The subject of the Oslo accords and the future of the exiled Palestinians is discussed today with a deep sense of urgency among themselves as well as their kinfolk in Palestine. These discussions are, more often than not, accompanied by intense feelings of anxiety expressed in the recurrent terms of; bewilderment, loss, and misery.
Yet, they are equally shrouded in ample feelings of determination to pursue the objective of return to the homeland. This matter also engages the energies of the Arab nation and several Arab governments and their overall position toward the Palestine Question. Likewise, it occupies a prominent position in the plans of the Zionist–colonialist alliance to dissolve the Palestine Question.
The subject is linked to the issue of the exiled Palestinians that began when this alliance expelled them from their homes in 1948. The essence of the issue is their aspiration to return to the liberated homeland. It is one aspect of the Palestine Question and is integrated with the issue of the Palestinians in that part of the homeland occupied in 1948, with those in the part of Palestine occupied in 1967, and with the issue of Jerusalem with its both parts that were occupied in 1948 and 1967. I studied these four aspects within the unified Palestine Question through the involvement of the United Nations with the events of the Arab-Zionist conflict.
The issue of the exiled Palestinians passed through different stages in accord with the unified Palestinian Question. Together with the Arab-Zionist conflict it entered a new phase after the earthquake that shook Eastern Europe and the Arab Gulf and ended the Cold War in the early 1990s. This was attended with a call to the Madrid Conference on 30th. September 1991 and commencement of the peace process to end the conflict. The United States of America, the chief architect and patron of the “Middle East Peace Process” convened it. This new phase in the issue of the exiled Palestinians reached its climax with the Declaration of Principles pertaining to the establishment of a Palestinian transitional autonomous government between the Zionist Israeli entity and the leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) on 13/9/1993 in Washington in what was famously called the Oslo agreement. It was so named after the Norwegian capital, which hosted the secret negotiations. This agreement was completed with the signing of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement on 4/5/1994 followed by the Palestinian-Israeli Transitional Agreement concerning the West Bank and Gaza Strip in Washington 28/9/1995 also known as the Oslo II Agreement which includes in its core the two previous accords.
Surely, visualizing the future of the exiled Palestinians in the shade of the settlement accords requires from us, initially, to embrace the condition of the exiled Palestinians with a comprehensive vision according to the methodology of future studies which we discussed in our book (Tajid al Fikr wa Istijabat li Tahadiyat al Asr – The Renewal of Thought and Response to the Challenges of the Time). It also requires an exploration of the depths of that condition, analytically, and a study of what was entailed in the agreements of (the Middle East Peace Process) concerning the exiled Palestinians, and what was actually practiced on the ground to implement these agreements. At the same time, it is also necessary to recall the origins of this state of affairs and explain the historical movement that led the way to it; ending with a study of the future and knowledge of the plans of the parties in the conflict. Still besides, it demands the introduction of the factors of compassion and will to act, both of which affect greatly the making of the future after looking toward and envisioning it.
Embracing the condition of the exiled Palestinians with a comprehensive vision necessitates, initially, a definition of the term and identification of the people it refers to. Then, it is necessary to know where they are, their number, and distribution. Further, it is also important to know something about their conditions in their various dimensions. The term “Filistini al Kharij” is comprised of two words; the first emanates from Filistine – Palestine - the place and country to which every Palestinian is tied. The other word al Kharij – outside – relates to the one who lives outside Palestine after he was exiled from his country. There are those who use the word “dispersed” to connote al Kharij - the exiled - which signifies dispersal and scattering out of the homeland.
The Palestinian identity
The task of identifying the dispersed or exiled Palestinians demands that we ascertain who are the Palestinians today. That is because the dispersed Palestinians are part of the Palestinian people. They bear the Palestinian identity. When contemplating the question of identity we find that it becomes clear in the individual and collective view of self and how others see those who bear that identity.
The Palestinian vision of himself
The Palestinian vision of himself has been outlined in the first seven articles of the Palestinian National Charter. This was concluded at the founding conference convened in Jerusalem in May 1964. Palestine is the homeland of the Palestinian Arab people. It is an integral part of the larger Arab homeland and the Palestinians are themselves a part of the Arab nation (Article 1). This Palestine with the boundaries that were existent during the British Mandate is an indivisible regional entity (Article 2). The Palestinian Arab people posses the legal right to their homeland and have the right to determine their destiny after achieving the liberation of their country in accordance with their wishes and entirely of their own accord and will. (Article3). The Palestinian identity is a genuine, essential, and inherent characteristic that cannot be effaced. It is transferred from parents to children. The Zionist occupation and the dispersal of the Palestinian Arab people, through the disasters that befell them, do not efface their Palestinian identity and their membership of the Palestinian community, nor do they negate them (Article 4).
The Palestinians are those Arab nationals who, until 1947, normally resided in Palestine regardless of whether they were evicted from it or have stayed there. Anyone born after that date of a Palestinian father – whether inside Palestine or outside it – is also a Palestinian (Article 5). Most of the Palestinian Arabs are Muslims. There are Christians among them and Jews who were residing normally in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion. These Jews are also considered Palestinians (Article 6). That there is a Palestinian community and that it has material, spiritual, and historical connection with Palestine are indisputable facts. It is a national duty to bring up the individual Palestinian in a manner to acquaint him with his own country in the most profound manner, both spiritual and material. He must be prepared for the armed struggle and ready to sacrifice his wealth and his life in order to win back his homeland and bring about its liberation (Article 7).
This is the vision of self and community in the Palestinian identity. It is manifested in the Palestinian individual with a vision of himself and his identity. He is a Palestinian Arab, the son of a Palestinian Arab, he belongs to Arab Palestine that is a part of the larger Arab nation and to the Arab peoples of which he is part, and to the Islamic Arab civilization, which the Arab Muslims, Christians, and other creeds and people participated in establishing. Thus, Palestine in the view of this individual is the land of his fathers and grandfathers. It is also the land of his sons and grandsons. It is the occupied homeland whose liberation remains the focus of his vision. A Palestinian individual maybe forced to be oblivious of this vision or deny it under certain pressures, but he feels that it still governs him internally, and that his Palestinian identity is latent within him. Likewise, a person of Palestinian origins may also be raised with another identity. Then a moment comes when external factors interplay and reveal his primary identity and he begins to pursue his roots and does not hesitate to form his individual vision of his Palestinian identity.
Others’ view of the Palestinian
The way others view the Palestinian helps in no small measure to reinforce his identity, and in strengthening the individual and collective vision of self. The truth is that many on the collective official level, in governments, look at everyone whose origin is Palestinian as Palestinian, irrespective of the nationality that he may have acquired. There are several reasons for this. Perhaps among the most important is what has been planned by the international forces of tyranny and foremost among them the Zionists, in placing the Palestinians under their undercover agencies, should in case they carry out acts to liberate their homeland; and to confront them with measures that preoccupy them to a large extent with overcoming the difficulties of their daily lives such as earning a living, work permits, and attainment good education and health. The forces of tyranny are moved by latent feelings of guilt for what they have done to the Palestinians and an underlying fear of their continued work to restore their homeland. Thus, everyone of Palestinian origin is, in the view of these governments, a Palestinian, regardless of his current nationality. And, he is treated principally on this basis that he is a Palestinian. This is manifested in the treatment meted out during his entrance into such states at their airports. It is possible to narrate the stories of a number of Palestinians on the nature of this treatment. And, if the individual attitude toward someone of Palestinian origin differs from one person to another according to his religion, nationality and traditions, they all seem to converge with the outlook of governments in their consideration of him as a Palestinian.
Here is an example of a Palestinian vision of self and the way others see him. It concerns a young American citizen, born in America but of Palestinian origin. He grew up in an environment in which he never heard a word about his origins or of Palestine. He grew up as an American until he entered university in 1987; the year when the Intifadah – uprising - started in Palestine. He was taken aback while following the university students’ news by an item that mentioned the Intifadah. He noticed, subsequently, that in mentioning the death of Palestinian youth and children it always used the passive sense and avoided citing the killer. So, he innocently wrote to the editor of the publication seeking an explanation; not knowing that they were American Zionist Jews. The response was sharp and hostile, accusing him of being an extremist Palestinian, by the look of his name, and challenged him to an open debate. This young man became aware of the truth of his Palestinian origin. He was about to accept the invitation to the debate but found that he knew nothing about Palestine and its struggle. So he researched, learnt, debated, and succeeded. He was, thereafter, inspired to visit the Arab homeland during his vacation in order to know his relatives. He was appalled by the intense scrutiny that he was subjected to in the first airport that he entered with his American passport. And, similarly, with the problems he faced when leaving; among them the delay of his journey and return to the police station to establish that he was originally Palestinian. This young man passed through many traumas, ending with the realization that Palestine is part of his identity. He is an American Palestinian Arab. This realization prompted him to spend one academic year after his higher studies in the Arab homeland to give his Palestinian Arab origin its right of knowledge.
The continued existence of the Palestinian identity
The Palestinian identity endures. It includes all the sons of the Palestinian Arab people within Palestine and outside of it. Each one of them is a Palestinian. There are many others with them who live outside and are unable to return to Palestine. Even though it is their homeland and the homeland of their sons and grandsons. They are the exiled Palestinians, to whom some refer as the dispersed Palestinians. They interact with the vision of themselves and the vision of others of themselves to show their Palestinian identity that unites them with their brothers in Palestine who together form the Palestinian Arab people, one of the peoples of the Arab nation.
The core of the issue of the exiled Palestinians
The exiled Palestinians today have their own problem, which is itself part of the larger Palestine Question. The core of this issue is their struggle to return to their homeland, Palestine, and the preservation of their rights at a time when the Occupier forcefully prevents their return. It fights with the forces that predominate internationally to deny their rights. The vast majority of the exiled Palestinians show their Palestinian Arab identity and are proud of it. This is something that is common to all men in their relations with their identity.
Facts and figures
In our attempt to embrace the condition of the exiled Palestinians with a complete view it is important to know the places where they are found, their numbers and distribution. Most of the exiled Palestinians reside in the four Arab states neighboring Palestine. They are Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. Some reside in other parts of the Arab world while yet more are in other parts of the world.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the Center for Palestinian Statistics, and the official reports of states and specialists books all provide estimates about their numbers. UNRWA (1998) figures fix the number of Palestinians residing in Arab countries neighboring Palestine at 3,272,935. Most of them are in Jordan where 2,328,308 reside. There are 430,183 in Lebanon, 465,662 in Syria, and 48,784 in Egypt. According to the same source, there are 274,762 Palestinians in Saudi Arabia, 37,696 in Kuwait, and 105,578 in the other Gulf countries. Likewise, there are 74,284 Palestinians in Libya and Iraq and 5,544 in the other Arab countries. Accordingly, the total number residing in Arab countries is 3,770,799. They represent about 48% of the overall population of the Palestinian Arab people. There are about 203,588 Palestinians in the United States of America and 259,248 in other parts of the world. Altogether, about 63.46% of the Palestinians live outside their homeland. The total number in Palestine is 3,554,550. Of this latter figure, 953,497reside in that part of Palestine occupied in 1948. In the West Bank, there are 1,596,554, while another 1,004,498 reside in the Gaza Strip. The total number of exiled Palestinians is 4,942,121. The overall population as estimated by UNRWA in 1998 was 7,788,186.
The figures produced by Dr. Salman Abu Sitta in his work “Palestinian Right to Return – Sacred, Legal and Possible” are, on the whole, based on the UNRWA figures with a few exceptions. One fact has, however, become clear to us. That the estimated total number of exiled Palestinians when we read other statistics in books about Palestine do not concur with those that we presented even though they appear close. A notable example is Donna Erzit’s, book, From Refugees to Citizens, the Palestinians and the End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. As for the figures cited in Israeli books, they are different because they invariably attempt to minimize the number of Palestinians.
The general picture of all that has been mentioned thus far about the exiled Palestinians is that they number about five million; seventy percent of whom live in the neighboring states. About fifteen percent of the remainder are found in the other Arab lands while the rest are in other parts of the world.
Need for accurate calculations
In the light of what preceded and given the urgency of the issue of the exiled Palestinians, there is a great need today to carryout an accurate calculation of their number in their various places of domicile. This listing should include every Palestinian who fits the criteria laid out in the Palestinian National Charter of who is a Palestinian. Such an exercise warrants the cooperation of the Bureau of Returnees in the PLO, along with the Palestinian administration in the Arab League and UNRWA so that the Bureau of Returnees would have an accurate (separate) register as well as the Palestinian administration in the League.
Palestinians and nationalities
When we examine the issue of the exiled Palestinians in terms of the nationalities they bear we find that the majority of those residing in Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt bear the Palestinian nationality with which they were expelled in 1948. The majority of those residing in Jordan hold Jordanian nationality. They are considered Jordanian citizens. Their Jordanian passports, however, indicate their Palestinian origins. A large number also hold the nationalities of the other Arab states in which they reside. Many Palestinians residing in the Americas have also acquired the nationalities of the countries in which they reside. The dispersed Palestinians who still hold their Palestinian nationality and carry the temporary Palestinian travel document encounter numerous difficulties in movement, residence and employment to various degrees from one state to another. With the exception of Syria, the other host countries do not recognize the document that they grant the Palestinians that would enable them to return automatically to their homes and family. Instead, they are obliged to acquire a return visa with certain conditions. These difficulties, which in the last two decades included education and health, have forced many of them to seek other nationalities; believing that they would make life easier for them. Some have, therefore, migrated to Canada, Australia, and Latin America.
