Palestinians are joining the Middle East exodus to Europe in greater numbers because of the Syrian war and ongoing Israeli occupation, a senior Palestinian official has said.Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), told EU Observer, from Ramallah, that âthousandsâ had already left for Europe.
âWhat other options have they? We have people dying of starvation in al-Yarmouk refugee camp [in Syria], and thousands of Palestinians leaving Syria and Lebanon trying to reach Europe,â he said, according to the PNN.
âThe UN has said that Gaza will be unfit for human habitation by 2020, but Israelâs siege of Gaza continues.â
The Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza are home to some 4.5 million Palestinians.
Two million more live in refugee camps in Jordan in a legacy of wars in 1948 and 1967. Another 500,000 live in camps in Lebanon and a further 500,000 in Syria.
Frontex, the EU border control agency in Warsaw, said that just six Palestinians were intercepted trying to enter the EU via irregular crossings to Greece in January of last year, but that figure rose to 488 in August. It peaked at 1,747 in October, and stayed high (1,142) in January of this year, despite inclement weather.
The real number is likely to be much bigger because most Palestinians travel without ID papers, making them difficult to count.
Easo, the EU asylum agency in Malta, said that up to 19,000 Palestinians applied for asylum in the EU last year, compared with 15,680 in 2014 and 9,590 in 2013.
It said that most of them were âPalestinian ârefugeesâ or persons of Palestinian origin who were previously long term residents of countries now affected by the Syrian conflict.
It additionally stated that these people have a 53 percent to 87 percent chance of success, depending on which EU state handles their claim.
Israel âkilling hopeâ
The number of Palestinians on the move is likely to go up if the spate of knife and car-ramming attacks on Israelis that has been going on since last year escalates into a full-scale uprising.
Erekat blames the instability on the Israeli occupation.
â[Israeli] prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist government have done everything possible to kill hope in the minds and hearts of Palestinians. What they see on a daily basis are more settlements, land grabbing, checkpoints, siege, military raids, settler attacks and systematic denial of their rights,â he said.
He said the Arab-Israeli conflict also contributes to instability in Syria, the main source of the EU refugee crisis.
âYou canât defeat Daesh (ISIL) without ending the Israeli occupation,â he said, using an Arabic name for Islamic State, a jihadist group which controls parts of Syria and Iraq.
âLack of hope could lead people to commit desperate acts like joining Daesh. Though the numbers of Palestinians joining them are minimal, this is not a situation that can be taken for granted.â
The 60-year old Palestinian diplomat has served as the PLOâs chief negotiator in Arab-Israeli peace talks for most of the past 20 years.
He welcomed a French project to set a deadline for new peace talks after which France would recognise Palestine in its 1967 borders.
âRecognising Palestine is not going to end the occupation, but itâs a strong message to the Palestinian people in terms of support for their rights. European countries will be investing in peace,â he said.
He also welcomed an EU retail label code on settler food, wine, and cosmetics exports that was published last year. But he advocated tougher action.
âEffective actions against Israeli settlements are banning of settlement products, divestment and sanctions on companies profiting from the occupation,â he said.
The UN and the EU advocate a two-state solution to the conflict.
Erekat said: âI sincerely donât see any other solution but a two-state solution for the welfare of both Israelis and Palestinians.â
But, he added: âI personally think that Israel doesnât want a two-state solution. The Israeli government believes in âŠ one state with two systems, which means apartheid.â
He said Israelâs impunity in the EU and US is part of the problem.
âRadicals that could not even get close to the Knesset [the Israeli parliament] 20 years ago are now part of the government coalition. But I also believe that this [Israeli policy] has a lot to do with pragmatism: Israel has the feeling that no matter what, theyâll never be held accountable,â he said.
He said the only âmorally acceptableâ alternative to two states is âone single, democratic state in all of historic Palestineâ.
âStop making excusesâ
âIf they donât like the idea of two sovereign states living side by side, I call upon them to talk to us and letâs set the terms for a one-state solution. But they should not even dream that our people will accept anything short of âŠ the right to self-determination, freedom,â Erekat said.
The one-state model would imperil Israelâs objective to be a âhomeland of the Jewsâ in demographic terms.
Based on Erekatâs comments, EUobserver asked the Israeli mission to the EU if any models other than the two-state solution would be acceptable to Israel.
The mission asked for its statement to be published in full.
âIsraelâs declared and unequivocal position is two states for two people,â the statement said.
âIn order to achieve this, Mr. Erekat and his colleagues should engage in direct negotiations and stop making excuses as to why they canât come to the table. Prime minster Netanyahu has repeatedly stated his willingness to restart direct talks â be it in Jerusalem or Ramallah. All other personal beliefs should be challenged in the negotiation room.â
Also of interest: Why Itâs Dangerous to Conflate Hamas and ISIS