Signaling yet another major policy shift in the American approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the Palestinian claims to a “right of return” should be off the negotiating table.
While the White House has yet to reveal its proposed peace plan, Haley’s statement is a further step in the general pro-Israel direction of the current administration. In December, U.S. President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and, in May, he officially relocated the American embassy there from Tel Aviv.
The right of return is a key issue in a final peace agreement, along with the status of Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital city.
While questioning the actual number of refugees put forth by Palestinians, Haley suggested the Trump administration would consider rejecting their demand of resettlement in modern-day Israel. Palestinians claim that 5 million people are eligible for refugee status — some 750,000 original refugees who fled during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 plus their descendants.
“I absolutely think we have to look at right of return,” Haley said on Tuesday. “I think we have to look at this in terms of what’s happening [with refugees] in Syria, what’s happening in Venezuela.”
Israel has long rejected the Palestinian right of return. With Israel’s population of nearly 9 million — three-quarters of which are Jewish — an influx of millions of Palestinians would topple Israel’s Jewish majority.
Israel contends that an independent Palestinian state should absorb Palestinian refugees and their descendants, just as Israel took in Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern and north African countries over the past few decades.
Haley and the U.S. have questioned how the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), which exists to help Palestinian refugees, counts the number of refugees. Earlier this year the U.S. cut aid to UNWRA to $60 million from $350 million.
“We will be a donor if it (UNRWA) reforms what it does … if they actually change the number of refugees to an accurate account, we will look back at partnering them,” Haley said.
Haley also said that other states in the Middle East should encourage the Palestinians to make peace with Israel.
“We have to have them come to the table for a peace agreement. That’s only going to happen if the region pushes them for that to happen,” Haley said. “The Palestinians continue to bash America” and yet “they have their hand out wanting UNRWA money.”
Trump has said he wants to improve conditions for the Palestinians, but his pro-Israel stance has alienated the Palestinians.