The condition of the exiled Palestinians
The economic conditions of the exiled Palestinians vary to different degrees. There is, admittedly, a section that braved the hazards of trade and enterprise and succeeded. There is besides, a larger group of professionals of medium income. And, there is still a larger group of investors who strive to earn their daily sustenance and a decent living. These economic conditions are also linked to their social and cultural circumstances. Social ties are still very strong within the Palestinian family. They responded to the challenges of the 1948 Catastrophe and were a basic factor in the Palestinian resistance and later renaissance. Their numerous examples deserve to be recorded because of their nature in terms of family values and our Arab Islamic civilization. The Palestinian response to the challenge of the 1948 Catastrophe also included the acquisition of learning and culture. The rate of learning among the Catastrophe Generation was, therefore, very high. Many Palestinians, both internally and externally, thus excelled in various fields. Several factors interplayed during the last two decades to make the acquisition of learning difficult for the exiled Palestinians. This, consequently, led to a decline in learning and its standards. A number of reports by the Palestinian Council for Higher Education, Culture and Science acknowledged this setback during its assessment of ways to overcome these difficulties. It appears that in the light of the current educational realities among the dispersed Palestinians that there is a critical need for special help at this stage. This responsibility falls squarely on the shoulder of the Bureau for Education and Training in the PLO. But, like others in the Organization, this Bureau has since 1994 become preoccupied with the affairs of the internal Palestinians and the administration of the National Authority at the expense of the exiled Palestinians. This, therefore, requires that the various bureaus should return to serve the exiled Palestinians and take national initiatives relating to their conditions and circumstances.
When the subject of the exiled Palestinians is raised the expression Palestinian refugees always come to mind. It is the term used officially in most instances to refer to them. The truth is that UNRWA has distinguished in its statistics on the dispersal of the Palestinians between the exiled Palestinians who became (nationals) in the states where they reside and the other (refugees), non-registered and registered. It distinguished between the registered refugees residing in the camps and the others residing outside. The word ‘refugee’ has been widely used among Palestinians to refer to those who were evicted during the 1948 Catastrophe. The word ‘displaced’ person has been similarly used to refer to those displaced by the June 1967 War.
The word ‘displaced’ person has a different meaning with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He is one who leaves his home to another place within the boundaries of the state to which he belongs. Similarly, the international definition of the word refugee according to the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees does not concur with the definition of the Palestinian refugee because the operative factor is the element of fear from persecution for one reason or another and it does not highlight clearly the element of expulsion from homes and homeland by force. Likewise, it does not distinguish between exile caused by social and political reasons and exile resulting from racist occupationist settler colonialism.
There are ten camps for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, 13 in Lebanon and 10 in Syria. Internally, there are eight camps in the Gaza Strip and twenty in the West Bank. These camps shelter 35% of the refugees registered with UNRWA. A comprehensive overview of the condition of the external Palestinians elicits the notion of two waves of expulsion from the homeland. The first occurred during the 1948 War in which close to one million were exiled. Then the second wave took place in 1967 when an estimated 200,000 were evicted; half of them were already refugees from the first wave. The number has since multiplied which their increase.
It is clear that the condition of the external Palestinians is dominated by problems that require solutions on several levels beginning with nationality and extending to employment, education and health. The PLO, which was founded in 1964, in its capacity as the representative of the Palestinian Arab people internally and externally, tried to solve these problems. It also tried to liberate Palestine and secure the return of the exiled Palestinians to their homeland. Hence the majority of them rallied around the Organization. Its efforts continued until it signed the 1993 Oslo agreement, which adopted a definite position toward the external Palestinians and those in the part of Palestine occupied in 1948. That is because it concentrated on the Palestinians in the West Bank (excluding those in east Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. Then came the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of 1994 and the 1995 Oslo II Agreement which visibly reinforced this position toward the exiled Palestinians. It recognized Zionist Israel’s occupation of historic Palestine, thereby introducing a new and dangerous dimension to the problem of the exiled Palestinians, the essence of which is their return to the homeland. Thus, we may examine how the Oslo Agreement viewed the exiled Palestinians.
The position taken by the Oslo-Washington agreements towards the exiled Palestinians is nebulous. This lack of clarity harbors certain dangers toward the inalienable national rights of this part of the Palestinian Arab people that have been endorsed by international law. The signing of these agreements has come as part of the settlement process designed by the United States of America, who installed itself as the actual patron of the process, which it called the Middle East Peace Process. Thus, in order to know the position of these agreements toward the exiled Palestinians, it is necessary to know the outline that were drawn up by the Madrid Conference convened on 30/10/1991 concerning their problem.
The exiled Palestinians in Middle East peace
This peace process has been based on United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. It is well known that the latter mentions negotiations and in the former there is a reference to the exiled Palestinians. It mentions in Article 2 (b) of “achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem.” From the text, it is clear that those who drafted the resolution were keen to ensure that it remained vague when it referred the refugees, without mentioning that they are Palestinians, which is required according to the context of the resolution. This has enabled the Israelis, since its adoption in November 1967, to advance their own interpretation to mean that it included the Jews who moved to the Jewish state after the 1948 War. We recall here how Ishaq Shamir gloated over this in his address to the Madrid Conference.
The ambiguity of this article of resolution 242 led the invited parties to seek clarification from the then American Secretary of State, James Baker. Hence, he acknowledged in his Letter of assurances to Israel the existence of different interpretations of Security Council resolution 242. The Letter of assurances also included a reference to the imminent multilateral negotiations scheduled to focus on general regional issues, including the problem of the refugees. As for the American Letter of assurances to the Palestinian contingent in the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation that participated in the Madrid Conference, it made one indirect reference to the exiled Palestinians while discussing the final status negotiations. It noted, “the United States further believes that Palestinians from east Jerusalem and Palestinians outside the occupied territories who meet the three criteria should be able to participate in the negotiations on final status.”
At the time, the author pointed out in various discussions among Palestinians concerning the Madrid Conference that it was ambiguous and had several faces. And, that it posed certain threats to the rights of Palestinians both internally and externally. He explained that the letters of all the American organizations insisted that Security Council resolution was for negotiation and not for implementation. Similarly, that the presentation of the subject of the refugees without observing that they were Palestinians, or overlooking the time of their eviction in 1948 and 1967, and the authorization of Israel to forward what it wishes concerning that subject will open the way for discussion on the Jewish refugees and its presentation on the humanitarian level rather than the level of legal rights. Notwithstanding, that it would preclude examining the subject of the refugees in the bilateral talks between Israel and the Arab negotiating side. The author also pointed to the conditions imposed by Washington on the Palestinian participants in the Jordanian delegation in the Madrid Conference; among them recognition of Israel, commitment to its security, and the adoption of negotiations as the only way of settlement. These conditions impacted negatively on Palestinian rights and our position in the negotiations.
