Thursday, December 02, 2010

Why Palestinian Arabs will never negotiate on "return" (HaLevi)

I've been arguing for a while that the "right of return" is the means by which the Arab world is seeking to destroy Israel, and that this can be seen by the lack of any hint of flexibility on the Arab side about the matter even though Western diplomats always  assume that it can be taken care of in a peace agreement.

A very important article by Jonathan Dahoah HaLevi for JCPA that explains how the PLO plans to keep the "right of return" alive even after a state would be established, no matter what is agreed. His summary:
The gap between Israel and the Palestinians on the refugee question cannot be reconciled. The Palestinians demand a "just peace," which implies recognition of the right of return according to their interpretation, and rejects any compromise on the issue.

The Palestinian position, which receives support from Palestinian and even some Israeli human rights organizations, looks to UN resolutions that uphold the right of return as a "private right" of every refugee. This means that the representatives of the Palestinian people (as well as the Arab League and the United Nations) have no authority to waive this right in the name of the refugees.

According to the Palestinian consensus, non-implementation of the right of return will leave open the gates of the conflict with Israel. This implies justification for the continued armed struggle against Israel even following the establishment of a Palestinian state.

By rejecting "patriation" or the resettlement of the refugees in any Arab state, the Arab Peace Initiative essentially leaves each refugee with no choice but to go to Israel itself. The Arab states rejected any solution that involves "resettling [of the Palestinians] outside of their homes."The Arab Peace Initiative does not envision the Palestinian refugees being resettled in a West Bank and Gaza Palestinian state.

The transfer of border crossings to Palestinian control and/or the establishment of a Palestinian state is likely to bring about a wave of immigration, combined with a mass expulsion of Palestinians (primarily from Lebanon, Syria and Jordan) toward the Palestinian territory even without a political agreement on the refugee issue. This could lead to the infiltration by Palestinians into Israeli territory, as well as legal claims by refugees at the International Court in The Hague for the right of return, restitution of property, and compensation.

Since the Israeli consensus holds that the mass return of Palestinian refugees to Israel means national suicide, Israel will require robust international support in negotiations on a final status agreement to reach an accord on the basis of defensible borders, and to find a permanent solution to the refugee problem based primarily on the Palestinian refugees receiving citizenship in their host countries or their absorption in a Palestinian state.
HaLevi shows exhaustively that even the most "pragmatic" and "moderate" of Palestinian Arab leaders insist on the "right of return" - and the destruction of the Jewish state:
The positions of prominent Palestinian personalities, considered by the West as belonging to the moderate political current, do not deviate from the consensus with regards to the right of return. Marwan Barghouti, head of Fatah in the West Bank who is serving a life prison sentence for the murder of Israeli civilians, said in an interview with the newspaper Al Hayat on September 28, 2007, that negotiations with the Israeli government prior to its commitment to principles [including the right of return] is "useless." Barghouti added that it would be erroneous to conduct negotiations with Israel "without it [Israel] obligating itself to the legitimate international decisions, the principle of concluding the occupation, withdrawal to the ‘67 boundaries including from east Jerusalem, the right of return of the refugees in accordance with Resolution 194, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty, and the release of all the prisoners." According to Barghouti, the Palestinians were striving for an agreement in the framework of which "refugees would realize their right to return in accordance with Resolution 194."37 Hussam Khader, a Fatah leader in Nablus, clarified, "Any [Palestinian] president who will sign in the name of the refugees on a waiver of the right of return...we will be obligated to kill him or rebel against him."38

Hanan Ashrawi, another prominent representative of what is depicted as the "pragmatic" stream, presents positions similar to the Palestinian consensus and emphasizes that the right of return is a private right of every refugee. In other words, representatives of the Palestinian people have no authority to waive it. In an interview with the Hebrew paper Zman Yerushalayim on September 25, 2007, Ashrawi - currently the head of the nonprofit Miftah organization for promoting democracy and human rights in the Palestinian Authority, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, and a member of the Palestinian Parliament - says: "One must recognize rights according to international law and Resolution 194 of the United Nations. There is not a single Palestinian who will forgo the rights of the refugees. A leader who will tell you he will do this in order to propitiate you will lose credibility among his own people." Referring to a way to solve the refugee problem, Ashrawi said: "The options will be diverse and will provide various solutions, according to law. The most important aspect is the right to choose. They will choose like any human being who wants the best for his children....The moment that you thaw out and recognize the iniquity, they will be free to make decisions. One should try this, but the moment that they can choose - and many choices exist according to law - then we will see what option they will select."39

Dr. Samir Abdallah signed the Geneva Initiative in 2003 that aroused criticism in the Palestinian arena over passages that were implicitly interpreted as a compromise on the right of return. When he served as Minister of Labor and Planning in the Palestinian Authority, Abdallah addressed the issue in a newspaper interview on April 12, 2008. In response to a question: "Do you still stick to the right of return?" he said: "Of course, we will never forgo it. This is a collective and private right and the return of the refugees is the most important card from this standpoint in the negotiations, and its value pertaining to the Palestinian people is higher from a diplomatic and material standpoint than all the other topics."40 Additional Palestinian personages (including Iyad Sarraj, Nabil Kasis and Fayha Abd-el Hadi) who signed the Geneva Initiative were parties to the dispatch of a public letter to Abbas in 2010 in which they expressed their vigorous opposition to renewing negotiations with Israel without a prior agreement on the source of authority for the discussions that were to have included, according to them, the guarantee of the right of return.41

This should be read by everybody interested in peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It is, I would say, the major issue and one that cannot be left over as something to discuss after Israel gives up more concessions and land, but something that needs to be brought into the forefront of negotiations immediately, with Israel making it very clear that this is a red line that will halt every other peace track while it remains a Palestinian Arab demand.