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Edition 4 Volume 1 - December 15, 2010

Solution to Palestine refugees imperative for peace  - Chris Gunness
Left unresolved, the challenges refugees face could detract from the conditions conducive to peace.

Clarifications needed  - Itamar Rabinovich
It is important to clarify what the reference to 194 stands for.

The API and the Palestinian refugees  - Nadim N. Rouhana
The API left it up to Palestinians and Israelis to reach an agreement acceptable to both.

Permission to return or right of return?  - Maurice Stroun
Responsibility for the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees rests on the shoulders of the Arab leaders.

Solution to Palestine refugees imperative for peace
 Chris Gunness

UNRWA was established in 1949 under a General Assembly resolution that called upon the agency to assist and support Palestine refugees pending a just and lasting resolution of their plight.

As a temporary agency, the duration of whose mandate is tied to the resolution of the Palestine refugee situation, UNRWA looks forward to the day when its services will no longer be required, allowing it to fold its operations. The arrival of that day, however, is contingent upon a real peace process that bears tangible results for Palestine refugees in line with United Nations resolutions and with international law and practice.

The Arab Peace Initiative, inclusive of its call for a just and agreed solution on refugees, has been recognized by the UN and other members of the Quartet as part of the terms of reference of the bilateral peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, for his part, has referred to the API as one of the main pillars in the search for peace. United States and European Union leaders have commented upon the opportunity served by it. Not speaking to the API but addressing the need for a complete peace, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently remarked that there should be a just and permanent solution on refugees that meets the needs of both sides.

Consistent with the UN and it partners, UNRWA recognizes that the API is an important element in the pursuit of peace. As the agency with a unique remit for Palestine refugees, UNRWA must commend, in particular, the definitive and explicit commitment on the part of Arab states and Palestinian leaders to ensure that the refugees are included in a comprehensive settlement that would see the end of conflict, and is encouraged by the international acceptance of this imperative. As an agency that has witnessed--and been impacted by--the peace process, we feel it is most urgent that Palestine refugees, including those outside of the occupied Palestinian territories, be integrated into our collective vision for a just resolution of this protracted conflict.

The responsibility to ensure a negotiated end to the conflict lies with states and other political actors. That said, UNRWA is a stakeholder in the outcomes of any peace process. The agency is obligated to advocate for the realization and protection of the human rights of Palestine refugees. Promoting these rights is closely linked to achieving a just and lasting solution for refugees. This means, among other things, that refugees must be given the opportunity to exercise free and informed choices about any future dispensation. They should be granted comprehensive and adequate international support to ensure that their choices can be exercised in a voluntary and equitable manner. In keeping with UNRWA's mandate and its focus on promoting the well-being of refugees, the agency could serve as a facilitator and advisor to refugees, the United Nations and other entities engaged in formulating and implementing a future dispensation.

The API clauses on refugees appear to reflect these factors. The clauses will no doubt be clarified by the parties as they proceed in negotiations, taking into account other relevant terms of reference and real conditions and opportunities in the region. On that note, it is important to remind that the situation of the refugees across the region remains precarious--a fact we are witnessing daily. Left unresolved, the challenges refugees face could detract from the conditions conducive to peace. UNRWA is nevertheless hopeful that these challenges can and will be met with the combined commitment of the supporters of the API, thus enhancing the prospects for a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestine refugees.-Published 15/12/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Chris Gunness is spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency

Clarifications needed
 Itamar Rabinovich

The Arab Peace Initiative in its 2002 and 2007 incarnations has met with two categories of responses in Israel.

The Israeli Right has denounced and rejected it for several reasons. It is opposed to the notion of withdrawal to the 1967 lines, it is opposed to withdrawal from the Golan Heights that is implied thereby and it is skeptical and critical of the fashion in which the issue of the "right of return" is dealt with by the API. To Israeli skeptics, the API represents yet another, more sophisticated attempt to push Israel into a settlement that would entail an Israeli commitment for full withdrawal while keeping open the issues of the Palestinian refugees and the demand for a full "return" as well as the question of full recognition of Israel and its legitimacy.

Israeli policy-makers and analysts who do believe in Israel-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian peace take a more complex view of the API. They recognize the value of the Arab consensus endorsing the settlement and its Israeli-Palestinian component in particular, and feel that a full reconciliation with the Arab world would help the Israeli public and political system deal with the agonizing concessions that such an agreement would entail.

