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Gulf countries reaffirm support for Palestinian statehood and refugee return at UN

Pro-Palestinian messages come in wake of attendence at US convened conference accused of pro-Israel bias
Palestinians prepare to set fire on an Israeli flag and portraits of US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a protest at the border fence with Israel (AFP)

Gulf countries reaffirmed their committment to supporting the "inalienable rights" of the Palestinians at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, in the wake of a number of US-backed initiatives to draw them closer to Israel.

Speaking at a regular session of the Human Rights Council, representatives of both the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and a group of Arab countries issued statements supporting Palestinian statehood and their right to East Jerusalem as a capital city.

Oman's ambassador Abdulla Nasser al-Rahbi said the GCC rejected "any solution that is not in line with the protection of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

"We express our categorical condemnation of any expansion of the settlements by the occupying power of Israel on the lands of Palestine," he told the meeting on Monday.

'The only way to ensure peace and security for all is to put an end to the Israeli occupation along with the other Arab territories'

- Abdulaziz Alwasil, Saudi ambassador

"International law prevents any such annexation, therefore we do not recognise any of these acts - we call on the international community to take all necessary measures to stop all settlement projects and put an end to them. These policies are yet another obstacle to ending the conflict."

Saudi ambassador Abdulaziz Alwasil, speaking on behalf of the "Arab group" of countries, also condemned Israeli expansion.

“The only way to ensure peace and security for all is to put an end to the Israeli occupation along with the other Arab territories…and to create the State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital city," he said.

"Our group calls on the international community once again to undertake its legal, moral and humanitarian responsibilities towards this cause.”

In late June, Jared Kushner - special advisor to US President Donald Trump - convened an economic workshop in Bahrain where promised $50bn worth of investment in lieu of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, while a number of Arab countries attended the conference, neither the Israeli or Palestinian governments sent representatives.

The Trump administration, and Kushner in particular, have been viewed by the Palestinians as biased in favour of Israel.

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Grace Wermenbol, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, told Middle East Eye last month that the main focus of the conference was "to increase engagement between Israel and Sunni Arab states based on shared geopolitical interests that hinge on countering Iranian expansion."

The conference took place ahead of the Trump administration's "Deal of the Century" to end the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has yet to be publicly revealed.

While a number of Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, have expressed enthusiasm for a Trump peace plan, they have been publicly unwilling to break with the consensus of a two-state solution and other Palestinian red lines, compared with the pro-Israel leanings of Kushner.

Last week, Kushner appeared to suggest that Palestinian refugees needed to be normalised within their host countries, rather than expecting to be able to return to the lands they were expelled from during the 1948 creation of Israel.

"What's happened to the Jewish refugees is they've been absorbed by different places, while the Arab world has not absorbed a lot of these refugees over time," he said during a conference call with Arab media.

"This situation exists because it exists. And when we put out a political solution, we're going to try to put forward the best proposed solutions that we think are pragmatic, achievable and viable in this day and age."

On Monday, Bahrain's ambassador reaffirmed his country's committment to the Palestinian right of return, despite the previous support for Kushner's conference.

"The Kingdom of Bahrain supports all attempts to seek a fair and permenent solution to the Palestinian issue to establish peace in this region - peace that can only be restored if the Palestinian people are able to enjoy their legitimate rights to live in a state within the pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as a capital with the return of all Palestinian refugees," said Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri.