Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi has decided to boycott the Arab League's summit, set to be held in Riyadh at the end of March, in response to what he considers as the Arab leaders' plan to "sacrifice" the refugee issue in order to please Israel.
Gaddafi is worried that in the framework of the Saudi peace initiative, Arab leaders would concede the refugees' right of return, and agree to have them naturalized in their countries of residence, in a bid to encourage Israel's cooperation with the peace plan.
Libyan newspaper al-Jamahiriya reported this week that Libya may begin deporting Palestinian refugees soon, in protest of the Arab plan.
"Libya will never cooperate with a concession of the refugees' right of return, and will not allow for the settling of refugees far away from their homeland," the paper stated.
"Libya is in negotiations to allow thousands of Palestinians who reside within its territory to move to the Gaza Strip through Egypt, before the plot to settle them in the Arab countries materializes," it added.
History to repeat itself?
In September, 1995, Libya deported thousands of Palestinians in protest of the signing of the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians, and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.
Hundreds of those refugees remained stranded in a refugee camp on the Libyan-Egyptian border, while hundreds others spent weeks aboard ships in the Mediterranean Sea, after both Syria and Lebanon refused to give them shelter.
The Libyan threats appear to be arousing great concern among the Palestinians. Minister for refugee affairs in the PA, Dr, Atef Adouan, told the London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi this week that the Palestinian government is worried about Libya's statements.
"We hope that the Libyan leadership act wisely and with patience. Deporting the Palestinians from Libya would cause greater suffering to the Palestinian refugees," he said, adding that his government is negotiating the matter with Libya.
Spokesman for the Fatah faction in the PA parliament, MP Jamal al-Tirawi, said that "deporting the Palestinians living in Libya would transfer them from one exile to another, because Israel will not allow them to enter (Gaza). I hope Colonel Gaddafi changes his mind."