The negotiations on the multilateral track began with a conference convened in Moscow on 28/1/1992. Thirty-three states, Arab and non-Arab, attended to coordinate matters on Palestinian meetings comprising of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, Jerusalem, and from the refugees headed by Faisal al Husayni. It was, however, prevented from entering the conference hall on the pretext that its composition was contrary to the terms set out in Madrid; even though it was an international conference convened to address issues all relating to the Palestinian Arab people, as the delegation explained. When the Refugee Group convened its first meeting in Ottawa on 12/5/1992 Israel boycotted it because the Palestinian delegation was led by a Palestinian from outside the territories. In his address, the individual in question, Dr. Ilyas Sambar, presented the Palestinian position as it is based on UNGA resolution 194, which was issued on 11/12/1948 and affirms the right of return. The head of the delegation was forced to stay away from the second sitting and was acted for by a Palestinian from the Occupied Territories so that Israel would end its boycott of the meeting. The second meeting of this Working Group was held in Ottawa on 11/11/1992 and for the second time the head of the Israeli delegation announced that he would pull out with his delegation because the head of the Palestinian delegation to the meeting, Dr. Muhammad Halajj, was a member of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and that Israel refuses to negotiate with the PLO. Following the American intervention, the Israeli delegation decided to stay after the head of the American delegation confirmed that the head of the Palestinian delegation was a member of the PNC but that his membership had ended. Both delegations presented their views on the issue of the exiled Palestinians. The second meeting ended with the dismissal of resolution 194 as a point of reference (as a result of pressure from the Israeli delegation and the succumbing of several western delegations to this pressure). Bilal al Hasan explained this matter in an article entitled “Al Laji’oon al Filistiniyun: al Mataha al Khatira” in Dirasat Filistiniya, Autumn, 1996.
After these, the Working Group on Refugees convened several other meetings in Oslo in May 1993, Tunis in October 1994, Antioch in December 1994 and Geneva in 1995. They all failed to achieve anything on the political level because of Israel’s refusal to recognize the refugee issue a political one. Ilyas Sambar explained in a discussion with Bilal al Hasan concerning the achievements of these meetings that the Israeli delegation concentrated on addressing the refugee issue from the viewpoint of a humanitarian one only, especially in matters pertaining to housing. It was clear, therefore, that they did not want to attain results. For every time the Palestinian delegation raised the subject of the right of return they said this was the concern of the bilateral negotiation and it would be discussed with every Arab government individually and not with the Palestinian delegation in the Working Group on Refugees except to discuss the refugees in the self-autonomous areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Ilyas Sambar concluded his observations saying, “we struggled for forty years to present ourselves as a united Palestinian people and now they want to separate us into different Palestinian groups, one in Lebanon and another in Syria etc.
In retrospect, the most the Working Group on Refugees achieved was the pronouncement of a number of statements reflecting the two positions, Arab and Israeli. It discussed ideas about seven subjects. They were; the information base, general health, childcare, technical training, work opportunities, the development of human resources and social and economic infrastructure, and family reunion. Thus, it preoccupied itself with matters other than the essence of the issue - the Palestinian refugees outside, their right of return, and how to exercise that right. In a recent study published on the work of the Working Group entitled “The Future of the Palestinian Refugees” published by the Institute of Palestinian Studies, Salim Ta’amari explained that there is an Israeli consensus between the Likud and Labor concerning the subject of the refugees and Israel’s refusal to deal with it on a political level. He explained this reality in the light of a general fear in Israel that the Arabs would come forward and demand what they lost in 1948. Hence they do not accept any movement away from their claim to Jewish rights in Palestine.
Thus were the plans drawn up in Madrid by the so-called (the Middle East Peace Process) concerning the issue of the Palestinian refugees abroad. This is what was attained from the multilateral negotiations according to those plans. What an achievement they have been! And, what has happened concerning this issue in the Oslo agreements?
In the Oslo agreements
The secrecy that characterized the negotiations between the Israeli government and the leadership of the PLO concerning the exiled Palestinians at Oslo in the summer of 1993 continued according to the plan drawn up by the Middle East Peace Process since the Madrid Conference. They were plans that made the context of the negotiations unclear without any point of reference. These negotiations produced in one single night the Declaration of Principles (concerning the establishment of a transitional autonomous government). These were reflected in seventeen articles, four appendices, and a timetable reflecting altogether a veritable threat to the issue of the exiled Palestinians.
This declaration did not mention explicitly the right of return of the exiled Palestinians (refugees) to their homeland Palestine. It confined itself to dealing with the issue of the refugees with a single indication of the possibility of discussing it in the final status negotiations. That was written into the third point of the fifth article, which refers to this issue as one of the remaining issues as Jerusalem, settlements and borders. In this way the deferral of discussion of these issues to the final status negotiations was a continuation of the intended plan of the Peace Process since Madrid. That despite its continuation, the Peace Process confirmed within almost two years that the deferral of discussion of these issues enabled the Israeli government to continue the establishment of new facts concerning each one of them according to the racist expansionist Zionist programme with practical help from the United States of America, the architect of the process and its (actual) patron. We have thus seen how this Zionist entity has continued to Judaize Jerusalem, expand its colonialist settlements, expropriate more Palestinian land, and deny the refugee right of return.
The Declaration of Principles also mentions the 1967 refugees in its twelfth article which calls for the formation of a quadripartite council of Israeli and Palestinian representatives on the one hand, and Egypt and Jordan on the other to promote cooperation between them. This would include the formation of a Standing Committee that will decide, by agreement, the admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. The author had, thereafter, refuted at a meeting of the Central Council the articles of this declaration and called for their rejection. Similarly, Mr. Shafiq al Hout in his address before the Council drew attention to the expression ‘modalities of admission of persons’ mentioned in the same article. He pointed out that there was an open and unfair discussion about resettlement. And that it was the right of the exiled Palestinians to live in uncertainty about their fate. We know what fate awaits them after Oslo because the discussion about the displaced of 1967 is not without ambiguity, despite the declaration by some officials about them and their promises that within a matter of months hundred of thousands will return to our occupied land.
The period after the signing of the Oslo-Washington agreement 13/9/1993 witnessed several pronouncements by a certain senior official involved in the secret Oslo talks. Bilal al Hasan mentioned some in his study. They contained, quite strangely, an interpretation of resolution 194 concerning repatriation that it mentions, briefly, compensation for those who do not want to return and that we remain committed to this resolution and will present this in the Multilateral Group. When we suggested this in Ottawa, we found for the first time support for it. The United States of America, Canada, France, Italy and others agreed to it. Bilal al Hasan followed up this saying, “Abu Mazin was asked about resettlement and gave a strange answer saying, ‘why resettlement?’ There is no need for resettlement in the absence of return because any Palestinian who remains in an Arab state would be among the Palestinian minority. But his right would remain, and that is linked to the Palestinian state.” (interview with al Hayat newspaper, 21/10/1993.)
Other disclosures by participants in the negotiations and supporters of the agreements speak of the return, in the near future, of 850,000 displaced persons from the 1967 War. The Israelis dismissed this. Many of the exiled Palestinians monitor what would happen on the ground with strong feelings, especially with the increase of grave dangers posed to their rights by this first agreement. So what happened on the ground after this?
Implementing the texts on the ground
Students of history and political science are often preoccupied with what happens on the ground after the signing of a political agreement. That is because the implementation of the texts is the test of its content, the extent of its adherence, and ability to endure.
When we consider what has taken place on the ground concerning the exiled Palestinians after the signing of the Oslo-Washington agreement 13/9/1993, we find that five months elapsed before the committee responsible for examining the issue of return of the 1967 displaced Palestinians convened in Amman on 7/3/1994. This meeting was the implementation of what was mentioned in Article 12 of the Declaration of Principles, which says; “The two parties will invite the governments of Jordan and Egypt to participate in establishing further liaison and cooperation arrangements between the government of Israel and the Palestinian representatives, on one hand, and the governments of Jordan and Egypt, on the other hand, to promote cooperation between them. The arrangements will include the constitution of a Standing Committee that will decide by agreement on the modalities of admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, together with necessary measures to prevent disruption and disorder.”
