humanitarian cases over border incidents that saw protests and clashes at the weekend, an Israeli official said.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli defence ministry unit that oversees the passage confirmed that the Erez crossing had been closed.

Border protests and clashes on Friday left two Palestinians dead by Israeli gunfire.

Israel’s army said firebombs and IEDs were also hurled at the border fence, while a number of Palestinians briefly crossed into Israeli territory.

Image result for Erez crossing, photos

The closure and border incidents occurred despite attempts by Egypt and UN officials to reach a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the blockaded Gaza Strip.

The spokeswoman for the defence ministry unit, known as COGAT, did not say how long the crossing would be closed.

The Palestinian Authority civilian affairs office in Gaza also confirmed the closure except for medical cases and Palestinians seeking to cross back into the enclave.

Israel has enforced an air, land and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip for more than a decade, but grants permission to a limited number of people to cross for various reasons.

Israel had just last week reopened its only goods crossing with Gaza after closing it to most deliveries for more than a month over border tensions.

Protests and clashes began on the Gaza border on March 30 and have continued at varying levels since then.

At least 171 Gazans have been killed by Israeli fire during that time. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July.

There have also been several severe military flare-ups, including three since July.

UN officials and Egypt have been seeking to secure a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel to allow for humanitarian issues in the impoverished enclave of two million people to be addressed.

Israel is demanding calm and a return of the remains of two soldiers Hamas is believed to be holding.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.



Peace Between Palestinians and the Jews? Abbas calls for Intensifying “Popular Resistance” Against Israel

August 18, 2018

The Palestinians, he said, should not “underestimate the importance of popular resistance.”

 AUGUST 18, 2018 18:51

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a news conference following the extraord

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a news conference following the extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey. (photo credit: REUTERS/OSMAN ORSAL)


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday called on Palestinians to “keep the ground aflame with popular resistance” against Israel. The Palestinians, he said, should not “underestimate the importance of popular resistance.”
In closing remarks in Ramallah to the PLO Central Council, a key decision-making body, Abbas called on Palestinians to protest at Khan al-Ahmar, the Bedouin shantytown located east of Ma’aleh Adumim which is slated for demolition.
He claimed the decision to demolish Khan al-Ahmar and evict its 180 residents was part of an Israeli plan to divide the West Bank.
Abbas repeated his demand that Hamas hand full control over the Gaza Strip to the Ramallah-based PA government. Otherwise, he said, Hamas should assume full responsibility over the coastal enclave.
“There should be one state, one system, one law and one security force in the Gaza Strip,” Abbas added. “If they [Hamas] don’t want to hand the responsibilities over to the Palestinian Authority, then they should assume their responsibilities.”
Abbas said that any funds earmarked for the Gaza Strip should be channeled only through the PA government.
The PLO council, which concluded a three-day conference, reaffirmed Palestinian opposition to US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East and vowed to pursue efforts to thwart it.
“The US administration is a partner of the Israeli occupation government,” the council alleged. “It is part of the problem, and not part of the solution.”
The Palestinians will continue with their policy of suspending political relations with the US administration until it backtracks on its “illegal decisions” regarding Jerusalem, refugees and settlements, the council said in its statement.
It was referring to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, cut US funds to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, and what Palestinians perceive as US support for settlements.
The PLO delegates affirmed their commitment to the idea of holding an international conference for peace in the Middle East under international sponsorship, including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
With regards to Palestinian-Israeli relations, the PLO council said, “The relationship of our people with the Israeli government is based on a conflict between our people and our state, which is under occupation, and the force of occupation. Our direct goal is the independence of the State of Palestine. This requires moving from the phase of self-rule to the phase of statehood.”
The council approved previous decisions taken by other Palestinian institutions, including the Palestinian National Council, to carry out a “comprehensive definition of political, economic, and security ties” with Israel, “revoke recognition of Israel until it recognizes the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, and suspend all forms of security coordination [with Israel].”
The PLO council also decided to form a “higher committee” to “safeguard” UNRWA and pursue efforts to provide the needed funds so that the UN agency would be able to assume its responsibilities toward Palestinian refugees.
Referring to current efforts to achieve a long-term truce between Israel and the Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip, the council said it was categorically opposed to “suspicious projects aimed at separating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and the eternal capital of Palestine, Jerusalem.”
The PLO council claimed the Egyptian and UN-sponsored efforts to achieve a truce in return for humanitarian and economic aid to the Gaza Strip were part of Trump’s unrevealed peace plan.
“The truce with the Israeli occupation is the national responsibility of the PLO, which is the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” the council said. “It is not a factional issue.”
The PLO council warned that the talk about humanitarian and economic projects in the Gaza Strip was aimed at “destroying the Palestinian national project and liquidating the Palestinian cause.” It stressed there will be “no state in the Gaza Strip, and no state without the Gaza Strip.”
The council called on the Palestinian Authority government to immediately cancel all measures it had taken with regard to salaries and financial payments to civil servants in the Gaza Strip. It also praised the “heroic” Hamas-sponsored protests along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which are being held in the context of the so-called “March of Return.”
The PLO council called on Palestinians to step up and expand the “popular resistance” against Israel and support the anti-Israel BDS movement.

Denouncing UN chief, Israel’s Ambassador Danon says Gazans need protection from Hamas, not Israel

August 18, 2018
“The only protection the Palestinian people need is from their own leadership.”

Envoy to international body mocks ‘delusional’ proposals to protect civilians in Gaza and West Bank; says terror group governing Strip ‘uses the people in Gaza as hostages’


US Ambassador Danny Danon addressing the UN General Assembly, June 13, 2018 (screen shot UN)

US Ambassador Danny Danon addressing the UN General Assembly, June 13, 2018 (screen shot UN)

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon condemned on Saturday several suggestions aimed at boosting protection of Palestinians, which were proposed the day before by the international body’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The Jewish state’s envoy claimed that Arab civilians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank required shielding from their own leaders, rather than from Israel.

Guterres’s proposals included sending UN rights monitors and unarmed observers, and deploying a military or police force under UN mandate. The suggestions were contained in a report requested by the General Assembly in response to a surge of violence in Gaza, where 171 Palestinians have been killed during Hamas-led clashes with Israeli troops since late March.

“The only protection the Palestinian people need is from their own leadership,” Danon said in a statement. “The [Palestinian Authority] incites its people to demonize and attack Jews, and Hamas, a terrorist organization, uses the people in Gaza as hostages and endangers the lives of civilians for terror’s sake.”

“Instead of delusional suggestions on how to protect the Palestinian people from Israel, the UN should hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for the harm caused to its own people,” he further charged.

Danon added that the suggestions presented by Guterres “would only bring about continued Palestinian suffering at the hands of their leaders.”

In this file photo taken on June 21, 2018 UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference after his meeting with the Russian foreign minister in Moscow. (AFP Photo/Yuri Kadobnov)

In his report, the UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary. It remained unlikely, however, that Israel would agree to the recommendations.

In the 14-page report, Guterres proposed:

– Providing a “more robust UN presence on the ground” with rights monitors and political officers to report on the situation.

– Pouring in more UN humanitarian and development aid to “ensure the well-being of the population.”

– Creating a civilian observer mission that would be present in sensitive areas such as checkpoints and near Israeli settlements, with a mandate to report on protection issues.

– Deploying an armed military or police force, under a UN mandate, to provide physical protection to Palestinian civilians.

Palestinians take part in clashes with Israeli troops along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City on July 27, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

A UN mandate for a protection force would require a decision from the Security Council, where the United States could use its veto power to block a measure opposed by Israel.

A small European-staffed observer mission was deployed in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994, but Israel has since rejected calls for an international presence in flashpoint areas.

In the report, Guterres said the United Nations was already undertaking many protection initiatives but that “these measures fall short” of the concerns raised in a General Assembly resolution adopted in June.

In that measure, the 193-nation assembly condemned Israel for the deaths in Gaza and tasked Guterres with the drafting of proposals for “an international protection mechanism” for the Palestinians. Many of those killed have been acknowledged as members of Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups.

Israel maintains soldiers have opened fire in accordance with army regulations and accuses Hamas, the terror group that runs Gaza and is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction, of using the clashes as cover to attempt to breach the border fence and carry out attacks.

‘Unacceptable’ targeting of civilians

Guterres argued that a political solution to the conflict was needed to address the safety of Palestinians, but that “until such a solution is achieved, member-states may further explore all practical and feasible measures that will significantly improve the protection of the Palestinian civilian population.”

“Such measures would also improve the security of Israeli civilians,” he said.

There was no immediate response from Israeli officials to the Guterres proposals.

On Friday, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said two Palestinians taking part in clashes along the Gaza border were killed and another 270 Palestinians were wounded.

The Israel Defense Forces said thousands of Palestinians took part in the riots, hurling improvised bombs and Molotov cocktails at troops. Others launched balloons carrying pictures of so-called “martyrs” who had been killed by Israel. Several attempted to infiltrate the border.

Hamas leadership had urged the public to participate in Friday’s protests.

Palestinians take part in clashes on the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on August 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Israel has defended its use of live ammunition in Gaza by invoking its right to self-defense. An Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July.

“The targeting of civilians, particularly children, is unacceptable,” Guterres said in the report, adding that “those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable.”

UN efforts to ensure the well-being of Palestinians must be strengthened, he added, singling out the funding crisis at the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as being “of particular concern.”

UNRWA is facing a major budget shortfall after US President Donald Trump’s administration decided to withhold its contribution to the agency, with the President linking the decision to the Palestinians’ refusal to speak with his administration after he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and because they were “no longer willing to talk peace.”

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)

Jared Kushner, 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, according to emails published earlier this month by Foreign Policy magazine.

Israel has often criticized UNRWA, accusing it of sheltering terrorists and allowing Palestinians to remain refugees even after settling in a new city or country for many generations, thus complicating a possible resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The report released to all UN member-states comes amid a vacuum in Middle East peace efforts as European and other big powers await a peace plan from the Trump administration that has been under discussion for months.

UN diplomats have recently begun questioning whether the US peace plan will ever materialize.

The United Nations has warned that a new war could explode in Gaza, as Israel and Hamas have engaged in a number of brief exchanges of fire in recent months that have included the launching of hundreds of rockets and mortars toward Israeli territory by Palestinian terror groups.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.


Egypt finalizing details of long-term Hamas-Israel truce

August 17, 2018

Egypt is finalizing details of a long-term truce deal between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, an Egyptian security source said on Thursday, amid easing tensions on the border of the enclave where some two million Palestinians live.

Cairo has brokered an interim truce that has allowed commercial goods into Gaza ahead of the Muslim Eid Al-Adha feast which starts next week.

Image result for palestinians, protests, photos

“We are putting the final touches to the terms of the truce that will be signed by all sides, and we expect to announce the terms next week if Fatah helps us to do so,” the source said, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s mainstream party which dominates the occupied West Bank.

