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Refugees, UNRWA and the Right of Return
By: Moatasem Hamadeh
October 30, 2018

When the Oslo Accords were signed, the imminent threat to the refugees' right to return to their homes and properties became apparent, particularly when the negotiation file was referred to negotiations for a permanent solution, without mentioning where these negotiations are going to, and especially that Shimon Peres launched his well-known project, “for a just solution agreed between the parties”, which was adopted by the so-called "Arab Initiative" in Beirut (2002) to emphasize the willingness of the Arabs to give up the right of return, in return for a Palestinian state, and normalization with Israel, which was clearly recognized, without any ambiguity, by the former Jordanian prime minister and the first Jordanian ambassador to Israel, Dr. Marwan Muasher, in his book "Dar al-Nahar" in Beirut under the title of "Moderation Approach".

The right of return committees, research centers, and diligent journalists in the Palestinian press have shown remarkable interest in the refugee and the right of return’s file as the final status negotiations approach, all that led to shedding light on this issue and the centrality of its position in the national cause, and the danger of tampering with it, bartering it, or splitting it up, while asserting that the right of return is a collective and individual right for Palestinians, as none of the negotiators or officials have the right to represent its owner; It is a right, not a transaction, nor can it be fragmented, nor have a representative.

The refugee conferences were held in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, in the Diaspora camps and in Europe, all of which unanimously refused to tamper with the refugee issue, confirming the right of return to the homes and properties from which the refugees had fled since 1948, however, the Palestinian negotiator continue to walk the way of concessions, to say that Resolution 194 guarantees "compensation" without referring to the right of return and to say that the return to the "wings of the homeland" in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as an alternative to return home in the occupied territories in 1948, and finely to accept an alternative to the right of return, the return of a number of refugees born in Palestine without their offspring, and in payments lasting ten years. All of which were presented as solutions, which the Palestinian negotiator accepted them, even when referring to Resolution 194, President Mahmoud Abbas is always keen to link it to the Arab initiative, which dropped any references to the right of return and called for implementing Peres' project "an agreed just solution between the two sides", that is, Israel has the right to veto "the right of return".

Now, the issue is no longer an issue of analysis, probabilities and warnings, and projects are being put up here and there, as test balloons, and as attempts to pulse. The issue is on the agenda, in a negative direction to cancel the right of return, the owners of this project benefit from the introductions as stated in the Palestinian official positions, and the Arab Peace Initiative.

Before Trump took his steps to overthrow the right of return, Netanyahu government paved the way for a series of reports, drawn up in the largest Israeli centers, focused on two entries to erase the right of return. The first question is the usefulness of UNRWA's survival, and to consider it as one of the reasons for the complexity of the problem, which requires solving or ending its services, the second approach is to question the legal status of non-born refugees in Palestine before 1948, which reduces the problem from six million refugees to less than forty thousand.

These Israeli studies and reports have been taken care of by the official leadership and the Department of Refugee Affairs, and they have been answered with public statements that do not deal with the matter, at the best, rather than recruiting a team of specialists to follow up the issue internationally and to counteract the active and dangerous Israeli action.

Trump in his steps to implement the "deal of the century", adopted the Israeli project. In a first step, he reduced his administration's assistance to UNRWA, then he took the second step and completely stopped funding it, calling on his allies to follow suit. He called for the redefinition of the Palestinian refugee to abolish the legal status of millions of refugees, which leads, also from the US gate, to end the issue and exclude it from the negotiations file, on the pretext that it is nothing to negotiate.

The issue is now in danger, it is true that the international community has come to the rescue of the UNRWA and that the Commissioner-General has recognized that the Agency's financial situation has become natural, but it is also true that the battle of the United States and Israel against the right of return and the other social and humanitarian rights of the refugees will not cease and that the hostile mind of these parties will continue to present projects which goal is to drop the case. Therefore it is dangerous to sleep anywhere on a pillow of silk, and to say that it has found a way to resolve an important part of the financial crisis of UNRWA, a strategic plan is needed to deal with the issue of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa, and the surrounding areas, and the issue of settlement and the threat it poses to the national project.

This calls first on the official leadership to adopt a clear, unambiguous and non-fake policy on the refugee issue; to get started, reject any alternative solution to right to return to their homes and properties; and stop the speeches whose purpose is to camouflage its willingness to exchange the right of return for the establishment of a Palestinian state. An independent and fully sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital on borders before June 4, 1967 is an inalienable and not exchangeable right. The right to return to their homes and properties, from which the refugees have been displaced since 1948, is a right that may neither undone nor exchanged; and affirming that Resolution 194 that guarantee the right of return, in addition to the right of compensation, is not revocable; and stop claiming that this Resolution gives the refugee choice between return and compensation; and stop repeating the refrain: as long as we do not achieve the right of return, why not to cling to right of compensation?

It also calls on the Executive Committee, the official leadership, the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian national community to formulate an integrated plan, in close cooperation with the refugee movement and the Palestinian communities in the world, to confront the political, financial and media attempts to write off the issue.

As we are mentioning the official Palestinian media… how much we wish those responsible for this media to take note that Palestinian legitimacy does not stand within the borders of the defense of the "Palestinian leadership, headed by the President". Rather, legitimacy starts first and foremost with the legitimacy of Palestinian national rights. If these rights lose their legitimacy, there will be no legitimacy for any leadership, including "the Palestinian leadership headed by the president".

Notes:Moatasem Hamadeh is a member of the Political Bureau of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Translated by Rawan Al-Bash

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