During our reading of the text of the Oslo-Washington agreement several negative points in this article caught our attention. To begin with, it placed the Israelis and Palestinians on one side and the Egyptians and Jordanians on the other in a process of collaboration. Thus, the Palestinians found themselves in party with Israel against two Arab states. It speaks of ‘modalities of admission of persons’ and not all the displaced persons. Likewise, it describes them of two phases. Finally, we find that the text links all of this with necessary measures to prevent disruption and disorder. At the time, we expected that the work of the Committee to be formed would be extremely complex. The first meeting of the Committee confirmed this expectation. After the Jordanian Foreign Minister proposed the return of the displaced according to the standards that would guarantee the return of all, the Egyptian Foreign Minister affirmed that the issue of return is not a matter up for negotiation and that it is permanent and inalienable. He demanded the adoption of swift practical measures to which the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres replied presenting the Israeli view and calling for realism and the founding of solutions that can be implemented, considering the problem of the displaced a humanitarian one which the concerned states along which Israel should accept responsibility for. He highlighted the point “to prevent disruption and disorder” contained in the text and explained that Israel does not recognize the numbers presented by the Arab side (more than 850,000 displaced). He proposed inviting an international agency to conduct a census among them and proffer a plan to return them at the rate of 3,000-5,000 annually. The body should also identify who wants to remain where they are.
The first meeting of the Multilateral Group resulted in the formation of a permanent technical committee of a non-political nature to determine the number of displaced persons, their places of domicile and ambitions. The second meeting on the level of the technical committee met in Bir Sab’a on 6/7/1995 and ended without agreement. Then the third meeting was held in Amman on 13/1/1996 and failed to come up with anything new. After this there was the Cairo meeting of 12/2/1996 where there was ‘change in the form but not in the substance” according to Bilal Hasan who closely examined the proceedings of these meetings in his study. His attention was particularly drawn to the newspaper coverage of this meeting in the Egyptian media, which openly criticized the Oslo I agreement concerning the displaced Palestinians. Accordingly, two years elapsed in the life of the Multilateral Group without resulting in the return of one displaced person and without arriving at an agreed definition of who are the displaced persons and their number. The Arab side estimates them to be 1,200,000 while the Israelis say they are 200,000 and call for the resettlement of most of them where they are. When the Palestinian side demanded the immediate return of 100,000 the Israeli side replied that “that demand is impractical”; considering the matter a security one and related to its ability to absorb them.
During this period, the Gaza-Jericho was signed on 4/5/1994 in Cairo. It stated in Article XVI, No.2 that, “The Continuing Committee shall decide by agreement on the modalities of admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, together with necessary measures to prevent disruption and disorder.” The signing of this agreement was announced as soon as the Palestinian security leadership entered Gaza and Jericho. This was followed by the arrival of the presidency of the PLO along with other leaders at the beginning of July 1994. The opening of the doors for the formation of a police force cleared the way for thousands of exiled Palestinians working in the PLO institutions and the Palestinian Liberation Army particularly to become part of the Palestinian police. Likewise, the formation of a Palestinian Authority for self-autonomy opened the doors before members of higher institutions in the PLO. Some members of the Central Council entered together with members of the Executive Council and others of the National Council when they were invited to its convention in Gaza in April 1996. In this manner a few thousand workers within the PLO managed to return with their families. They obtained identity papers from the Palestinian Authority after the approval of the occupying Israeli authority.
Another event related to the exiled Palestinians also took place during this period. It was the signing of the Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty at Wadi Araba in October 1994. Its eighth article considered the problem of the Palestinian refugees (a human problem and source of human suffering). It stated, “the parties will seek to resolve them in appropriate forums, in accordance with international law, including the following: [a] in the case of displaced persons, in a quadripartite committee together with Egypt and the Palestinians: [b] in the case of the refugees, [i]. In the framework of the Multilateral Working Group on Refugees; [ii]. In negotiations, in a framework to be agreed, bilateral or otherwise…” The two sides also agreed in Article 8, 2c to work “through the implementation of agreed United Nations programmes and other agreed international economic programmes concerning refugees and displaced persons, including assistance to their settlement.” Observers like Taysir Amrou and Muhammad Saqar note that this was the first explicit text that openly called for the settlement of the refugees outside of their homeland.
The Oslo II agreement signed in Washington on 28 September 1995 did not proffer anything new concerning the exiled Palestinians. It merely reaffirmed in Article XXVII, No.2 the text of the Declaration of Principles concerning the persons displaced in 1967. “The Continuing Committee shall decide by agreement on the modalities of admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, together with necessary measures to prevent disruption and disorder.”
The issue of Palestinian nationality
Among the things that also occurred on the ground during this period was the issuing of a passport in the name of the Palestinian Authority for the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The right to bear this passport was not extended to the exiled Palestinians. The Minister of Interior or Director General for Civil Affairs and Passports noted ‘this passport was issued based on the agreement of the Palestinian self-autonomous governmnet according to the Oslo agreement signed in Washington 13 September 1993.
The issuing of this passport affected the question of Palestinian nationality and if it never existed it has now become present anew. Deeb Akawi discussed this matter in a study published in Huqooq al Nas 6/1997 entitled “The right of self-determination and the issue of Palestinian nationality.” In it he explained that the essence and substance of nationality is that it “links the residents in a state and the nationals in a legal relationship with their state.” Akawi observed that the Oslo agreements “do not mention directly the issues of Palestinian nationality because it is not geared to establish a Palestinian state in the future.” Yet he believed that the Palestinian self-autonomous rule with all its symbols of statehood contains the formative phase such as the Authority’s jurisdiction over six spheres of life like raising the flag, singing the national anthem, legislating laws and issuing identity cards and passports. All of this presupposes the existence of a nationality in the formative phase and defining their position in the light of subsequent developments. Akawi recalled how the resolution to partition Palestine established a nationality for the two states and a third specifically for Jerusalem. It mentioned the possibility of granting the right to choose nationality. At the time, however, the establishment of the Palestinian state was not realized for well-known reasons. Palestinian nationality was not realized and the discussion continued about the old Palestinian nationality in the Gaza Strip. The general outlook was that its bearer was someone without nationality.
This discussion on Palestinian nationality in the formative stage, which would be borne in the future by the internal Palestinians, raised the concern of whether the exiled Palestinians would also bear the same nationality. Similar questions were raised concerning the rights of its bearer from among them in the light of the Oslo agreements when it grants them. Hence, this subject was featured in the Americans-Israeli plans concerning the exiled Palestinians. The time has, therefore, come to have an idea of these plans as they were presented in the shade of the Oslo agreements.
American plans to liquidate the issue of the exiled Palestinians
We cite here an example of American thinking that is oft repeated in the circles of the relevant authorities in the United States. These are found in Donna Arzit’s book, “From Refugees to Citizens: the Palestinians and the End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.” Urah Tal reviewed it in the Israeli daily Ha’atetz on 4/2/1997. The title of the book indicates quite graphically its content, which is “resettlement” and not the right of return.
The author cleared the way for the ideas that she was about to propose with a call to ‘the two sides in the conflict’ to “compromise on a part of its aspirations.” In reality, she proposed the division of the responsibility of resettlement of the refugees upon Israel and its neighbors, including the Palestinian National Authority, which she believes “will become a state issuing identity cards and passports to its citizens and it would settle some of the refugees within its borders. Hence, they would be transformed from ‘refugees to citizens.’ Arzit believes it is possible for some of the exiled Palestinians to return to this prospective state. She emphasized ‘some’ and not ‘all’ because the flooding of the state with hundreds of thousands of them may upset its stability.” This reminds us of what Peres said. She further suggest that every state in the region should determine by agreement between themselves ‘a share of the refugees who would be resettled in them and subsequently bear their nationality. This would be done according to their economic ability and social stability. She also felt that the industrial nations should offer assistance for the projects to resettle the Palestinians. She calls for the transfer of some of the exiled Palestinians and change of their current places of domicile.
Donna Arzit ends with a presentation of her ideas and proposal envisaging the distribution of the Palestinians internally and externally. It is possible that the residents of the West Bank may be increased twice their present number, after the transfer of half of the population of Gaza to there, leaving the other half in the Strip. She also proposes the resettlement of 400,000 Palestinians in Syria until 2005. To them is added 352,000 already residing there. They include 97,000 living in the camps. She also proposed to move half the number of refugees in Lebanon. They, according to her estimates, are about 372,000. Thus 186,000 would remain. She also proposes to transfer to the remaining Arab states, namely Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt and the North African states a similar number that is already in them. That number she claims is about 446,600 refugees. 90,000 Palestinian refugees would be absorbed in accord with the 452,000 living there currently. As for Israel, Donna Arzit suggests that it resettles 75,000 within the framework of a family reunion programme and the granting to them of Israeli nationality. Most of these would come from Lebanon, Jordan and the West Bank. This, she maintains, is attainable, as it is possible that Israel may agree to the return of a limited number within the framework of the implementation of the right of return to the boundaries of the Green Line if it is part of a comprehensive settlement. It is conditional though that they must have relatives in Israel and every one must sign an agreement to live peacefully with their neighbors and avoid any terrorist acts. Finally, Donna Arzit proposes compensation, calling upon the international community to provide the necessary means for this purpose.
The Israeli plan to liquidate the refugee issue
The Israeli enemy hastened after the “Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements” in Washington on 13/9/1993 to clarify its ideas on the Palestinian refugee issue which the agreement deferred as one of the issues to be discussed in the final status negotiations. Several Israeli research institutions became active in addressing the issue. And, it was not long before the Jaffa Centre for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University released a study in 1994 entitled “The Problem of the Palestinian Refugees: Issues of a Permanent Solution: Israel-the Palestinians” written by the senior Mossad figure, Shlomo Gazait.
This study set out to “shatter” the basis laid down by international law concerning the Palestinian refugees in UN resolution 194, which calls for their return and compensation. In reality, it urges compensation for their material losses and psychological suffering and return to their homes in their homeland, Palestine. The study announced in the beginning that this resolution “has become irrelevant and is no longer capable of being implemented in its present form.” Then the author resorted to “emptying” the word refugee of its content by presenting his special definition of it; thereby managing to cut by half the number of refugees cared for by UNRWA. A refugee, according to Gazait, is “a person who used to reside in the land of Israel” during a period not less than two years before the 1948 conflict. He had then taken refuge in one of the countries in the region where UNRWA functions and he must be in a state of dire need.” The other condition is that this person should be forbidden from having a country. Gazait also used the term land of Israel instead of Palestine thus refuting that Palestine is the homeland of the entire Palestinian Arab people. After shattering the legal basis and emptying it of its meaning, the study suggests that the parties should find a solution to the issue of these refugees in their present places of domicile. As for the 1967 displaced Palestinian Arabs, Gazait presents his own special definition of them. “They are the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza Strip but not the 1948 refugees who were unable to return to their homes after the 1967 War.” This definition omits all the West Bank and Gaza refugees displaced in 1967 when the Israeli enemy expelled them by force from the camps where they had sought refuge. Gazait suggests that a specified number of displaced persons from the West Bank can return in batches at certain time intervals so that the Palestinian Authority would be able to absorb them. And the Authority should affirm that it would not raise the issue of restitution of property, which the Occupying Power expropriated on the pretext that it was implementing the so-called Custodian of Absentee Property Law. That is because it would affect the issue of settlement and interests of the settlers. Gazait similarly warns against the return of elements that would incite the inhabitants of the West Bank. He draws attention to the need to prevent them from residing near the 5th. June border (the Green Line) so that their neighborhoods would not be converted into a source of security danger. Thus we find this proposal denying the right of return and presupposing a deficient Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The matter of converting ideas into ‘policies’ in the Israeli entity could not have been executed faster than the speed with which the Labor Party promoted these ideas in its position toward the final solution stage and the text of the proposed Israeli-Palestinian agreement concerning this issue and others. This is documented in a paper issued on 1/11/1995 during the Peres administration after the assassination of Rabin. It was titled, “Framework for the Conclusion of a Final Status Agreement Between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.”
The issue of the Palestinian refugees was addressed in article seven in seven clauses. The first two discussed the basis of dealing with the issue. It was written in the most eloquent language and endorsed by the Labor Party. The first article states, “While the Palestinian side believes that the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes is ‘enshrined’ in international and natural law, except that they (the Palestinian side) recognizes previous requests for the new era of peace and coexistence. It announces that the Palestinian state will be the country of all the Palestinians and it further states its preparedness to accept and implement the policies and standards within - the borders possible – for these refugees to realize their safety.” Similarly, the second article declares “that the Israeli side acknowledges the psychological and physical suffering that befell the Palestinian people as a result of the 1948-49 War; hence it endorses the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to the Palestinian state as well as their right to compensation and rehabilitation for their psychological and material losses.” It is clear that these two articles closed the door permanently before the Palestinian Arab people by preventing them from exercising their right of return as endorsed by international law to their homes from which they were expelled by the Zionist invaders in 1948. The first article obliged the Palestinian side to accept the policies and standards of absorption of some refugees into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. While at the same time it gave the Israeli side the right to present a new false interpretation of the right of return to that part of Palestine occupied in 1948 but rather to the West Bank and Gaza according to certain criteria. The details of articles 3,4,5,and 6 focused on the method of compensating the refugees and absorbing some of them according to the Israeli ‘design’ from which nothing remains of the right of return. Then comes the seventh article that states, “the Palestinian Liberation Organization considers the implementation of the above a full and final settlement of the refugee issue in all its dimensions. It further undertakes that no additional claims or demands arising form this issue would be made.” Needless to say how much a person is saddened when he witnesses this method of “double standards” in the text of the two articles in so far as they relate to the Palestinian side, then in presenting the position of the Israeli side; it is a method that is not overlooked by the conscious holder of certain rights.