But those Israelis who see the sunny side of the API cannot ignore either the problems posed by its text or the other issues and questions that it raises. In this regard, the main problem raised by the text is its open-ended approach to the refugee issue. The 2002 Beirut summit final communique (though not the actual summit resolution as then published) was quite explicit and disappointing in this regard. It demanded full implementation of "the right of return of the Palestinian refugees based on the resolutions of international legitimacy and international law including General Assembly Resolution 194" and rejected "any solution that includes their settlement away from their homes".

This clearly was unacceptable to Israel and to a significant portion of the international community and was superseded in 2007 by a reaffirmation of the 2002 resolution: "The Arab League further calls upon Israel to affirm... . Achievement of a just solution to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194" and "assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries".

These formulations represent significant improvements over the 2002 communique but they still leave important issues in need of clarification. First, in the history of the Arab-Israel conflict, "just" has been an Arab term representing the need (from an Arab perspective) to rectify the original "injustice" of 1948. It is important to clarify whether this is still a code word or merely a relic of traditional rhetoric.

Second, it is important to clarify what the reference to General Assembly Resolution 194 stands for: an elegant retreat from the traditional demand of "return" or a clever way to exit through the main door merely in order to return through the back window. Third, in the API statement that a just solution would be "agreed upon", Israel is presumably given a veto over any idea or measure that it finds unacceptable. But what happens when Israel vetoes Palestinian or other Arab demands: a stalemate and crisis or further movement forward?

Fourth is the issue of "patriation". Much ink has been spilled by Israeli experts who have debated in recent years whether the Arabic "tawtin" stands for patriation or for the granting of citizenship. There is a clear contradiction between the apparent waiving of the "right of return" and the rejection of "tawtin". If the refugees and their offspring would not return to Israel proper but would also not be settled in the Arab world, where would they end up? The final 2007 version refers more coherently to "the special circumstances" of the host countries and may be directed at the specific case of Lebanon but it could also open the way for countries like Syria and Iraq to raise objections.

So much for textual analysis, which has its own importance particularly in a region and in the context of a conflict where words and symbols are so potent. But it is equally important to look at the API as a potential tool for moving on in the peace process. The first step to be taken by Israel is to offer a serious response to the API. Whatever its flaws, the API has been a major step and it deserves a serious Israeli response.

Israel then needs to create some distance between the Arab League and the actual peace process. PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) committed a grave mistake by bringing the Arab League back into the process after Yasser Arafat's successful effort to guarantee the "independence of Palestinian decision-making". The Arab supporters of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement should be kept at a safe distance from meddling in the process, but close enough to be summoned in order to endorse controversial Palestinian decisions and concessions.

Once the process begins to roll, the need would arise to turn the brief general language of the API into the concrete language of a plan of action. It would likewise be important to separate the Syrian and Palestinian components of the issue. The API includes an insistence on Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines in the Golan too. Realistically, the present Israeli government (and future ones as well) will not be able to deal simultaneously with withdrawals in the Golan and the West Bank. The diplomatic challenge would be finding a formula for keeping one party engaged while progress is made with the other.

The time would then come to probe the refugee issues. The difficulties are well known. Moderate Palestinians tell their Israeli counterparts that they are only interested in the principle of "return" and in the actual return of a small number. This is not acceptable to the mainstream of Israeli moderates. They are not interested in a "principle" that smears Israel with an "original sin", nor are they interested in accepting even a small number of Palestinians into a country grappling with its relationship with an Arab minority of 20 percent that will soon enough amount to 25 percent.

Israel will have to be crystal clear and firm on this issue. There are ways in which Israel can demonstrate its empathy and take part in a rehabilitation effort, but it cannot and must not accept the principle of "return" or endorse its own "original sin". Israel successfully absorbed the Jewish communities of the Arab world. The massive refugee issues of the immediate post-WWII years, whether in Europe or in Southeast Asia, have all been resolved and practically forgotten. Now it is time to resolve the Palestinian refugee issue on a rational, practical basis. Any effort to keep it simmering or to adhere to open-ended formulae will not be acceptable.

