Palestinian refugees in the Middle East say they will not give up their right of return [EPA]


Barack Obama, the US president, is attempting to seal an Arab-Israeli peace deal that has eluded the region for more than six decades.

Ahead of an initiative expected to be announced in September, Al Jazeera is examining the prospects for peace in a week-long series from Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan.

In the first of the series, Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh speaks to Palestinian refugees about an Israeli plan that Jordan become their alternative homeland.

The idea that Palestinians be forcibly relocated to a new state in Jordan has been steadily gaining momentum since the Israeli elections in February.

In June, 53 Israeli Knesset members put forward a draft resolution suggesting that Jordan be designated as the official alternative home for the Palestinians.

Palestinian refugees

The UN estimates that 700,000 Palestinians were expelled when Israel was created in 1948.

In 1967, 300,000 Palestinians were displaced in the wake of the Six-Day War.

The UN estimates that there are more than 4.6 million Palestinian refugees around the world. Some 1.3 million of them live in refugee camps.

The Israeli proposal means that some two million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan will lose their right of return which they say is guaranteed by United Nations Resolution 194, passed in 1948 in the wake of the first Arab-Israeli war.

It also effectively implies the expulsion of Palestinians from the Occupied West Bank, driving them east of the River Jordan, and suggesting Amman take control of the West Bank as an alternative to an independent Palestinian state.

To Jordanians, the proposal is a flagrant violation of all internationally-endorsed agreements that call for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

More importantly, they say, it is a dangerous idea to entertain.

Threat to security

The recent draft resolution is not based on a novel idea.

In June 1948, the newly-formed Israeli government told the UN that the solution to the Palestinian refugee issue was not repatriation but resettlement in other states.

The official line in Jordan has always been that the alternative homeland concept is not open for negotiation or even part of the kingdom's lexicon.

King Abdullah II, the Jordanian monarch, had warned during Israel's war on Gaza in January against discussing the idea, explaining it should not be a topic of debate in Jordanian political salons.

Earlier this month, in a meeting with the Jordanian armed forces, he reiterated that warning.

"There is no power capable of obliging us to do anything that is against Jordanian interests. Whoever talks about a threat to Jordanian identity, stability, and national unity, neither knows Jordan nor its history. In the last ten years, neither Clinton, Bush, nor Obama told me anything about a possible pressure on Jordan when it comes to [Palestinian] refugees," he said

No alternative homeland

 Planning for Peace

 

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 Livni rejects right of return

Abu Mujahid, a Palestinian refugee born and raised in the Al-Nasr camp - one of 11 camps in Jordan, said the alternative homeland suggested by Israeli Knesset members means Palestinians would lose their inalienable rights while Jordanians would have to forfeit their land and sovereignty.

"The Israelis don't respect any peace agreements, leaderships or countries, and they should be addressed with the one and only language they do speak and understand and that is the language of armed resistance," he says.

Abu Tawfiq, another Palestinian refugee in Al-Nasr camp, says he would never give up his right of return or accept Jordan as an alternative homeland.

He said: "After 61 years of exile, they want us to accept an alternative to our original homeland? I swear to God I could live like this in exile for another 100 years but Palestine will never leave my thoughts, my son's thoughts, or my grandson's thoughts, or any Palestinian's thoughts."

"It is impossible for us to accept anything less than our right of return."

Israeli proposal "baseless"

Hasan Abu Nimah, Jordan's former ambassador to the UN, believes the Israeli proposal is counteracted by international law.

"The question is not how to find a home for the Palestinians; the Palestinians have a home. They have been evicted from their home and they want to go back to it. Israel is stumbling in its own policies all the time, and they deny the Palestinian refugee rights and their denial is based on nothing. It is baseless."

The October 1994 Wadi Araba peace treaty between Israel and Jordan ended a state of war, formalised relations, and resolved territorial disputes between the two countries.

On the question of Palestinian refugees, the treaty stipulated that "the problem of displaced persons would also be discussed together with Egypt and the Palestinians, and the issue of refugees would be discussed in a multilateral manner in conjunction with and at the same time as the permanent status negotiations pertaining to the territories."

Sharon's statements

Abu Nimah says the draft resolution put forward in the Knesset is 'baseless' [AFP]
Resolution 194, in part: "Resolves that the 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 …"

In 1974, the UN General Assembly labelled the right of return an "inalienable right".

However, consecutive Israeli governments have rejected UN resolutions on the right of return.

Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister, had on a number of occasions said that those who want a Palestinian state should realise that it already exists in Jordan.

He justified this by saying that 60 per cent of the country's population is of Palestinian origin; he suggested Jordan be renamed.

In 2006, Tzipi Livni, the then-Israeli foreign minister, told the UN that Palestinian refugees should not expect to be allowed to return to their homes in Israel.

Jordan has hosted 40 per cent of the world's Palestinian refugees in the last six decades and has granted them full Jordanian citizenship.

Abu Nimah says granting Jordanian citizenship to Palestinian refugees does not erase their inalienable right of return, as supported by international law.

Source: Al Jazeera