Officials from Fatah have not joined those of Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, and other Palestinian factions for the talks in Cairo on the long-term truce.

But Fatah’s backing is crucial for any deal as the party retains a large presence in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and has overall control in areas under Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank.

“The period of calm will be for one year, during which contacts will be held to extend it for another four years,” the source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A long-term truce could pave the way for talks on other issues, including the easing of a blockade that has crippled Gaza’s economy and allowing a possible swap of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.

The source said Egyptian intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel, was expected to meet Abbas in Ramallah after similar talks in Israel, and a deal could be announced by next week. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Kamel had met with Netanyahu in Israel this week, but gave no details.

A Palestinian source in Ramallah said Kamel has left without seeing Abbas, who had been preoccupied with a Palestinian leadership conference. But the source said Abbas had informed Egypt that Fatah representatives would join the Cairo talks later this week or next week.

Apart from the opening of its Kerem Shalom commercial crossing into Gaza, Israel also expanded the enclave’s fishing zone, in waters under Israeli naval blockade, from three to nine nautical miles off the southern coast and to six nautical miles in the north, according to the head of Gaza’s fishermen’s union.

The Egyptian security source said the extended truce would also include opening a sea lane from Gaza to Cyprus under Israeli supervision.

A Palestinian official in Gaza familiar with the talks said Palestinian factions were demanding a “total lifting of the blockade on Gaza, opening all crossings with Israel and Egypt and a water corridor.”
Israel says its blockade is a self-defense measure against Hamas, a group that has called for its destruction.

Israel’s security cabinet, a forum of senior ministers headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussed the Gaza situation on Wednesday and an Israeli “diplomatic official” said Hamas would have to prove its commitment to the truce.

As well as wanting calm along the border, Israel has said Hamas must return the remains of two soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war and release two civilians whose fate is unknown. It says they are being held by Hamas in Gaza.

“That’s the only way,” Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said on Thursday when asked if a broad arrangement depended on the return of the soldiers’ bodies.

“Nothing will be done to enable (Gaza’s) significant rehabilitation and the improvement of infrastructure and ports and other such fantasies, unless they release the bodies and the two Israeli captives,” he told Israel radio.

The Egyptian security source said the long-term truce would also envisage Israel freeing hundreds of detained Palestinians in a prisoner swap.

However, the Palestinian official denied any talks were taking place on a swap, saying Hamas opposed mixing the issues.

Egypt has brokered a Palestinian reconciliation agreement that provides for Hamas to cede control of Gaza to Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. A dispute over power-sharing has hindered implementation of the deal, but the Egyptian source said Cairo was still seeking progress on the issue.


Hatred For Abbas Evident in Palestinian Media — Signaling a Further Tilt Toward Hamas?

August 6, 2018

The father of 11-year-old Abdul Rahman Nofal contacted me asking for help. His son was shot in the leg during Gaza’s “March of Return” protests. The territory’s dilapidated health care system could not save the little boy’s leg, as it was later amputated.

His father Yamen, himself a young man from the Buraij refugee camp in central Gaza, only wants his child to receive a prosthetic leg so he can walk to school. Israel is refusing the boy a permit to cross into Ramallah to receive treatment. Desperate, Yamen composed a video where he pleads with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to help his son. So far, his pleas have gone unanswered.

Image may contain: 2 people

Mahmoud Abbas

“What did this innocent child do to deserve such mistreatment?” Yamen asks in the short video. The same question can be asked regarding the ill-treatment of all of Gaza’s children and of all Palestinian children.

Abbas and Israel have subjected Palestinians in Gaza to a prolonged campaign of collective punishment. As cruel as Israel’s repeated wars on the impoverished and besieged territory have been, it is consistent with the country’s history of war crimes and apartheid. What Abbas is doing to Gaza is not just unfair but also puzzling.

By Ramzy Baroud

Why is he so keen on engaging Israel through so-called security coordination, yet so insistent on isolating and punishing his own people in Gaza? Instead of helping Gazans, who are reeling under the destructive outcomes of Israeli wars and over a decade of hermetic siege, Abbas has been tightening the noose.

The PA has thus far cut salaries it previously paid to Gaza employees, even those loyal to his Fatah faction. He has cut salaries to the families of Gaza prisoners held in Israel. He has even withheld payments to the Israeli electric company that provided Gaza with some of its electricity needs, plunging it even further into darkness. Like Israel, Abbas wants to see Gaza on its knees. But unlike Israel, he is humiliating his own brethren.

Starting on May 14, when thousands of Palestinians in Gaza went to the fence separating the imprisoned enclave from Israel, his supporters in the West Bank viewed the protests as a validation of Fatah’s rival Hamas. So they took to the streets in celebration of his imaginary achievements.

Hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and thousands more wounded in the ongoing “March of Return,” many of them children. But Abbas and his Fatah allies are far more interested in ensuring their own relevance than joining the protests to demand an end to the Gaza blockade.

When much larger rallies were held in Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank calling on Abbas to end his punishment of Gaza, they were attacked by his security goons. Men and women were beaten up, and many were arrested for their solidarity with Gaza, now an unforgivable act.

The truth is that Palestinians in the West Bank, not just in Gaza, loathe Abbas. They want him and his violent, corrupt apparatus to go away. But he refuses, crafting all sorts of tactics to ensure his dominance over his opponents, going as far as working with Israel to achieve such a dishonorable objective.

However, Abbas still wants to convince Palestinians that he is resisting — not the type of useless resistance displayed by Gazans, but his own style of peaceful civil resistance of villages in the West Bank. Such emphasis was made once more in recent days. As soon as Palestinian teenage protester Ahed Tamimi was released after eight months in an Israeli prison for slapping an Israeli soldier, Abbas was ready to host her and her family.

Ahed is a symbol for a rebellious young Palestinian generation that is fed up with having no rights or freedoms, but the shameless attempt by Abbas to harness that symbolism to polish his own image is pure exploitation.

Ramzy Baroud

Footage of him hugging and kissing the Tamimi family was beamed all over Palestine and across the world. His official media apparatus was keen on placing him at the center of attention throughout the days following her release. Abbas then, once more, lectured about peaceful civil resistance, failing to underscore that thousands of children who were injured near the Gaza fence in recent months were also peacefully resisting.

Ahed is a symbol for a rebellious young Palestinian generation that is fed up with having no rights or freedoms, but the shameless attempt by Abbas to harness that symbolism to polish his own image is pure exploitation. If he truly cared about Palestinian children and agonized over the pain of Palestinian prisoners, as he claims he does, why worsen the plight of Gaza children and punish the families of Palestinian prisoners?

Ahed, a strong young girl with an empowered political discourse, cannot be blamed for how others such as Abbas are exploiting her image to uphold their own. The same can be said of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by Taliban militants at the age of 14.

The West’s exploitation of Yousafzai’s struggle to recover from her wounds and preach peace and justice for her people is unfortunate. In Western psyche, her struggle is often, if not always, used to highlight the dangers of so-called radical Islam, and to further validate US-Western military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This issue was addressed firmly by Ahed’s mother Nariman, who was also imprisoned by Israel and released eight months later. Nariman bravely spoke of the racist notions that made Ahed popular in Western media. “Frankly, it is probably Ahed’s looks that prompted this worldwide solidarity, and that’s racist by the way, because many Palestinian children are in Ahed’s position but weren’t treated in this way,” she said.

With this in mind, it is important that Ahed is not turned into another Yousafzai, where her peaceful resistance is used to condemn Gaza’s ongoing resistance, and where the fascination with her blonde, uncovered hair drowns the cries of the thousands of Aheds throughout besieged Gaza, in fact throughout Palestine.

  • Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of the Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a PhD in Palestine studies from Exeter University. His website is Twitter: @RamzyBaroud
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

Trump and Allies Seek End to Refugee Status for Millions of Palestinians — Ongoing UN relief effort since 1949

August 4, 2018

In internal emails, Jared Kushner advocated a “sincere effort to disrupt” the U.N.’s relief agency for Palestinians.

White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner stands with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Middle East issues on Feb. 20. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner stands with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Middle East issues on Feb. 20. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, has quietly been trying to do away with the U.N. relief agency that has provided food and essential services to millions of Palestinian refugees for decades, according to internal emails obtained by Foreign Policy.

His initiative is part of a broader push by the Trump administration and its allies in Congress to strip these Palestinians of their refugee status in the region and take their issue off the table in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, according to both American and Palestinian officials. At least two bills now making their way through Congress address the issue.

Kushner, whom Trump has charged with solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been reluctant to speak publicly about any aspect of his Middle East diplomacy. A peace plan he’s been working on with other U.S. officials for some 18 months has been one of Washington’s most closely held documents.

But his position on the refugee issue and his animus toward the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is evident in internal emails written by Kushner and others earlier this year.

“It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Kushner wrote about the agency in one of those emails, dated Jan. 11 and addressed to several other senior officials, including Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt.

“This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace,” he wrote.

The United States has helped fund UNRWA since it was formed in 1949 to provide relief for Palestinians displaced from their homes following the establishment of the State of Israel and ensuing international war. Previous administrations have viewed the agency as a critical contributor to stability in the region.

But many Israel supporters in the United States today see UNRWA as part of an international infrastructure that has artificially kept the refugee issue alive and kindled hopes among the exiled Palestinians that they might someday return home—a possibility Israel flatly rules out.

Critics of the agency point in particular to its policy of granting refugee status not just to those who fled Mandatory Palestine 70 years ago but to their descendants as well—accounting that puts the refugee population at around 5 million, nearly one-third of whom live in camps across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza.

By trying to unwind UNRWA, the Trump administration appears ready to reset the terms of the Palestinian refugee issue in Israel’s favor—as it did on another key issue in December, when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In the same January email, Kushner wrote: “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.”

Kushner raised the refugee issue with officials in Jordan during a visit to the region in June, along with Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt. According to Palestinian officials, he pressed the Jordan to strip its more than 2 million registered Palestinians of their refugee status so that UNRWA would no longer need to operate there.

“[Kushner said] the resettlement has to take place in the host countries and these governments can do the job that UNRWA was doing,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

She said the Trump administration wanted rich Arab Gulf states to cover the costs Jordan might incur in the process.

“They want to take a really irresponsible, dangerous decision and the whole region will suffer,” Ashrawi said.

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, told reporters in June that Kushner’s delegation had said it was ready to stop funding UNRWA altogether and instead direct the money—$300 million annually—to Jordan and other countries that host Palestinian refugees.

“All this is actually aimed at liquidating the issue of the Palestinian refugees,” he said.

The White House declined to comment on the record for this story. A senior executive branch official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said U.S. policy regarding the U.N.’s Palestinian refugee program “has been under frequent evaluation and internal discussion. The administration will announce its policy in due course.”

Jordanian officials in New York and Washington did not respond to queries about the initiative.