Another issue concerns the position of Hamas and other Islamist groups. Some recent statements by Ismail Haniyyeh may indicate a change and an apparent willingness to endorse the notion of a political settlement. Closer scrutiny raises serious doubts. If a formula for moving on with the Palestinian mainstream is found, the position of Hamas and its ramifications should be checked thoroughly.

In practical terms, the following steps should be taken. Israel should coordinate its response and strategy with the United States. It should then announce that it is responding to the API and seeks to clarify some fundamental issues and questions and to turn a terse text into the potential basis for a new effort. It should insist on a practical separation of the Palestinian and Syrian tracks and on sequencing them, not as a ploy (as many in the Arab world see it) but as a practical necessity.

Such an Israeli response to the API would not be a panacea. It would not eliminate all the difficulties that have obstructed efforts to revive the peace process in recent years. But it could be a very fruitful first step.-Published 15/12/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Itamar Rabinovich, Israel's former ambassador in Washington and chief negotiator with Syria, is professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University and distinguished global professor at New York University. He is the author most recently of "The View from Damascus".

The API and the Palestinian refugees
 Nadim N. Rouhana

In this article, I examine the Arab Peace Initiative's views for resolving the issue of Palestinian refugees. The API was endorsed by the Arab summit in March 2002 in Beirut. It presented a plan to "enter into a peace agreement with Israel" and establish normal relations with it in the context of a comprehensive peace. The peace proposal was conditioned upon "full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967". With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the API required Israel to accept an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on Palestinian lands it occupied in 1967. It also addressed the core issue of Palestinian refugees--those who were forced out in the 1948 war from the part of Palestine on which Israel was established, and their descendents. According to UNRWA figures, the number of registered refugees was close to five million in 2008.

The API calls for the "achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194". This is a carefully coded clause that addresses both Palestinian and Israeli concerns. For Palestinians it invokes justice, which for them entails the return of all refugees who wish to do so to their homes, towns, and cities, which are now inside Israel. It also invokes 194, which states that any refugees "wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors" should be able to do so.

At the same time, the API stipulates that the solution to the refugee problem should be "agreed upon", a phrase that is catered to the Israelis. All negotiated agreements should be agreed upon by the negotiating parties. However, by including this self-evident phrase the Arab summit sent a thick diplomatic hint of flexibility to the Israelis and expressed explicit assurances that although the negotiations on the refugee problem should be based on 194 in order to give the agreement the appearance of legitimacy, any arrangement must also be accepted by Israel.

This clause also strikes a balance among the various contradicting Arab views, takes into account the official Palestinian views (but not necessarily the views of the Palestinian refugees themselves), and reflects deep grounding in realpolitik guided by the balance of power in the region. It is hard to envision a different clause based on a negotiated two-state solution coming from the current Arab order.

Just weeks before endorsing the API, late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat had argued in a piece published in the New York Times that the Palestinians "understand Israel's demographic concerns" and that while the Palestinian right of return is guaranteed by international law and 194, it "must be implemented in a way that takes into account such concerns". Thus, the Arab summit gave a stamp of approval to this official Palestinian view, which had already reflected the gross power asymmetries between the parties, with strong hints to Israel that the Arab official position would not challenge an agreement that reflected the asymmetry.

One can say that the Arab Peace Initiative left it up to the power asymmetry between Palestinians and Israelis to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides and wrapped this position in Arab and international legitimacy. The Arab states that would have liked to see the refugees return--or more accurately, leave their host countries, such as Lebanon--went along with the clause given the delicate balance it reflected.

The Israelis of course already knew about the official Palestinian position and Arab flexibility on refugee issues through their own direct diplomatic channels, the United States and their various intelligence sources. Thus the position the API presented was not new to Israel. What was new and of utmost importance was that the Arab summit made its position about the issue of refugees public.

For years, Israel chose to ignore the Arab Peace Initiative. But its view on this clause became clear in its response to the roadmap for peace brokered by the Quartet (United States, European Union, Russia, and the United Nations) in April 2003. The roadmap stipulates that Israelis and Palestinians should reach "an agreed, just, fair, and realistic solution to the refugee issue". The roadmap anchors its various stipulations in relevant UN resolutions, agreements between Israelis and Palestinians, and the Arab Peace Initiative. In May 2003, the Israeli cabinet approved the Quartet's roadmap but attached 14 reservations, which made the approval meaningless.

