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Excluding the right of return from the Palestinian discourse

Dr Abdel Sattar Qasem

October 16, 2014


News about developments of the Palestinian issue continue to pour in through all media outlets, and statements and political speeches do not stop, but we hardly hear about the core and essence of the Palestinian issue which is the problem of Palestinian refugees.

Most of the actions related to finding a solution for the Palestinian case revolve around the establishment of a Palestinian state, or the so-called two-state solution. Meanwhile the issue of the refugees remains excluded, or marginalised, from these steps, in light of very weak hints by Palestinian politicians.

In the United Nations there are Palestinians and Arabs who mention the suffering of the Palestinian refugees with implicit sentences in order to get sympathy from those who have none. On the internal Palestinian front, there is a clear absence of the issue of refugees in all educational, cultural and media related facilities, and it is rare for the issue to be a topic of debate or discussion, whether private or public. As for the international arena, the world is completely silent about this issue and we don't hear countries or human rights organisations putting the case up for discussion.

The Palestinian cause is torn into pieces after it was a whole cause that represented an entire people, but it was transformed into one of many issues such as an independent mini-state, a non-member state at the UN, settlements, a speech for Mahmoud Abbas at the UN, salaries, tax revenues collected by Israel, the war on Gaza, reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, and other issues.

The Palestine case is first and foremost the case of refugees; it is the case of a people, who were expelled from their homeland, and in its essence, it is a case of a people who live in camps under very difficult economic and social conditions and it is not a secondary case.

It is true that the secondary issues are important, but they are not a priority, and we should not allow them to affect the issue of Palestinian refugees or overstep its high priority amongst the Arab and Palestinian interests.

If there is a solution to the Palestinian case, it can't be realised without including a program to facilitate the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes and properties occupied in 1948. This is why the issue of refugees must be the main concern for all those who seek peace in the Arab and Islamic region and on the international level. All those who try to evade the acknowledgment of the rights of Palestinian refugees are actually evading serious efforts to find a solution for the case, and are trying to keep the Arab and Islamic worlds in constant war, and are threatening world peace.

The right of return

Countries, international conventions and human rights organisations always talk about human rights, but such talk always stops when it comes to the rights of Palestinian refugees. International conventions, religious teachings and history lessons all acknowledge the right of refugees to return to their homeland, and so many countries, mainly large ones, call for the return of refugees and expelled people to their homes and properties, but these countries become silent when it comes to Palestinian refugees. Even the United Nations did not live up to its responsibility when it settled for only issuing UN Security Council Resolution 242 which calls for a just solution for the issue of refugees without mentioning who these refugees are, and without talking about specific international conventions related to refugees, and without confirming the General Assembly's Resolution 194 for the year 1948 concerning the return of Palestinian refugees.

International norms state that countries in conflict must first look for ways to face humanitarian problems before starting negotiations about political, economic and security problems. Humanitarian problems have a priority over all other issues, and that's why countries at war always start with talking about two vital issues: refugees and prisoners.

First, they agree to return refugees or those who were displaced due to the war, and then they agree to swap prisoners. Those two issues did not get prioritised in the Palestinian case, and Israel's security remained the main issue that dominated negotiations between Israel, the PLO and the Arab regimes.

For many years, the negotiations table acted as a support for Israeli security while the displaced Palestinians had to stand guard at the gates of the Israeli kingdom.

And instead of looking for arrangements for the return of Palestinian refugees, the search was focused on how the Palestinians must provide security and military services to Israel. Some Palestinians had to commit moral crimes against themselves where they would defend Israel's security while Israeli warplanes were killing children, destroying homes, and their army was confiscating lands and building settlements.

The meaning of justice was changed during the negotiations between the Arabs and Israel, as the meaning of justice now meant the defence of settlers and Israel's right to exhaust the Palestinians, crush them, kill them and destroy their homes. Justice now meant protecting Israel, its security and its interest, as well as the absence of the case of Palestinian refugees.

The harshest blow to Palestinians' morale as a result of this change was the fact that refugees who grew up and lived in refugee camps were now defending Israel's security. There are Palestinian refugees who work as leaders in Palestinian security services and coordinate with Israel against their own people and nation.

The search for a state

The issue of establishing a Palestinian state was not presented as a Palestinian constant that must be fought for; there were only two constants: the right of return and the right to self-determination.