Kushner and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, both proposed ending funding for UNRWA back in January. But the State Department, the Pentagon, and the U.S. intelligence community all opposed the idea, fearing in part that it could fuel violence in the region.

The following week, the State Department announced that that United States would cut the first $125 million installment of its annual payment to UNRWA by more than half, to $60 million.

“UNRWA has been threatening us for six months that if they don’t get a check they will close schools. Nothing has happened,” Kushner wrote in the same email.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said at the time that the U.S. had no intention of eliminating funding for Palestinian refugees, and that it was taking time to explore ways to reform UNRWA and to convince other countries to help Washington shoulder the financial burden of aiding the Palestinians.

But the following day, Victoria Coates, a senior advisor to Greenblatt, sent an email to the White House’s national security staff indicating that the White House was mulling a way to eliminate the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian refugees.

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

She noted that the proposal was one of a number of “spitball ideas that I’ve had that are also informed by some thoughts I’ve picked up from Jared, Jason and Nikki.”

Other ideas included a suggestion that the U.N. relief agency be asked to operate on a month-to-month budget and devise “a plan to remove all anti-Semitism from educational materials.”

The ideas seemed to track closely with proposals Israel has been making for some time.

“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,” said Elad Strohmayer, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

Strohmayer said that Palestinians are the only population that is able to transfer its refugee status down through generations.

The claim, though long advanced by Israel, is not entirely true.

In an internal report from 2015, the State Department noted that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees “recognizes descendants of refugees as refugees for purposes of their operations.” The report, which was recently declassified, said the descendants of Afghan, Bhutanese, Burmese, Somali, and Tibetan refugees are all recognized by the U.N. as refugees themselves.

Of the roughly 700,000 original Palestinian refugees, only a few tens of thousands are still alive, according to estimates.

The push to deny the status to most Palestinians refugees is also gaining traction in Congress.

Last week, Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, introduced a bill that would limit the United States to assisting only the original refugees. Most savings in U.N. contributions would be directed to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United States’ principal international development agency. But USAID is currently constrained by the Taylor Force Act, which restricts the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian Authority until it ends a policy of providing aid to families of fallen terrorists.

“Instead of resettling Palestinian refugees displaced as a result of the Arab-Israeli Conflict of 1948, UNRWA provides aid to those they define as Palestinian refugees until there is a solution they deem acceptable to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Lamborn’s bill states.

“This policy does not help resettle the refugees from 1948 but instead maintains a refugee population in perpetuity.”

A congressional aide familiar with the legislation said its intent isn’t to gut UNRWA funding, but redirect assistance to descendants through USAID.

“The people that are suffering should still get assistance, but through appropriately defined humanitarian channels and aid programs,” the aide said.

Similarly, Sen. James Lankford, (R-Okla.), has drafted legislation that would redirect U.S. funding away from UNRWA and to other local and international agencies.

The bill, which has not yet officially been introduced, would require the U.S. secretary of state certify by 2020 that the United Nations has ended its recognition of Palestinian descendants as refugees.

“The United Nations should provide assistance to the Palestinians in a way that makes clear that the United Nations does not recognize the vast majority of Palestinians currently registered by UNRWA as refugees deserving refugee status,” reads a draft obtained by Foreign Policy.

Previous U.S. administrations have maintained that the vast majority of Palestinian refugees will ultimately have to be absorbed in a new Palestinian state or naturalized in the countries that have hosted them for generations.

But the fate of the refugee issue was expected to be agreed to as part of a comprehensive peace pact that resulted in the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“It’s very clear that the overarching goal here is to eliminate the Palestinian refugees as an issue by defining them out of existence,” said Lara Friedman, the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

“This isn’t going to make peace any easier. It’s going to make it harder.”



Kushner said pushing to end refugee status for millions of Palestinians

August 4, 2018

Report quotes Palestinian official saying US peace envoys asked Jordan to end UNRWA’s operations in country as part of apparent efforts to shutter agency

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.

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 advisor 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.

Image result for Hanan Ashrawi, photos

Hanan Ashrawi

“[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 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.”

The US this year has cut some $250 million to the budget of UNRWA, which has been accused by Israel of sheltering terrorists and allowing Palestinians to remain refugees even after settling in a new city or country for many generations, thus complicating a possible resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It also accuses UNRWA of helping to perpetuate the Palestinian narrative of Israel’s illegitimacy by uniquely granting refugee status to the descendants of refugees, even when they are born in other countries and have citizenship there, conditions that do 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.

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.



U.S. Mideast Peace Plan (Almost) Ready For Rollout

August 3, 2018

Jared Kushner is seen at the Royal Court after US President Donald Trump received the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. 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 President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace pointmen Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, according to the officials. The team, which is being set up to organize the peace plan’s public presentation and any negotiations that may ensue, will comprise three units: one concentrating on its political and security details, one on its significant economic focus and one on strategic communications, the officials said.

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.

 Palestinian protesters gather in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.
Negotiating tool? Palestinian “protester” on the Gaza side of Israel’s border fence.

Timing on the release of the plan remains undecided. The State Department, Pentagon, intelligence agencies and Congress have been asked to detail personnel to the team for six months to a year, according to the officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The agencies declined to comment but an NSC official said that Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations, “are expanding their team and the resources available as they finalize the details and rollout strategy of the peace initiative.”

White House officials say the plan will focus on pragmatic details, rather than top-line concepts, that will be able to easier win public support.