After outlining its position toward the issue of the refugees in this paper the Labor Party hastened to impose it on the leadership of the PLO. It appointed a delegation led by Yossi Beilin to discuss with a Palestinian delegation led by Mahmud Abbas within the framework of the Palestinian Authority and limited transitional self-autonomy. The Israel daily Ha’aretz claimed that these secret discussions aimed at developing a clear combined position produced a document called the “Beilin-Abu Mazen” document at the beginning of 1996 which dealt with the final status issues, the shape of which were specified in this document. And, that the full implementation of its content according to certain stages will nullify any subsequent results relating to the land, inhabitants, refugees or property. It forms a commitment by the two sides to the permanent solution that would close permanently their conflict and all that it implies in terns of regional and international resolutions, including all the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council concerning it and the adoption of Oslo which leaves the Israeli enemy to decide as it sees fit, appoint itself, and impose whatever it is able to impose.
The subject of the refugees was featured in Aricle IV of the document, according to the Ha’aretz report (it appears in Article VII of the text published by Ha’aretz on 21/9/2000). Among its contents, “with regard to the subject of the refugees and displaced persons, it is necessary that a new international body fills the place of the present Relief and Works Agency in order to; carry out the task of rehabilitating the refugees and displaced people, secure their absorption in countries and places of their present residence, improve their living and social conditions, and absorb numbers of them into the daily lives of the environment that they live around.” It is clear from this text that the basis of the solution in it is “resettlement” and there is no place for return in it. Meaning the denial of the Palestinian Arab of the right of return. This document sought also to organize the issue of visits by Palestinian Arabs to their relatives in the territories of the Palestinian Authority. It stated that the Palestinian Authority ‘has the right to issue temporary entry visas necessary to them for the purpose of visiting their present relatives.’ This limited right to visit is conditioned ‘that they are not granted citizenship rights within the territories of the Authority.’ “Instead they would have the right to reside temporarily for a limited time which is granted to foreign visitors.” Even within these limits of extreme restriction given to the Palestinian Authority the document states, “and Israel has the right to question any matter it suspects without reservation.” The Israeli legal expert who drafted the document mentioned the Israeli justification for its imposition upon the Palestinians to accept. “That is not to upset the demography of the region or disturb its political stability.” Then the text of the agreement states that the “Palestinian side undertakes to cooperate fully in this matter. The national figures present given to the subjects residing in the areas of the Palestinian National Authority until the date when the document was put into effect is the basis of official reference for any violation that may take place after it was implemented. As well as the agreement states how the Palestinian Authority must deal with this matter. It is featured in characteristic Israeli fashion, without Israel having the right to specify the number of refugees and displaced persons allowed to reside temporarily in the land of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority is obliged to respect the element of trust related to this matter and compliance with the principle of accountability to the Israeli government when the need arises.
This agreement was leaked to the Israeli press and a debate about it ensued among Israelis. The document was widely welcomed. As for the Palestinian official side, there was no formal debate about it and it was not endorsed. It rather presaged a kind of “bitter harvest’ for the negotiations about this subject as the Palestinian side did not stick doggedly to the reference of international law.
After its failure in the 1996 polls and the election of Benyamin Netanyaho to office, the Israeli Labor Party tried desperately to discuss its paper concerning the final settlement with the ruling Likud Party. Discussions were held between a Labor Party delegation led by Yossi Beilin and a Likud delegation led by the party’s parliamentary head Mikail Aytan. This discussion led to a document announced at the beginning of 1997 containing what they agreed upon. With regards to the refugees, the agreement included most of what was mentioned in the Labor Party paper with the exception of the article concerning the possibility of return of the displaced to the West Bank and Gaza as Aytan opposed it and called for the resettlement of the displaced Palestinians in the Arab states where they are found.
It is clear from all that has been mentioned so far that the Israeli plan concerning the refugees aims at preventing them from exercising the ‘right of return’ by shattering the legal basis of return. It also aims at eradicating the UNRWA in order to cut the link between the international body and the issue of the Palestinian refugees. It seeks to entrench the principle of compensation for the homeland even though there can be no compensation for the homeland. It seeks to prevent the return of those who were displaced and evicted in 1967.
This plan means that five million Palestinians outside of their occupied homeland will be prevented from return. While the racist Israeli Law of Return guarantees any Jew in the world the right to return to occupied Palestine and become an Israeli citizen. This is how the issue of the Palestinian refugees remained a heated one within the framework of the Palestine Question; it requires the intensification of efforts to address it with liberation and repatriation.
What is the future of the exiled Palestinians in the context of the Palestine Question and settlement agreements?
It is clear that the American-Zionist alliance of tyranny is striving earnestly to liquidate it and sentence five million Palestinian Arabs to remain exiled and denied of the right to return to their homeland and the resting places of their fathers and grandfathers. But, can this massive effort to impose an oppressive fait accompli succeed? Surely, the course of the Palestine Question and the Arab-Zionist conflict confirms that the answer to this query is negative and that the Palestinian resistance, internally and externally, will continue until their repatriation is realized. This is what we have also deduced from a general study of liberation movements.
The “Middle East Peace Process” and the Oslo agreements have designated the issue of the exiled Palestinian ‘refugees’ to be one of the four final status issues. This has made the enemy Zionist Israeli to pursue the fait accompli that would stand between these refugees and repatriation to their homeland. They have exploited the postponement of negotiation of the issue and deliberately set out at the same time to advance its plan to liquidate their issue and embody this practically in negotiations that are not multilateral as originally proposed. The United States of America has aided and enabled it as is always its role. Notwithstanding, the resistance of the Palestinian people to the liquidation of the issue of the exiled Palestinians has continued and entered a new phase representing a link in a series of resistance that began since the Nakba in 1948.
When we conjure in our hands what needs to be done at his stage and what occurred in previous phases, we find that the Palestinian Arab is insisting on his right to return and doggedly refuses the notion of resettlement outside of his homeland and country. He participated in the struggle to liberate his land relying on all available means, convinced and determined to continue this struggle at this stage.
This determination was clearly and explicitly announced at the meeting of the Palestinian Central Council, which debated the Oslo agreements in October 1993 by those who opposed the agreements. Among them Shafiq al Hoot who warned against the plans of resettlement saying, “Surely it is the right of the exiled Palestinians to live in great anxiety about their future. And we know what fate awaits them after three years. That is because the discussion about the displaced of 1967 does not reduce the level of skepticism concerning them. Despite the disclosures of some brothers and their promises that it is only a matter of months before hundreds of thousands of these displaced will return to our occupied land. The relevant committee mentioned by the agreement which consists of Israelis and Palestinians on one side and Jordanians and Egyptians on the other would examine models to permit individuals, yes individuals and not all.” In his speech to the meeting, the author pointed out, “Certainly the right to return to every part of Palestine our homeland is our natural right guaranteed by international law”. He explained how the agreement tried to bypass it. Likewise, he mentioned the disclosures of the enemy concerning the impossibility of return of any of the refugees of 1948. They flaunt the claim that there is an implicit agreement toward this end in the Madrid framework. The author announced that the homeland cannot be recompensed and that return cannot be erased with compensation. Compensation is for material losses and physical and psychological suffering and it is the right of every one who was evicted by the Zionists invasion to be so endowed by this basic right of return. May it be forbidden, therefore, that any Palestinian would agree to the understanding of compensation for the homeland, the home of his fathers, his country, and his sons after him. He urged at the end of the address that we should devote special care to the right of return while we struggle to liberate Palestine. “We should establish a special centre concerned with a census of the ‘returnees’ and organization of international campaigns to mobilise support for his practice and resistance to resettlement and care for the living conditions of the returnees in their places of domicile until they return.”
