A group of right-wing Zionists met with the Israeli ambassador the the United Nations on Thursday in New York to put together a plan to pressure the United Nations to revoke the internationally-recognized right of return of Palestinian refugees who were forced from their homes in what is now Israel in 1948 and 1967.Daniel Pipes, the head of the extreme right ‘Middle East Forum’ based in Philadelphia which helped organize the session, told participants in the meeting that the United Nations’ approach to the rights of Palestinian refugees “creates a narrative of victimhood” and “promotes extremism”. Despite the fact that Palestinian refugees have the same rights as any other displaced population in the world, Pipes did not make this claim about other refugee populations, but only about the Palestinians.
The strategy session came just ahead of a press conference planned to take place on Monday by Filippo Grandi, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in which Grandi will make the case that Palestinian refugees are a ‘forgotten population’, and will urge that action be taken to address the Palestinian refugee crisis.
According to a recent report by human rights group BADIL, which was published in December 2012 after ten years of research, “At the end of 2011, there were at least 7.4 million displaced Palestinians representing 66 percent of the entire Palestinian population (11.2 million) worldwide”. This makes the Palestinian refugees the largest refugee population in the world.
The report found that “The vast majority of Palestinian refugees (5.8 million) are those who were forced from their lands during the 1948 ethnic cleansing and their descendants. Of these, 4.8 million are registered with the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA). A further million Palestinians are refugees as a result of the 1967 War and there are more than half a million internally displaced Palestinians on both side of the Green Line (the 1949 armistice line marking the boundary between Israel and the occupied West Bank).”
At Thursday’s strategy session in New York, calling for the negation of the internationally-recognized right of return for Palestinian refugees, Ron Prosor, the Israeli representative to the United Nations, told the participants that “the real obstacle [to peace] is the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees”, adding, “The refugee problem is the main obstacle to peace, not settlements.”
Former Israeli Knesset (Parliament) Member Einat Wilf also spoke at the meeting, telling participants that it is important to “debunk the myth” that there are Palestinian refugees living in tents, and criticized the European Union for promoting the Palestinian refugees right of return.
Palestinian refugees living in camps in Lebanon are forbidden from constructing permanent housing, and are denied jobs, freedom of movement and citizenship. Most camps in the West Bank and Gaza, which began as tents in the early 1950s, have become crowded tenements with housing constructed in a haphazard way, usually with new units built on top of existing structures.
In addition to putting together a plan to pressure the United Nations to deny Palestinian refugees their rights, the group that gathered Thursday in New York also promised to draft legislation to be introduced in the U-S Congress that would challenge the refugee status of any Palestinian born to refugee parents.
The participants in the meeting, while vehemently denying that Palestinian refugees have a right to return to homes that many still hold the deeds and keys for, did not question the Israeli law authorizing the ‘right of return’ to any person with a Jewish grandparent, from anywhere in the world, to Israel. This law is justified by the Israeli government based on the claim that Jewish people were expelled from what was then Palestine by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago.
Thursday’s strategy session follows a statement issued in January by a group of prominent Jewish scholars and activists in the U-S, Europe, Australia and Israel called “Jews for the Palestinian Right of Return”, which calls for one democratic state in the land of Israel and Palestine, and says “supporters of social justice must ask themselves how they can defend a state whose very existence depends on structural denial of Palestinian rights.”