Lebanon News

Merehbi rejects forced Palestinian resettlement

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Mouin Merehbi said Lebanon would reject any peace plan that made the resettlement of Palestinians in a host country a condition, less than a week after a report revealed that senior U.S. official Jared Kushner mooted such an option.

“This is against all values and morals and human rights and every person has a right to be in their homeland,” Merehbi told The Daily Star. “People will not accept to be absorbed into those countries.”

One-third of the roughly 5 million strong Palestinian refugee population lives in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza.

While visiting Jordan in June, Kushner reportedly pressed officials to strip its 2 million registered Palestinians of their refugee status, according to Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Foreign Policy magazine reported.

Kushner reportedly said Palestinians should be resettled in host countries, with their governments taking on the work of UNRWA.

“The solution is with the return of the Palestinians to their land. We still believe, and we will always believe, that Palestinians will return to their land and home,” Merehbi said. The minister criticized the U.S. for “encouraging” the seizing of Palestinian land by Israel.

Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, has been charged with producing a plan to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. He has so far kept details of the deal tightly guarded.

However, his thoughts regarding UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, were revealed by internal emails seen by FP and by participants of meetings held during a trip to Jordan in June.

According to FP, Kushner said in emails that UNRWA “perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace” and that “it is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA.”

UNRWA has faced a cash crisis since the United States, long its biggest donor, slashed funding to the agency, providing just $60 million of a promised $365 million this year.

Merehbi called on the international community to step in to fill the gap in funding.

UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness warned of “catastrophic” consequences for Lebanon Thursday due to funding shortages. He declined to respond directly to a number of attacks on UNRWA made by Kushner.

Nevertheless, he noted in an email to The Daily Star: “The reduction of $300 million by the U.S. represented an unprecedented threat to our ability to deliver essential services to [Palestinian] refugees, notably education for 526,000 girls and boys, health care and emergency services.”

While schools in Lebanon are now on vacation, Gunness warned that “if we are unable to open our schools in a matter of weeks – and at present, we don’t have the money to do this – the impact will be catastrophic.”

He said UNRWA provides educational services to about 37,000 Palestinian refugee children in 66 schools across Lebanon, as well as enrolls 1,000 students a year in its training and vocational institute.

Officials in Jordan made similar warnings Thursday, with Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi saying after meeting UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl the funding crisis could affect refugees’ access to education, health care and food, which would “deepen their humanitarian plight,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

The statement warned of the “danger of touching the role of the UNRWA that should continue to provide its services under its international mandate.” – With Reuters

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 10, 2018, on page 3.

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