This determination has been witnessed in the appearance of discussions on the convening of conferences for the exiled Palestinians, which began after the signing of the Oslo agreements. They have been accompanied by several initiatives. Five such initiatives were organized by the end of 1996, all of them converging at one point; that being to focus on the demand for the right of return for the Palestinian people and to highlight UN resolution 194. This is not the place go into the detail.
Our engagement in work for the cause of the exiled Palestinians emanates from the struggle to liberate the homeland, a truth that the Creator Almighty has placed before us and is based on a premise laid down by international law. We wish to recall it and expound it. The UN Mediator, Count Bernadotte recommended after the Nakba of 1948 of the need for the Palestinian refugees to return to their ‘homes’. This recommendation was one of the reasons that pushed Israel to assassinate him on September 17/9/1948. On 11th. December 1948 the General Assembly adopted resolution 194 based on that recommendation. The eleventh article speaks specifically of the refugees. The Assembly, “Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.” This resolution included the formation of a trilateral conciliation commission comprising of France, the United States and Turkey. It “Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations.” It is well known that this Conciliation Commission stopped functioning even though resolution 194 was continually renewed until 1993.
We recall also Israel’s acceptance of membership into the United Nations according to resolution 273 issued on 11 May 1949 after, “Recalling its resolutions of 29 November 1947 (Partition) and 11 December 1948 (repatriation of refugees), and taking note of the declarations and explanations made by the representative of the Government of Israel before the Ad Hoc Political Committee in respect of the implementation of the said resolutions.”
A protocol was issued in Lausanne 12/5/1949 containing recognition of Israel and Palestinian right to return. But it was not long before the Jewish state began to ignore the UN resolutions and this has become its religion after the 1967 War when it rejected the UN resolutions concerning the national rights of the Palestinian people. Among them resolution 2672 and 3236 issued in 22/11/1974 which called for the right to exercise self-determination, independence and sovereignty without foreign intervention and also the inalienable right of return.
We recall also, as we review our struggle, that while the racist Israeli Zionist entity ignores UN resolutions, the implementation of which was a condition for its recognition and acceptance in the UN, it enacts what it calls the Israeli Law of Return which was passed by the Knesset on 5/7/1950 and approved by David Ben Gurion, then Prime Minister, Moshe Shapiro, Minister of Immigration and Yosef Shibrinak, Speaker of the Knesset. This racist law declares that, “Every Jew has the right to emigrate to the country”. This was followed by the enactment of the Israeli Nationality Law in 1952, which made this ‘return’ a condition for citizenship and the acquisition of Israeli nationality. It states in article two that, “Every immigrant according to the Law of Return 5710 of 1950 will become an Israeli.” One can hardly find a more outrageous disparity when the indigenous countryman is denied repatriation to his homeland while the doors are opened to any Jew from other countries to conquer this country. We are, therefore, called upon to lay bare this disparity and expose the racist nature of this entity.
Now we are able in the light of what preceded to clarify what we must do to secure the issue of the exiled Palestinians at this stage when the Oslo agreements have thrown dark clouds upon this issue, and cleared the way for the evil Zionist-American plans to liquidate it. We have identified that point at which our work should start and what we must recall.
There is firstly the preservation of the unity of the Palestine Question with all its parts: exiled Palestinians, 1967 Palestinians, and Palestinians of 1948 and Jerusalem.
This means care in joining the exiled Palestinians with the united Palestinian entity. And addressing the divisions that developed between the internal and external because of the Oslo accords and which were pointed out by Bilal Hasan in his valuable study. It is a dichotomy, which according to him, damaged the national unity that was articulated by the PLO.
This goal requires intense effort to restore the effectiveness of the PLO and extricate it from its present crisis that led to its stagnation. It must be enabled to resume its role, bearing in mind that it is the practical embodiment of the single Palestinian entity within whose framework the continuation of work for the issue of the exiled Palestinians would be completed. The truth is, a careful study must be undertaken with open minds concerning the developments between 1993 and 1996 toward convening conferences of the exiled Palestinians. They confirmed to us that the best approach to organize their energies is within the context of the PLO, because it preserves from one angle the unity of the Palestine Question, and because it enjoys official recognition in the Arab world, as well as internationally, and also because it represents the fruits of struggle and achievement that must be preserved. Moreover, it must be similarly helped because it has established institutions that can rise to the demand of the work for the issue of the exiled Palestinians.
We explained in detail on other occasions the procedure of restoring the PLO to its effectiveness. That it should entail an assembly of the National Council representing in the strictest manner all the groupings, forces, and bodies, internally and externally, according to objective bases, in the headquarters of the Arab League, in an atmosphere of Arab consensus and Palestinian consensus toward this goal, which is realized through continuous preparatory work. That there should be no misunderstanding concerning the leadership of the PLO and that of the National Authority because while the goal of the first is liberation the second is governed by the Oslo agreement and its restrictions. It is clear that the conviction in this goal is strengthened day after day on the Palestinian as well as Arab levels.
There is secondly the achievement of a number of works related to the issue of the exiled Palestinians
1. The conduct of an accurate census of the exiled Palestinians. This responsibility should be undertaken by the Bureau of Returnees in the PLO, which would cooperate toward the fulfillment of this objective with the Palestinian administration in the Arab League and with the relevant bodies in the Arab states as well as the UNRWA. This census has its importance in addressing different aspects of the issue.
2. To organize them in their places of domicile with the aim of harnessing their resources. This responsibility should be undertaken by individuals of every community according to the laws of the countries in which they reside and with the knowledge of the Bureau for Returnee Affairs in the PLO.
3. The establishment of an institution to oversee the property of the exiled Palestinians in their homeland, Palestine, and their accumulated entitlements since 1948. Mr. Fahmi Huwaydi spoke about this in his article published in al Ahram 6/5/1997 on the entitlements for the Palestinian holocaust. Similarly, Dr. Salman Abu Sitta proposed in his study, Palestinian Right to Return, the establishment of a Palestinian Land Authority in the name of the Palestinian people everywhere with the aim of documentation, protection, preservation, and development.
4. A review of Arab official policy toward the exiled Palestinians with the aim of strengthening Arab ties and the committees for the utilization of their resources. It is true that some of the measures relating to their residence, travel and living conditions such as work, health and education are in need of swift revision because they contain many acutely negative aspects. Finally, the future of the exiled Palestinians in the shade of the settlement agreements are linked to what we do to safeguard their cause and to address it with the logic of national liberation and return to the four realms of the liberated homeland.
Translated by Dr. Daud A. Abdullah
Palestinian Return Centre