Yet the Palestinian leadership has been openly hostile to any proposal from the Trump administration, citing what it says is a pro-Israel bias, notably after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moved the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv in May. Since the Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas broke off contact after the Jerusalem announcement, the U.S. negotiating team has been talking to independent Palestinian experts.

Image result for Mahmoud Abbas, photos

President Mahmoud Abbas

The White House expects that the Palestinian Authority will engage on the plan and has been resisting congressional demands to fully close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington because Greenblatt and Kushner want to keep that channel open. But officials have offered little evidence to back that up.

Palestinian alienation has continued to grow as millions of dollars in U.S. assistance remains on hold and appears likely to be cut entirely. With just two months left in the current budget year, less than half of the planned $251 million in U.S. aid planned for the Palestinians in 2018 — $92.8 million — has been released, according to the government’s online tracker,

The remaining amount is still on hold as is an additional $65 million in frozen U.S. assistance to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which provides services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon.

Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, speaks during a protest east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

In addition, Israel’s response to the plan is far from certain. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of Trump’s top foreign allies, it remains unclear if he will back massive investment in Gaza, which is run by the militant Hamas movement.

For the plan to succeed or even survive the starting gate, it will need at least initial buy-in from both Israel and the Palestinians as well as from the Gulf Arab states, which officials say will be asked to substantially bankroll its economic portion. Arab officials have thus far adopted a wait-and-see approach.

Officials say there will never be a perfect time for the roll-out, but that they are laying the groundwork now for when an opportune time becomes apparent. The plan is not done, but is being finalized, including an economic development proposal for the Palestinian people that foresees major infrastructure and industrial work, particularly in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The officials believe that the hope of a better economic future for the Palestinians coupled with progress on that front, the Palestinians may be willing to delay or modify what have been intractable and to-date unresolvable demands from Israel. Those include the right for Palestinian refugees to return to lands they abandoned or were forced from, the recognition of east Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestine.

And, they plan to appeal to all sides of the conflict not to let the disagreements of the past hold back their children’s futures, according to the officials.

The Associated Press



See also:

Palestinian Leaders Are Rejecting A Peace Plan They Have Never Seen


A self-declared leftist wages war on the Palestinian ‘right of return’ — Says it is continuation of war by other means

July 30, 2018

In new book, ex-Labor MK Einat Wilf says the refugee ethos is the biggest obstacle to peace. She blames the international community, the Israeli government and the IDF

Former MK Einat Wilf in Jerusalem, May 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Former MK Einat Wilf in Jerusalem, May 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Former Labor MK Einat Wilf believes the Palestinians are not ready for peace. They are, in fact, miles away from accepting the idea of dividing the land and are still hoping Israel will soon disappear, she asserts in a new book.

And yet, she insists she’s a leftist.

But the peace camp must sober up, she says, and start realizing that peace will not come as long as the Palestinians cling to their demand to “return” to areas now belonging to Israel.

“If you truly want peace, rather than just feel good about wanting peace — and there are a lot of those — and if you actually understand that at the end of the day they [the Palestinians] are the ones with whom we have to live and share the country, you need to be realistic about where they’re coming from,” she told The Times of Israel during a recent interview in a Jerusalem cafe.

“The War of Return,” which she co-authored with former Haaretz journalist Adi Schwartz, provides an in-depth analysis of the Palestinian refugee problem. It notes that immediately after the 1948 War of Independence, Arab leaders were opposed to the return of those who had left their homes in what had become the State of Israel, as this was considered a tacit recognition of Israeli sovereignty.

But a short while later, Arab leaders changed their strategy and demanded that the “refugees” return to their old homes, Wilf and Schwartz write, citing countless historical documents to prove their point.

The “right of return” was thus formulated clearly “as the continuation of war by other means,” Wilf said.

The War of Independence has never ended, Wilf and Schwartz maintain. Officials at the Palestinian Authority today pay lip service to a two-state solution, but in reality are convinced that masses of “refugees” will soon “return” to their homes in Jaffa and Haifa, ultimately destroying the Jewish state, the book argues.

“The book really comes from the understanding that we were blind — maybe willfully blind — to what they wanted. You can’t make peace with blindness,” Wilf said.

While the issue of refugees is often dismissed as one of the more solvable of the outstanding core issues — Israel could easily admit a “symbolic” number of refugees as a “humanitarian gesture” — Wilf and Schwartz claim that it is actually the hardest nut to crack.

Security arrangements, the status of Jerusalem and the exact delineation of borders are all practical matters to which a solution can be found at the negotiating table. But as long as the Palestinians don’t relinquish the “right of return,” ending the ethos of Palestinians being refugees, peace will remain elusive, they insist.

“This is the core of the conflict,” Wilf said. “Because no other issue reflects more deeply the continued Palestinian, and more broadly Arab, view that Israel is temporary, and that the Jewish presence is not legitimate.”

Palestinians clash with Israeli soldiers in Al-Fawwar refugee camp, south of the West Bank city of Hebron, December 31, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

“The War of Return” was written in Hebrew, but its main target group is foreign diplomats. The international community’s longstanding position on the refugee question — including the support for UNRWA, the UN’s agency for refugees from Palestine — is among the main reasons the Palestinians continue to foster the ethos of return, according to Wilf.

UNRWA, the book contends, perpetuates the notion that the people who left their homes in 1948 and their descendants are refugees, implying that they will “come back” one day.

Palestinians “refugees” are the only ones whose status is handed down to future generations. In 1950, when the agency started, it recognized 750,000 “Palestine refugees,” a number that has grown to over five million.