The idea of establishing a Palestinian or Arab authority in the land occupied in 1967 was only raised once in 1968 by Zionist Yigal Alon who presented a proposal for a solution for the Palestinian case in cooperation with Jordan. Juldamir repeated the idea in 1973, but former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was clearer when he, in 1978, proposed the establishment of a Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Bethlehem as its capital, and where it would have a police that is armed by Israel in order to enforce internal order. However, Ariel Sharon is the one who adopted the idea practically and sought to establish a Palestinian Authority by means establishing the Village League system for this purpose.

The Palestinian Liberation Organisation refused the idea at all its stages and considered accepting the establishment of a Palestinian Authority and autonomy to be treason that should be punished by death. The translation of this rejection was in the form of the PLO's assassination of Yousef Al-Khatib, the head of the Village League in Ramallah.

However, time showed us that the position of the PLO was not based on national principles, but on the PLO's vision and idea of who should be leading the national treason. This is why it easily accepted the signing of the Oslo agreement which represents a bad copy of the Menachem Begin proposal for the establishment of Palestinian autonomy.

It was clear in the PLO's agenda for 1974 that it was moving towards accepting autonomy and the establishment of a Palestinian Authority. The official Palestinian position evolved after that into a search for a state in light of the Zionist occupation, and then Palestinian media outlets adopted the idea of establishing this state so it would become a Palestinian constant, while it is actually close to being an Israeli constant as Israel is the one that initially proposed the idea.

The state at the expense of the right of return

It was important for the Palestinian leadership to adopt the idea of establishing the state and using it to distract the Palestinian people from it, which was at the expense of right of return. It was clear from the actions of the Palestinian leadership in both the internal and external arenas that it had given up on the right of return and that it is only providing media services in this regard in order to throw dust in the eyes of the Palestinians.

This is a result of a conviction formed by this leadership that believed that Israel would never agree to the right of return, and that insisting on it would completely abort all other efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the case, and that if the Palestinian people wanted peace with Israel, they would have to give up on the right of return first, and also give up their right to self-determination.

After the Oslo accord, Palestinians started realising that many security officers began to publicly say that demanding the right of return will stand in the way of the peace process with Israel. I heard, with my own ears, Palestinians saying that those who want the right of return do not want peace in the region.

As for the right to self-determination, it is clear that the PLO and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority do not mention it, even though the UN General Assembly recognised the Palestinian people's right to self-determination in 1974.

The Palestinian Authority, and those with it, exert so much effort to remind the people of the UN General Assembly's resolution relating to recognising Palestine as a non-state member at the UN, but they do not bother to remind people of the right to self-determination which is much more important than the recognition resolution, because the establishment of a state is included in the right to self-determination.

The Palestinian leadership, as well as the Arab regimes, are evading the refugees' right of return. Their overlooking of the clause in the Arab Initiative regarding the refugees shows the irresoluteness of the Palestinian and Arab positions towards this issue.

This clause states the importance of looking for a just solution for the refugees' case (in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 242) in light of the General Assembly's Resolution 194 which concerns the refugees' right of return.

The truth is that this decision circumvents the issue of refugees, or at best presents it in a vague manner, while this is supposed to be clear and unambiguous, and should explicitly state the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties in the land occupied in 1948, and the text must leave no room for misinterpretation that the right of return would be to the land occupied in 1967.

The irresolute positions of the different factions

The Palestinian factions were not serious in their position towards the Oslo agreement and the consequent decline in Palestinian positions, as well as the decline of the Palestinian cause on the regional and international arena. The Oslo agreement did not eliminate the refugees' right of return, but it postponed looking into it. This delay is considered a national crime. On the other hand, acknowledging Israel, certainly involves denying the refugees' right of return.

It was expected for those who agreed with the Oslo accords to follow the national standard which has been followed since the British mandate and which called for boycotting all those who cooperate with the enemy and belittle Palestinian rights.

The Palestinian factions that are part of the PLO immediately built friendly relations with those that signed and accepted the Oslo Accords, and asked the Palestinian Authority for jobs for their members. Their leaders started to hold meetings with those who were cooperating with Israel on the security and civil levels, while continuing to issue statements of verbal abuse and insults against Oslo.

On the other hand, Islamic factions did not boycott those who cooperated with the occupation either and some of their leaders also asked for jobs for their sons and matters even reached the point of these factions going under the umbrella of the Oslo Supporters after the 2014 war.

These factions who supported the Oslo agreement led negotiations on behalf of the Palestinian resistance, and none of the resistance leaders mentioned, neither during the war nor during negotiations, the right of return. This has put all factions in the same trench; a matter that requires the Palestinian people to intensify their efforts to preserve their inalienable national rights.

Translated from Al Jazeera net, 7 October, 2014

Source


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