The cabinet requested that in a final settlement, "declared references must be made to Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state" and that there should be "a waiver of any right of return for Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel." The cabinet also confirmed that the Arab Peace Initiative cannot be a basis for an agreement and that all references to it must be removed.

The Arab Peace Initiative with its flexibility on the refugees issue was, by and large, acceptable to the Palestinian political class. Whether such a position is acceptable to the Palestinian people and, equally if not more important, to the refugees, has so far been untested. Israel has repeatedly closed the door to the possibility of such a test.-Published 15/12/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Nadim N. Rouhana is professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the director of the Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa.

Permission to return or right of return?
 Maurice Stroun

The Arab Peace Initiative of March 28, 2002, "calls upon Israel to affirm. . . . Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194." Arab League members have consistently argued that this means Israel accepting the right of return of the 1948 refugees. Indeed, at the same Arab League summit in 2002, the day after passing the API the participants demanded that in addition to mentioning Resolution 194, King Abdullah's initiative should also mention Arab League Resolution 14/224B, which states that Resolution 194 should be interpreted as requiring recognition of the right of return.

Yet this Arab position regarding 194 has no basis in an objective reading of the history of the conflict. In late November 1947, after the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 181 in favor of partitioning Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, the Arab League declared this decision null and void. The Palestinian leaders of the day refused to accept their own state in order not to give legitimacy to the Jewish state, while pointing out that Palestine as such did not exist, being merely southern Syria. This position was maintained until the creation of Fateh in 1959 by Yasser Arafat and his companions.

At first, the Arab nationalist movement in Palestine was totally helpless and had to put its fate in the hands of the Arab states. As pointed out by Abu Iyad, Arafat's deputy, "The Palestinians...were deprived of a political and military leadership that, if it had existed, could have organized their resistance."

According to data from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine, in 1948 some 720,000 Arab inhabitants left Israel before and in the midst of the war. The exodus began in December 1947, with the flight of part of the upper and middle classes from towns such as Haifa, which was to become part of Israel. More than 100,000 Arabs fled Haifa in spite of an Israeli appeal to remain in their homes. For the Israelis, it was very important at the time to demonstrate that Jews and Arabs could live together in peace.

Some of the Palestinian refugees were indeed expelled from their land by the Israeli army during the war of 1948. However an important proportion simply fled, encouraged by the local Arab National Committees that had asked the Arab populations of the Jewish state to leave their homes and take refuge in Arab territory so as to facilitate the action of the Arab armies. This is confirmed by, among others, both the great nationalist poet Mahmoud Darwish and Abu Iyad, as well as by the Jordanian newspaper Filastin, which wrote on May 19, 1949, "The Arab states encouraged the Arabs of Palestine to leave their homes temporarily so as not to hinder the advance of the Arab armies."

At the end of hostilities, the UN General Assembly passed resolution 194. It states that, "refugees wishing to return to their home and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date."

After bitter discussions, the text adopted did not speak of a "right" of return for the refugees but simply of "permission" to return. In this respect Abba Eban, Israel's representative at the UN, who had suggested the term "permission" rather than the word "right" demanded by the Arab governments, wrote, in a letter to this author, "The fact that to return to the territory which is now Israeli needs permission, for anyone who is not Israeli, demonstrates that it is not a question of an inherent right of any refugee, but of a sovereign act of the State of Israel."

For more than 60 years, the Arab states parked the refugees in camps. The Arab states were hoping that by preventing a reasonable solution to the refugee problem, the world would force Israel to commit suicide by accepting the settling on its territory of millions of Palestinian Arabs who had been raised to hate Israel. The Arab leaders played on the tragedy of the refugees to make up for their inability to destroy Israel militarily.

If the children of the millions of Pakistani, Indian or German refugees from the 1940s are today citizens of the country they live in, it is because they were not exploited to compensate for the political and military failures of the states of their parents or grandparents. Moreover, about 700,000 Jews were forced to leave the Arab states in the years following 1948. Not one of them, their children or grandchildren lives today in a camp.

There is no doubt that the responsibility for the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees rests on the shoulders of the Arab leaders. Israel can deal with the relevant clause of the API with this clear knowledge.-Published 15/12/2010 © bitterlemons-api.org

Maurice Stroun is cofounder of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East (1982).

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