Tuesday, November 06, 2012

For Palestinians refugees are a trump card to keep confronting Israel

From JCPA, Vol. 12, No. 25 5 November 2012, by Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi:
  • Claims that Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas – in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TV on Nov. 2, 2012 – had apparently relinquished the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees are baseless in light of the clarifications provided by Abbas himself, in which he called the return a “sacred right” and affirmed his full commitment to the basic Palestinian positions.
  • The gap between Israel and the Palestinians on the refugee question is unbridgeable. For the Palestinians, the right of return is a taboo matter that cannot be questioned. The formulation “a just and agreed solution based on Resolution 194″ does not imply a readiness for a possible Palestinian compromise. “Agreed” means compelling Israel to agree to implement the Palestinian demands for “justice.”
  • The PLO and the Palestinian Authority (as well as the Hamas government in Gaza) continue to cultivate in Palestinian society the idea of the refugees’ return, to prevent any possibility of resettling the refugees outside of the camps, and to maintain the role of UNRWA as a symbolic and practical manifestation of the demand for return.
  • According to the Palestinian consensus, the nonimplementation of the right of return will leave the doors of the conflict with Israel open, implying a justification to continue the armed struggle even after a Palestinian state is created. For the Palestinians, the refugee problem is a trump card with which they can keep confronting Israel.
  • The Palestinian arena’s harsh reactions to Abbas’ remarks indicate the inability of the Palestinian leadership, even if it so desired, to present a compromise position on the refugee issue.
Claims that Palestinian Authority chairman has apparently relinquished the right of return are baseless in light of the clarifications provided by Abbas himself, in which he called the return a “sacred right” and affirmed his full commitment to the basic Palestinian positions....
 ... He said the refugee issue would be negotiated on the basis of Resolution 194, which mentions the principle of the right of return with compensation for those who do not choose to return. After an agreement is reached with Israel, Abbas said, it would be presented for approval in a popular referendum.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the Palestinian presidential spokesman, sharply rejected the claims by Hamas leaders that Abbas had expressed a relinquishment of the right of return. In an official announcement, Abu Rudeineh asserted: “The president and the Palestinian leadership will never agree to a state with temporary borders, since whoever agrees to a temporary state [hinting at Hamas] is the one who gives up the right of return, compromises the basic national principles, and brings about a catastrophe that will afflict the subsequent Palestinian generations.”
...Nabil Shaath, the Fatah official responsible for foreign relations, claimed in an interview to the raya.ps website that Abbas’ statements as quoted in the media were taken out of context, and that in the full interview Abbas had said that “every Palestinian person has the right to return to his homeland but it is his right to choose and he himself will decide if he wants to return to one country or another.”
Abbas also received backing from other Fatah leaders, and leaders of constituent organizations of Fatah, who underscored his fealty to the right of return.
The gap between Israel and the Palestinians on the refugee question is unbridgeable.
For the Palestinians, the right of return is a taboo matter that cannot be questioned. As far as resolving the conflict is concerned, Palestinian representatives base their position on the question of “justice” and not “compromise,” as is clearly evident in the resolutions of all the Palestinian institutions.
From the Palestinian standpoint, “justice” means fulfilling the rights of the Palestinian refugees in accordance with all the resolutions of international institutions, most of all Resolution 194, which, in their view, sanctifies the refugees’ right to return and compensation.
...The PLO and the Palestinian Authority (as well as the Hamas government in Gaza) continue to cultivate in Palestinian society the idea of the refugees’ return, to prevent any possibility of resettling the refugees outside of the camps, and to maintain the role of UNRWA as a symbolic and practical manifestation of the demand for return.
...In the Palestinian view, which receives support from Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, the right of return is a “private” right of each and every refugee, and hence the representatives of the Palestinian people (and the United Nations as well) have no authority to relinquish this right in the name of the refugees.
According to the Palestinian consensus, the nonimplementation of the right of return will leave the doors of the conflict with Israel open, implying a justification to continue the armed struggle even after a Palestinian state is created.
Any Palestinian leader who dares challenge this consensus and gives up the right of return in negotiations with Israel stands, at best, to be ostracized and removed from the stage or, worse, executed. The Palestinian arena’s harsh reactions to Abbas’ remarks to Channel 2 indicate the inability of the Palestinian leadership, even if it so desired, to present a compromise position on the refugee issue.
In sum, Abbas did not deviate from the established, familiar, basic Palestinian positions on the refugee issue, and he continues to regard the refugees’ return as a “sacred right” that is in the hands of the refugees themselves, with no one authorized to concede it in their name.
The Abbas-led Palestinian diplomatic effort, entailing a planned appeal to the United Nations later this month, centers on international recognition for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. Abbas thereby hopes to win greater legal and political validation for the Palestinian demand for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, without the Palestinians having to give anything in return – let alone on the refugee issue.
The refugee problem is the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the Palestinians it is a trump card with which they can keep confronting Israel even after the state of Palestine is established, overcoming Israel demographically and changing it, in the long term, into part of a single Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
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