A generous offer to the Palestinian refugees?
- A generous offer to the Palestinian refugees?
Neta Golan, IMEU
Dec 5, 2007
Anyone familiar with Israeli politics was not surprised that Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not acknowledge Israel's occupation in
his speech at Annapolis. What was surprising was that short of
mentioning the "R" word- refugees, Olmert acknowledged the Palestinian
Referring to the Palestinians, the Israeli Prime Minister stated in
his Annapolis speech: "your people, too, have suffered for many years;
and there are some who still suffer. Many Palestinians have been
living for decades in camps, disconnected from the environment in
which they grew up, wallowing in poverty, in neglect, alienation,
bitterness, and a deep, unrelenting sense of humiliation." Olmert's
characterization of the refugees is only partially correct. Poverty,
neglect, alienation, bitterness and feelings of humiliation, are only
one component of the refugee experience. There are also other
components, such as community, pride, generosity, and perseverance.
This one-dimensional characterization obviously suits Olmert's
conception of a solution. It also casts refugees as objects that will
be acted upon (once again), rather than subjects who can genuinely
participate in finding a solution. A recent article in the Israeli
newspaper Ha'aretz Daily titled "Refugees and Jerusalem : A question
of money" sheds light on Olmert's statements. The article revealed the
outlines of the deal being cooked to sell the rights of the
In addition to oral testimonies given both by Palestinian refugees and
Jewish combatants, many official documents describe policies and
actions taken by Jewish militias which were designed to expel
Palestinians from what has become the state Israel. According to
Israeli Historian Benny Morris "In the months of April-May 1948, units
of the Haganah [the pre-state defense force that was to become the
IDF] were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they
were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the villages
themselves." Yet Olmert presented the refugee issue as a humanitarian
problem, not unlike one caused by a natural disaster, saying that "
Israel will be part of an international mechanism that will assist in
finding a solution to this problem." Olmert made it clear that he was
not admitting Israel's responsibility for creating the problem by
saying "I came here today not in order to settle historical accounts
between us...", and by equating the Palestinian refugee problem with
the "constant suffering of many Israelis."
The solution Olmert suggests is "an international effort, in which we
(Israel) will participate, to assist these Palestinians in finding a
proper framework for their future, in the Palestinian state that will
be established in the territories agreed upon between us." The
suggestion that the refugees do not have the choice to return to the
lands from which they were expelled, but instead "return" to a future
Palestinian state, is contrary to international humanitarian law, and
to UN resolution 194 that "Resolves that the refugees wishing to
return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should
be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date." Despite this,
the United States President George Bush promised Ariel Sharon in a
letter on the 14th of April 2004 "an agreed, just, fair and realistic
framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of
any final status agreement will need to be found through the
establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian
refugees there, rather than in Israel." Despite the illegality of
these promises, they were ratified on June 23, 2004 by both the United
States House and Senate. Olmert refers to this letter in his statement
as a point of departure for the negotiations.
Working groups are now developing plans to implement Bush's promise.
According to Ha'aretz, The Aix Group, "a semi-official
political-economic backchannel" is developing a plan for Palestinian
refugees. The Aix Group's members include Israeli, Palestinian and
international economic experts, academics, members of economic
organizations, and officials from international institutions,
including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the
European Union, who participate in the Aix Group in their personal
The group is administered by a steering committee led by Prof. Gilbert
Benhayoun, a Moroccan-born Frenchman, Prof. Arie Arnon, economics
professor from Ben-Gurion University in Be'er Sheva, Said Bamya, the
former deputy minister for economic affairs in the Palestinian
Authority, Dr. Ron Pundak, director of the Peres Center and Dr. Samir
Hazbun from DATA Studies and Consultation. Other partners include the
European Union, French donors, the World Bank, the French Foreign
Ministry, the International Development Research Center in Canada, the
General Council of the Bouches du Rhone, and the Regional Council of
The Aix Group's document opens with a declaration of principles
stating that an agreed and just long-term solution to the problem of
the 1948 refugees must be based on the relevant United Nations
resolutions, including General Assembly Resolution 194, but then
nullifies that statement by saying that "a literal application of this
Resolution is no longer possible given the substantial changes on the
ground." The document then describes an arrangement that would
substitute for the U.N. resolution which they have deemed no longer
applicable, stating that, "The parties would agree that the measures
recommended in the paper implement Resolution 194."
The reference to "substantial changes on the ground" as an obstacle
that renders the UN resolution inapplicable perpetuates the myth that
physical or material obstacles render return impossible. According to
Salman Abu Sitta an expert on the Palestinian refugee issue, "90% of
the village sites are still vacant, 7% are partially built-over, and
only 3% are totally built over in Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem." Of
course, there are obvious issues that would have to be addressed. But
these problems have been dealt with in many places, such as Bosnia,
Kosovo and Tajikistan, to name a few, and pose no obstacle in and of
themselves to return. A hint to what the real obstacle may be lies in
Ha'aretz correspondent Akiva Eldar's statement that "The Aix Group is
convinced that if bold steps are not taken in the right direction, the
vision of one state for two peoples, based on joint citizenship and
equality before the law, will be placed on the agenda."
The group suggests that an international committee of experts would
determine what constitutes "fair and full" compensation for property
claims. They estimate that the total cost of these claims will be
between $15 billion and $30 billion.
