Trump Admin Slashes $200M in Palestinian Aid, May Drop 'Right of Return' from Negotiating Table
JERUSALEM, Israel – The Trump administration's support of Israel got another potential boost with reports it's planning to remove the so-called "right of return" from the negotiating table, Israel's Channel 2 news reported over the weekend.
According to the report, the US administration will present the new plan in stages, beginning in early September. The plan details the Trump administration's rejection of the United Nation's definition of Palestinian refugee status.
The news follows the US State Department announcement to Congress that it will cut more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinian Authority and redirect the funds to "high priority projects elsewhere."
The funding has been in question for years due to the PA's controversial policy known as "pay to slay," which compensates Palestinians and their families for attacking Israelis. In March, Congress passed the Taylor Force Act to target that policy.
When it comes to the "right of return" issue, UNWRA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) defines Palestinian refugees as "persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict."
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law & Justice, who also serves as counsel to President Trump, wrote a response to Foreign Policy saying UNWRA has changed its definition of refugee more than once.
"In 1965, UNRWA changed the eligibility requirements to be a Palestinian refugee to include third-generation descendants, and in 1982, it extended it again, to include all descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, regardless of whether they had been granted citizenship elsewhere," Sekulow wrote, calling it "inconsistent" with the classification of all other refugees worldwide.
The plan's initial stage provides statistics on the Arabs who left following the passage of the UN partition plan and the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.
UNWRA numbers the refugees at 5 million because the agency has had the authority to designate refugee status to succeeding generations.
Some analysts say UNWRA sought to perpetuate the refugee status as a future tool against Israel. It appears the Trump administration would like to address UNWRA's original purpose in declaring future generations the same status.
The plan also cuts financing of UNWRA activities in Judea and Samaria and asks Israel to end its mandate toward UNWRA workers there to stop the transfer of payments to the UN agency by Arab countries.
Palestinian Authority officials – and the leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip – have repeatedly declared the right of return nonnegotiable, while it's always been a nonstarter for Israel.
David Bedein with the Center for Near East Policy Research told CBN News the Trump administration can serve as a model to countries that fund the Palestinian Authority and UNWRA.
"This is the first time since 1949 that an American government has said we're going to stand up against the right of return since we know how lethal it is and how ridiculous it is," Bedein said. "The Trump administration can act as a model for all 68 nations that give money to the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA. Maybe that will happen."
The PA's preconditions to negotiate a peace plan stipulated Israel's return to pre-1967 borders (nicknamed the "Auschwitz borders" because they're indefensible), the re-division of Jerusalem, and the right of return for descendants of those who left – none of which are acceptable to Israel.
The Palestinian Arab leadership, supported by most Arab League member nations, criticized the Trump administration's acknowledgment of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and its embassy's move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.