The U.S. “Peace to Prosperity” plan, unveiled at the Bahrain conference last week, calls for putting $50 billion toward improving the economic situation of the Palestinians; of this, over half is to be disbursed in Gaza and the West Bank, while the remainder would be divided among Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt—to be spent on descendants of Palestinian refugees living in the first two countries, and Gazans resettled in the last. From this part of the plan, Raphael Bouchnik-Chen sees an attempt to integrate these Palestinians into the countries where they live, and end their anomalous status as permanent “refugees”:
The Trump administration is pursuing the goal of changing the Palestinian experience from that of a society of miserable “refugees” into that of a prosperous society. . . . Kushner’s concept has a historical precedent. On June 15, 1959, the UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold presented a resettlement initiative. Hammarskjold assumed there were means available for the absorption of the refugees into the economy of the Arab region, and asserted that the refugees would be beneficial to their host countries by providing the manpower necessary to those countries’ development. He proposed that the program be financed by oil revenues and international funds up to $2 billion.
In 1959, [the Arab League] claimed that acceptance of the UN secretary general’s plan, with no guarantees, would have been tantamount to giving up [Palestinians’] economic and political rights. The Arabs accused Hammarskjold of exceeding his legal limits, and faulted him for ignoring the fact that the economic issues were the result of the political conflict. Addressing the economic question also separated the refugee problem from the conflict as a whole, which, so it was argued, was one of nationhood.
While the Palestinian Authority has responded similarly to the most recent initiative, notes Bouchnik-Chen, one thing has changed since 1959:
Saudi Arabia’s moderate position on the Kushner initiative . . . could suggest that the kingdom is behind it. In 1959, it was the Saudi ambassador to the UN (and future PLO chairman) Ahmad Shukeiry who categorically rejected the Hammarskjold plan. . . . He called the idea of economic integration of the refugees “irrelevant and inadmissible” [and] warned that unless Israel was forced at that year’s session (1959) to accept complete repatriation of the refugees, 80,000,000 Arabs “from Casablanca to the Persian Gulf” were ready and eager to go to war with the Jewish state.