DevMode
for the Palestinian Side of the Joint Palestinian-Jordanian Delegation
Ottawa, May 13, 1992

The Palestinian refugee problem has long been the human core of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and its continued non-resolution has constituted one of the main sources of instability in the region. In our view, this insta¬bility is rooted in Israel's continued refusal to implement U.N. resolutions relevant to the question of Palestine, and in the silence of the world com¬munity over this continued bypassing of international legality.
Not surprisingly, the Palestinian refugee camps have been the cradle from where the Palestinian political claim to self-determination has re¬emerged after the Catastrophe of 1948. The refugee camps, whether in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), or in Exile, have been the embodi¬ment of the unity of the Palestinian people, of its capacity to survive while transcending the fragmentation imposed on it.
The international consensus which materialized in Madrid, at the open¬ing of this process, has made it possible to undertake the work of solving all at once the Palestinian refugee problem and the wider issue of the Arab-¬Israeli conflict of which it constitutes the very root, by satisfying the demands for Palestinian self-determination while responding at the same time to the Israeli demand for secure boundaries and recognition within the Middle Eastern community of nations.
We have expressed, in Madrid as well as in Washington bilateral nego¬tiations, orally as well as in written documents, our position vis-a-vis the short- and long-term objectives of our participation. We have entered this process on the basis of specific terms of reference, which are contained in the letters of invitation to the Peace Conference sent to the parties by the co-sponsors, dated October 18, 1991. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, passed some weeks after the June 1967 war, which stipulates the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, and establishes the principle of "land for peace," is the basic frame of reference for the whole peace process. Resolution 242 also explicitly requires the provision of "a just solution of the refugee problem." The basis for this "just solution" lies in the implementation of basic U.N. resolutions on Palestinian refugees, in particular Resolution 194.

The Palestinian Refugee Problem

The uprooting and forcible displacement and dispossession of which the Palestinian people have been the victim is undoubtedly one of the greatest tragedies of the contemporary era. The Palestinian refugee problem was created during the war of 1948, when the majority of Palestinians, urban dwellers and peasants were uprooted by force from their homeland. Part of them found refuge in what later became known as the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip, while others were dispersed over the neighboring Arab countries and elsewhere. Tens of thousands also became refugees inside Israel when their lands, their villages and even their homes were seized and destroyed or confiscated by the nascent State of Israel. It is important to note here that the vast majority of those Palestinians were expelled in the period between November 1947 (the Partition Plan) and January 1949 (the Rhodes Armistice agreement).
A second wave of refugees was created by the war of June 1967 in which the remaining parts of Arab Palestine, in addition to the Syrian Golan Heights and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, came under Israeli occupation. An additional quarter of a million refugees escaped, or were made to leave, from the newly occupied territories, and they became a further burden on the strained economies of the host countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
During the 25 years of Occupation, a systematic pattern of land confis¬cation and economic hardships have resulted in displacing thousands of Palestinians within the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and from there to neighboring countries. Much of the confiscated land was placed at the disposal of Israeli Jewish settlers (and non-Israeli Jewish immigrants), in the avowed design to prevent the return of their rightful owners. A series of laws were enacted by Israel (including the Law on Absentee Property and the Israeli Law of Return - which gives privileged treatment to Jewish immigrants over those enjoyed by Arab citizens of Israel and Arab refugees from Israel, and were also meant to ensure that land and property thus acquired became non-accessible to Palestinians).
We should here mention the fact that Israeli settlement activities in the OPT, which have universally been recognized as illegal, continue to con¬stitute an insurmountable obstacle to peace, and that their immediate cessation is a condition for the success of the peace process. Settlement activ¬ities, with their double aspect of explosion and exclusion, of land and water confiscation and apartheid, are indeed at the root of the whole con¬flict, and of the refugee problem in particular. Hence the centrality of the issue of Israeli settlement activities in all our negotiations.

Basic Definitions

Let us examine who is included in the categories of those Palestinians that can be designated as refugees, and thus are entitled to demand the imple¬mentation of U.N. resolutions concerning the Right of Return.
The Palestinian refugees are all those Palestinians (and their descendants) who were expelled or forced to leave their homes between November 1947 (Partition Plan) and January 1949 (Rhodes Armistice agreement), from the territory controlled by Israel on that later date. This, by the way, coincides with the Israeli definition of "absentees," a category of Palestinians meant to be stripped of its most elementary human and civil rights.
This definition does not apply only to camp-dwellers, and certainly not only to those recognized refugees who enjoyed formal registration by UNRWA, since the latter never exercised jurisdiction over more than a seg¬ment of the total refugee problem.
Such a definition does not include the emigrants who left Palestine before 1947, but it includes all those displaced, even inside the territory that became the State of Israel in the 1948-49 period. It also includes all the 1967 and post-1967 displaced persons, for whom we have already demand¬ed immediate and unconditional return to the OPT within the framework of the establishment of the Palestinian Interim Self-Governing Authority.
It also includes the residents of "border villages" in the West Bank, who lost their agricultural lands in the war of 1948, and therefore the source of their livelihood, but remained in their villages. It includes residents of the Gaza Strip refugee camps, who were either relocated to the Rafah side of the Egyptian border, or who found themselves separated from their fami¬lies and kin as a result of border incarceration after the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. It finally includes Palestinian Beduins who were forcibly removed from their grazing lands within the State of Israel, as well as those who were induced to abandon the West Bank and relocate in Jordan.
Although some of the above categories may not be regarded as refugees in the technical sense (for example, deportees, or residents of "border vil¬lages") they nevertheless share the hardships and fate of most refugees who fall in the first categories. At the core of their status is alienation and the denial of return to their country.
The State of Israel has been, and continues to be, responsible for the process through which the refugee problem was crafted (through violence against civilian populations in times of war, and through expropriation of their lands and homes after the war). Yet Israel persists in disclaiming responsibility for these acts, and in denying the right of the Palestinians to return to their homeland (including the right of return to the territories occupied in 1967).

A Just and Lasting Settlement of the Refugee Problem

The fundamental legal framework for a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem is the U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194. Its strength is derived essentially from its consensuality: the fact that in 1949, the US. and even more so Israel (at that time eager to be admitted to the U.N. as a full member-state), voted in favor of that resolution. In fact, both the Partition Plan [Resolution 181], which asserts the principle of self-determi¬nation, and the return of refugees [Resolution 194] constituted the founda¬tions for the State of Israel itself, for their implementation was a condition for Israel's admittance into the community of nations [Resolution 273]. Hence the strong and special Israeli obligation towards these two resolu¬tions in the spirit and letter of international law.
Without the solemn recognition of the refugees' right of return, the refugee problem will remain unsolved. Such a recognition is also necessary to alleviate the impact of prolonged refugee presence in the host countries, and thus to facilitate harmonious relations with the latter during the period of forced exile.
It must, however, be clear that our people have consistently refused all the schemes of resettlement and naturalization into the host countries, and have expressed in all possible ways their will to solve their problems with¬in the context of a national solution of the Palestinian people as a whole.
The current condition of Palestinian refugees, whether inside or outside refugee camps, cannot be ameliorated by "humanitarian" projects aimed at improving the condition of their living (although we fully favor upgrading their health, welfare and educational standards). What is more needed, more urgently today than ever, is a comprehensive political settlement based on the recognition of the right of return and self-determination. Refugees are not merely slum dwellers who need an improvement in the quality of life. The refugee question is a national question. Its humanitari¬an aspects are a consequence of the refugee status, not its essence.
Improvement of the refugees' living conditions is a moral obligation for the world community, in addition to the core of the political aspect of the conflict and the urgency for a just and durable political settlement. It is an inherent human right, not a subject of quid pro quo, nor the subject of nego¬tiation. The right of the refugees cannot be exchanged for any political advantage.
To contribute to a lasting and just settlement, the world community is invited to support a settlement based on the application of the U.N. reso¬lutions pertaining to this issue and which:
- Guarantees the implementation of international legality, that is to say allows the exercise of the refugees' right of return as embodied in U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, and all subsequent relevant internation¬al resolutions.
- Expresses the political aspirations of the parties concerned. The refugees' basic aspiration to live in dignity indicates their fundamental demand, which they share with the rest of the Palestinian people: self¬-determination.

Conclusion

The logic of racial, religious or ethnic homogeneity, or "purity," often used to justify the denial of the Palestinian right of return, is repugnant to the ethics of our age. It mocks the very concept of coexistence which motivates our present endeavors. Peaceful coexistence among the people and states of the Middle East cannot be built on societies which find plurality intoler¬able or threatening.
To conclude, I would like to appeal directly to the Israelis. We know they are listening to us, even though their delegation has decided to boy¬cott this session, because of the mere fact of our presence.
To the Israelis we shall say that the real condition of sustainable peace is to achieve, beyond the treaties and agreements between states, reconcil¬iation between peoples. This requires that men and women, at given cru¬cial moments of their history, have the courage to take a look at themselves in order to be able to see, and at last understand the adversary.
To the Israelis we shall say that reconciliation passes through the moral recognition of the immense injustice inflicted upon our people 44 years ago.
To the Israelis we say: Is it not clear that the security which you claim to pursue will not come from your military might and territorial assets, but from a just peace based on the recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people?
To the Israelis we also say: In order for us to offer you the solution of the two states, mutually recognized and accepted, the people of Palestine have had to inflict a great violence upon themselves. Indeed, for unlike war, peace is always a tormenting victory of one's own self. And the time has come for you to take this decisive step and recognize the rights of our people.

Comodo SSL