A senior Palestinian official on Wednesday called on the Swiss government to issue a formal apology for remarks made by Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis in which he criticized the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
“Switzerland has taken a non-neutral stance and the statement of its foreign minister serves the [Israeli] occupation narrative and the goals of Israel and the US administration to abort the rights of [Palestinian] refugees,” Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said in a letter sent to the Swiss government.
Cassis’s statements had provoked outrage among the Palestinian people and leadership, Erekat said, going on to describe the remarks as “insulting”.
Erekat also reiterated Palestine’s longstanding rejection of the notion of integrating Palestinian refugees into their current host countries.
“The Palestinian people maintain their inalienable right to return to their homeland [i.e., historical Palestine],” he said.
Last Thursday, in an interview with Swiss newspapers, Cassis said: “As long as we support UNRWA, we keep the conflict alive; as long as Palestinians live in refugee camps, they will dream of returning home.”
“UNRWA has become part of the problem; it is used as ammunition for continuing the conflict,” the foreign minister said.
Cassis went on to say that Palestinian refugees should be integrated into their current host countries.
The Israel-Palestine conflict began in 1917 when the British government, in the infamous Balfour Declaration, called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.
In 1948, a new state — “Israel” — was established inside historical Palestine.
Around 15,000 Palestinians were killed and about 800,000 displaced at the time, while 531 Arab villages were destroyed in attacks by armed Jewish gangs.
The Palestinian diaspora has since become one of the largest in the world.
Palestinian refugees are now scattered across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and other countries, while many have settled in camps in Palestine’s West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
According to UNRWA, there are currently more than five million registered Palestinian refugees worldwide. For many of them, the “right of return” to their homes in historical Palestine remains a key demand.
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