In this 1948 photo from the UNRWA archive, Palestinian refugees stand outside their tent in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. (AP/UNRWA Photo Archives)

Until 1998, the Palestinians, backed by the Arab world and the Soviet bloc, were very clear about their intentions: they demanded that all refugees return to what is now Israel and vowed to liberate all of Palestine, Wilf said.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain and their subsequent need for support from the US, the Palestinians changed their rhetoric and made what they call a painful compromise in forgoing the majority of historical Palestine, now merely demanding a state on the territory Israel captured in 1967.

“But what we show in the book is that never ever have they given up the ‘right of return’,” Wilf said. “When you want to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but the ‘right of return’ is holy and non-negotiable, then the only two states you are rooting for are an Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza, and an Arab state to replace Israel.”

Ironically, many people think Israel has destroyed the two-state solution by continuing to build settlements in the West Bank.

“What we’re showing is that the Palestinians have actually never, not for a single moment, accepted the two-state solution. There was never a moment where they said: We’re done, we understand that the other state will never be Arab or Palestinian and that it will belong to the Jewish people.”

Some in the peace camp may agree that the “right of return” is incompatible with the idea of Israel as a Jewish state, but argue that Palestinians are clinging to it merely as a bargaining chip for negotiations, fully aware that no Israeli leader will ever agree to let masses of refugees flood the country.

Einat Wilf during a session of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem in 2010. (Photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)

Einat Wilf addressing the Knesset plenary in 2010. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

But Wilf, who served in the Knesset between 2010 and 2013, first with Labor and later with Ehud Barak’s breakaway Independence faction, does not buy this argument.

Coddled by a world that vehemently opposes Israeli settlement expansion but never criticizes the demand for return, the Palestinians really believe that hundreds of thousand of “refugees” will soon flood Israeli cities.

“Push came to shove several times. And again and again, ‘return’ was not something to give up when everything else was acceptable,” she said, referring to previous rounds of Israel-Palestinians peace negotiations.

“They have never agreed to anything. Even if it came very close, they have never agreed to any formulation that will close the door on the possibility of return.”

Does Wilf truly believe the Palestinians stick to the right of return because they see it is their doomsday weapon to destroy Israel? Haven’t the Palestinians realized that Israel will never agree to accept a large number of refugees, certainly not enough to end its character as a Jewish state?

“If the Palestinians truly want a state, they don’t sit on their asses and say: No, we’re going to continue suffering many years of statelessness [rather than] to give up something we already know is not going to happen,” she replied. “This makes zero sense, in any context, if that’s what they really want.”

In the 1940s, the Zionists’ drive for sovereignty led them to accept the UN Partition Plan — which meant the creation of a Jewish state, albeit without Judea and Samaria (the proposed state did not include the West Bank) and without Zion (Jerusalem was meant to be a separate entity).

“But there’s not a single Palestinian leader who says: We want sovereignty and we understand that the price of that sovereignty will be that we will not return,” the lawmaker-turned-author said.

Palestinian children ride bikes near the border with Israel on the outskirts of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, as they take part in a cycling race demanding a ‘Right of Return’ for millions to Israel on March 26, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Some leftists say the Oslo Agreement proved that the Palestinians were ready to compromise and would now accept a state based on the 1967 lines living in peace with Israel. Not this one.

“I find it incredibly hard to believe that a people who changed course in 1988 [with Yasser Arafat’s “Declaration of Independence“], 30 years afterwards doesn’t have a state,” said Wilf, who has a degree in government and fine arts from Harvard and a PhD in political science from Cambridge University. “Because they had several opportunities. If they had really changed course, why not take it?”

Do the Palestinians really believe they can eradicate Israel?

Israel is considered one of the most powerful nations in the world, economically and militarily. The Palestinians can’t really think that they will eradicate Israel, can they?

“Well, that’s the thing. They actually do,” Wilf said resolutely.

Palestinians view the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and discussions about the legitimacy of Zionism as clear indications of Israel’s imminent demise, she posited.

The Romans, the Ottomans, the British — foreign invaders come and go, she said, describing Palestinian thinking about Israel living on borrowed time. The Crusaders lasted only 88 years in Jerusalem, she added, saying Israel had only 17 years left on the Palestinian clock.

“They genuinely believe that,” she insisted.

If a people is constantly strengthened in the belief that they have a “right to return” that is sacrosanct and cannot be renounced, their leaders will never be able to make the compromises needed for peace, she went on.

It’s a book of people who want to get to peace and who realized that technicalities are not the problem. The problem is that the Palestinians have never been prepared for the idea of partition

A national ethos can be changed, but only if leaders prepare their people for it. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2003 shocked his political base when he uttered the word “occupation.” Two years later, Israel left Gaza.

“It’s not that the words end the process. But they create an environment where actions can take place,” Wilf said.

Peace, she continued, will only come when a Palestinian leader faces his people and tells them: Enough. The Jewish people have a historical right here. It’s not superior to ours, it’s not exclusive. But we’re done denying that they have a historical connection to this land. They will not have everything, and we will not have everything. No, we will not have the homes. We can visit them, but they won’t be ours.

“You never heard that speech,” she lamented.

That speech, if it is ever given, won’t mean that peace negotiations are over, she went on. “But at least then you know the Palestinians have reasonable expectations.”

So far, no Palestinian leader has said or written or anything to indicate that they are ready to relinquish their refugee ethos.

“That’s why I said this is a book written by left-wingers. It’s a book of people who want to get to peace and who realized that technicalities are not the problem. The problem is that the Palestinians have never been prepared — not even for a moment — for the idea of partition.”