The group makes it clear that in cases in which "fair and full
compensation" is offered, "restitution" (the right of return) will not
be considered. This formulation turns the basic principle set in the
UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and
Displaced Persons totally on end. The UN principles clearly note that
restitution is the primary remedy, and compensation only comes into
play if refugees themselves choose compensation, or if restitution is
factually not possible as determined by an independent tribunal.
"Palestinian refugees will be asked to choose a permanent place of
residence, the group proposes that the individuals choose more than
one alternative and rank their priorities." But the implementation of
this choice depends on "the states concerned", including Israel. Aix
proposes to create an International Agency for the Palestinian
Refugees (IAPR) that will be responsible "to ensure that the final
decisions satisfy the wishes of the refugees as much as possible and
are in line with the overall agreements to be signed between the
representatives of the two sides, and possibly also with the relevant
host countries and other countries."
The Aix group expects that a large number of refugees will choose to
relocate to other countries at the cost of $8 billion to $19 billion,
depending on how many refugees will choose to move from their current
country of residence. The plan suggests that some of the Palestinian
refugees will be rehabilitated in their current locations and will
receive compensation "in kind or in money" at a cost of $10 billion to
In addition, the group recommends the creation of a fourth fund, which
will require about $22 billion, for compensation relating to
"refugeehood" not related to property claims or the other programs.
All the registered refugees will receive a uniform amount of about
$5,000 each. According to Ha'aretz, the money can be attained in a
period spread out over 10 years and with extensive, generous
Under international humanitarian law the right of refugees to return
to their homes is an inalienable, individual human right. Like all
human rights, it is invaluable and cannot be bought. Under Israel and
Bush's "solution", Palestinian refugee families who had been expelled
from what is now Israel would be consigned to return, not to their
homes, but to small, non-contiguous parts of less than 22% of their
original homeland. Jews from anywhere in the world, on the other hand,
would be free to "return" to more than 78% of historic Palestine,
frequently to live on land seized from those same Palestinian
refugees. Such clear discrimination against Palestinian refugees and
privileging of Jews from anywhere in the world illustrates clearly
that these proposals would further a separate but unequal solution
that cannot result in peace.
Neta Golan is an Israeli peace with justice activist living in
Ramallah, and a founder of the International Solidarity Movement. For
more information see: www.apartheidmasked.org
Israeli minister cancels London trip on arrest fears
Thu Dec 6, 2007
JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter has
cancelled a trip to Britain over concerns he could be arrested on war
crimes allegations, his spokesman said on Thursday.
"Minister Dichter has cancelled this trip following threats of him
being arrested in Great Britain. This is an intolerable situation,"
Barak Sari said.
Dichter was due to travel to Britain to participate in an "after
Annapolis" conference to focus on the aftermath of the November US
conference at which Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were revived.
But he cancelled the trip on the recommendation of the foreign
ministry, which said it was possible that a leftist organisation could
file a complaint against him that could lead to an arrest warrant, the
Haaretz daily reported.
As head of Israel's Shin Beth internal intelligence agency, Dichter
was involved in the 2002 Israeli attack in Gaza in which an Israeli
warplane dropped a one-tonne bomb on the house of the head of Hamas's
military wing, Salah Shehade, killing him, his bodyguard and 15
civilians, many of them children.
Britain allows legal investigations against foreign nationals provided
that the defendant's own country is unwilling or unable to handle such
In May 2006 the Israeli army scrapped plans to send one of its
generals to a course at a British military academy over fears he could
be arrested on war crimes allegations.
In September 2005, a retired Israeli general, Doron Almog, refused to
leave a plane at London's Heathrow airport after learning a warrant
had been issued for his arrest over his time commanding troops in the
WIPE OUT ISRAEL? OR PALESTINE?
"Spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it
employment... Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the
poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly." Theodore
Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, speaking of the
Arabs of Palestine, Complete Diaries, June 12, 1895 entry.
"We will establish ourselves in Palestine whether you like it or
not...You can hasten our arrival or you can equally retard it. It is
however better for you to help us so as to avoid our constructive
powers being turned into a destructive power which will overthrow the
world." - Chaim Weizmann, Published in "Judische Rundschau," No. 4, 1920]
Ask anyone in Washington, London or Tel Aviv if they can cite any
phrase uttered by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the chances are high they
will say he wants Israel "wiped off the map".
Again it is four short words, though the distortion is worse than in
the Khrushchev case. The remarks are not out of context. They are
wrong, pure and simple. Ahmadinejad never said them. Farsi speakers
have pointed out that he was mistranslated. . . .
There was no implication that either Khomeini, when he first made the
statement, or Ahmadinejad, in repeating it, felt it was imminent, or
that Iran would be involved in bringing it about. --Jonathan Steele,
"If Iran is ready to talk, the US must do so unconditionally,"
Guardian, June 2, 2006
The full quote translated directly to English: "The Imam said this
regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time". Word by
word translation: Imam (Khomeini) ghoft (said) een (this) rezhim-e
(regime) ishghalgar-e (occupying) qods (Jerusalem) bayad (must) az
safheh-ye ruzgar (from page of time) mahv shavad (vanish from).--
Arash Norouzi, "Iran's President Did Not Say 'Israel must be wiped off
the map'," informationliberation.com, January 19 2007
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