BAQAA CAMP, Jordan (Reuters) - A U.S. Middle East peace plan is stirring anger and apprehension in Palestinian refugee camps around the region by raising the prospect that a long-cherished dream of returning to former homes in what is now Israel will be forever crushed.
In camps around the region, Palestinians staged strikes, burned Israeli and U.S. flags and played nationalist songs from loudspeakers to protest against a plan they say could result in their permanent expulsion from ancestral homes.
The Trump administration launches a $50 billion economic initiative at an international meeting starting in Bahrain on Tuesday as the first part of its broader political blueprint to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While the plan’s political details remain secret, for many Palestinians the project has reawakened fears that leaders of Arab countries, including of those that host the refugee camps, could reduce support for the Palestinian cause in return for economic incentives.
“This deal will not go through and we won’t accept the sale of Jordan or Palestine,” said Ibrahim Abu Sayed, a resident of Baqaa camp on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital Amman and also a deputy in the Jordanian parliament.
Washington should not bribe Jordan and other countries with much needed economic projects such as those that it plans to unveiled at the Bahrain meeting, others said.
“There is nothing wrong with creating investments but not at the expense of accepting facts on the ground and revoking the Palestinian right of return. That is sacred and cannot be given up,” Khalil Atiyeh, a prominent deputy of Palestinian origin.
In Baqaa, home to more than 150,000 people, many shops heeded calls by local activists for a general strike to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan.
A large banner in the heart of the crowded camp read “No to permanent settlement. This is a red line.”
Some shops blasted nationalist songs on loudspeakers that hailed “armed struggle” against Israel and denounced Arab leaders whom many blame for their plight.
Some shops hoisted black flags with posters that reject their permanent settlement in Jordan, a country that has absorbed the bulk of the Palestinians who fled or were driven out of their former homes in the wake of Israel’s creation.
For Palestinian refugee Omar al Aidi, his home is a symbol of his dream that he will one day return to his family’s former home.
“The camp for me is Palestine. I am prisoner ... All the Arab leaders have sold Palestine,” said the vegetable vendor, one of about 2 million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan.
“I see Palestine in the camp, in its alleys and the smell of its streets, everything reminds me of Palestine, and I still dream of returning,” the 43-year old, a second generation refugee whose family originally came from a village near TulKarm in the West Bank.
Even young Palestinians who have never seen their ancestral homes yearn one day to return. Many families keep the keys to old homes their parents and grandparents left behind after the creation of Israel in 1948.
Many fear the U.S. administration’s effort to strip refugee status from Palestinians by cutting aid to the U.N. agency that supports over five million Palestinians across the region was an attempt to liquidate their cause.
“If the camp is dismantled, our cause, our dignity would be lost and we would have nothing,” said Abdullah al Najar, 56, from a village near Hebron.
In the Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, refugees set fire to the U.S. and Israeli flags during a protest against the Bahrain conference.
“It will not pass even if the entire world meets to impose it because the Palestinian people is unified in rejecting the sale of its land and cause,” said Fouad Othman of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine during the protest.
Palestinian flags and banners attacking the U.S. initiative were held aloft during a protest in central Beirut against the plan. “The deal of the century is a failed attempt to erase Palestinian rights,” said one.
“We reject the Bahrain conference because, unfortunately, it makes an offer to the Palestinians where they take some money - which neither the Americans nor the Israelis will pay, but some Arab and Gulf rulers - in exchange for the Palestinians selling their rights,” Hamas official Ahmed Abdel Hadi said.
“We are against the deal of the century ... we don’t need money ... we need our country and land,” said Ali al-Qayyam, who was taking part in the protest.
In the once teeming Yarmouk camp in Syria, pro-Damascus Palestinian factions held a rally denouncing the peace plan.
Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Additional reporting Reuters TV Beirut and Amman and Kinda Makieh in Damascus, Editing by William Maclean