And yet, as opposed to Yossi Klein Halevi’s “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor,” her 300-page book is not addressed at the Palestinians.

Rather, it is geared to the international community, which Wilf accuses of perpetuating the Palestinian narrative of being refugees who have a legitimate demand of “return.” (Wilf and Schwartz are currently looking for a publisher for the English translation of the book, by journalist Eylon A. Levy.)

Journalist Adi Schwartz and former MK Einat Wilf (right) in Jerusalem, May 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“The Palestinians will dream of Jaffa. You will never get into their heads and take that away — just as nothing will ever make the Jews stop longing for Judea,” she said.

“But just as the international community makes it clear on a daily basis that the Jews cannot have Judea, it should start saying now that the Palestinians will not have a state ranging from the river to the sea.”

The world, which condemns every single announcement of new housing units in the West Bank, never asks the Palestinians to relinquish their demand for return, Wilf charged. “You literally have no problem telling the Jews that they won’t have it all. Why not tell the Palestinians?”

But doesn’t it go without saying that the Palestinians won’t have everything? After all, no one in the international community (except Iran) today disputes that the Western side of the 1967 line belongs to Israel?

Once again, Wilf disagreed.

“When Western governments fund a UN agency with more than a billion dollars every year, feeding the delusion of return, it doesn’t go without saying.”

In fact, Wilf believes the Palestinians interpret the West’s support for UNRWA as support for the right of return. And they are right to do, she insisted: “When 70 percent of people who live in Gaza believe that they are refugees, and are stamped by the UN as such, you cannot fault them for thinking that their right of return is internationally sanctioned.”

Foreign diplomats believe that UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which in 1948 said that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date,” unambiguously affirms the Palestinians’ right of return.

It doesn’t, Wilf and Schwartz argue at great length in their book.

If the international community were fair it would treat Israeli settlements and Palestinian demands of return in exactly the same manner, Wilf submitted. “Because both of them reflect the maximalist vision. Both of them reflect the idea that a specific people should be in every single inch.”

But the world only cries foul when Israel builds settlements, at the same time as it actively encourages the Palestinian refugee ethos by supporting UNRWA, she said.

Diplomats would counter such arguments by saying that settlement expansion creates facts on the ground that physically impede the implementation of a two-state solution, while the demand of return is intangible.

Wilf doesn’t buy it.

“I believe that the idea of return is more powerful than any house built in the settlements. Because houses are easily demolished,” she offered.

“Israel builds the houses and then demolishes them. Granted, I think it’s stupid to build them in the first place. But the idea [of return] is almost unmovable. The actions taken because of the idea are dramatic. Because of this idea the Palestinians repeatedly reject compromise.”

It is the lingering refugee ethos that causes Palestinians to consider Gaza a temporary place of residence, one they will leave when they are allowed to “return” to Haifa, Jaffa and Beersheba.

“The people dying at the fences [at the Gaza border] demanding return are the consequence of the people who refuse to say that the limit of their political ambition is at the 1967 border,” according to Wilf.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot to throw back a tear gas canister at Israeli forces during clashes along the border east of Gaza City on July 6, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

“I’m not in favor of building houses [in the settlements]. But Israel has demonstrated that it can uproot the houses. The Palestinians are yet to show that they take one refugee off the roster.”

In her frequent meetings with foreign diplomats, Wilf argues that the refugee issue is “more destructive to peace than the settlements ever were and ever will be,” she said.

“How are we going to get to partition and compromise if the Palestinians seriously think — and they seriously think — that Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea?”

So what should be done?

As a first step, “UNRWA should be dismantled,” Wilf said. The services it provides, mainly in the fields of health care and education, should be transferred to other countries, agencies or providers “that do not tie the provision of the service to the perpetuation of the idea of being a refugee and the illusion of return.”

UNRWA, by virtue of its very mandate, perpetuates the idea that the Palestinians are refugees from Palestine, she said.

“So what we’re saying is: provide the services differently so that the facade is taken away. And then you’re just left with this crazy idea that a middle-class lawyer who was born in Ramallah and lives in Ramallah is a refugee from Palestine. Then you really expose it as the nonsensical notion that it is.”

Palestinian refugees collect aid parcels at a United Nations food distribution center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 21, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Once the letters “UN” are removed from the refugee ethos, the Palestinians will sooner or later have to realize that the world does not share this view.

“Change takes place when you begin to realize your true power. Right now, they have no sense of their true power because they think that the world is with them,” she said.

UNRWA’s top lobbyist? The Israeli government

Leading Israeli politicians rarely have a good word for UNRWA, but it is no secret that the defense establishment is very much in favor of the agency’s survival, arguing that its services are necessary to prevent a humanitarian disaster that would ultimately end in violence against Israel.

Indeed, Israel is “the number one lobbyist for this organization,” Wilf charged, arguing that both the army and the political leadership are satisfied with the status quo.

One might think that UNRWA and the IDF have a secret treaty to support each other, she joked.

“The military doesn’t care about five years from now. It says, right now UNRWA doesn’t fight me. What it doesn’t understand is that UNRWA is making sure that the Palestinians will have recruits forever to fight Israel,” she said.

“My argument is that militaries don’t understand narratives. Militaries don’t understand that consciousness and words determine action.”

Given her views, foreign diplomats are surprised to hear that Wilf considers herself a leftist, she said.

“I say to them, it’s seriously very simple. East of the Green Line: not us. West of the Green Line: not them.”