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Jazeera leaks: PA ceded refugee rights

Al-Jazeera’s Palestine papers reveal that Palestinian negotiators ceded the right of 6 million refugees to return home

Ahram Online, Monday 24 Jan 2011
Lebanese refugee camp
Palestinian refugees leave Bebbawi refugee camp in Lebanon March 2008. Photo: AFP
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Views: 1984

New documents released by Al-Jazeera today expose that Palestinian negotiators ceded the right of millions of refugees to return home.

In a meeting between Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia and Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni on 27 January 2008, Qurei discussed the option of resettling refugees in their respective Arab host countries. The vast majority of refugees are based in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, with Jordan hosting an estimated two million—more than any country in the region.

According to the minutes, Qurei stated that “if the Arabs will be part of the solution there will be no problem in this issue. We’ve to engage countries that host the refugees directly or indirectly.”

Affirming Israel’s rejection of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is now Israel, Livni told Qurei that the “answer to the refugee issue” lies in the creation of a Palestinian state.

She added, “There’ll be no Israeli official whether from the Knesset or the government or even the public who will support the return of refugees to Israel. There are many people in the world who are ready to contribute to the issue of refugees.”

A leaked document, dated 24 July 2008, reveals that Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas offered “an extremely low proposal for the number of returnees to Israel” just weeks after the start of the Annapolis process.

The document quotes Ziyad Clot, a member of the National Support Unit (which was part of the PLO’s negotiations department), saying that the PA had reached a point “where a lot of pressure” would be placed on Abbas, Qurei and Erekat regarding the refugee file, with the US acting in support of Israeli interests.”

“There is clear risk”, he added, that both Erekat and Qurei “will have no choice but to comply with US instructions” and conditions on the matter.

Indeed, a 2009 document from the Palestine papers quotes Erekat telling US envoy George Mitchell that after 19 years negotiations have “been exhausted.”

The Palestinians, he said “will need to know that 5 million refugees will not go back.”

Approximately 800,000 Palestinians were displaced or forced to leave Palestine from 1947 to 1949. UN resolution 194 –which Israel rejects- affirms the right of refuges to return to their homes and calls for compensation to be paid for the property of those choosing not to return.

Jewish state

The Palestine papers also divulge that Erekat seems willing to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. In a meeting on 13 November 2007, ahead of the Annapolis Conference, he told Livni, “We’ve never denied Israel’s right to define itself. If you want to call yourself the Jewish state of Israel, you can call it what you want.”  It’s not clear, however, whether he was speaking in a personal or official capacity.

Officially the PA refuses to acknowledge the notion of a Jewish state, which the current Binyamin Netanyahu government puts as a precondition for the establishment of Palestinian statehood. The implications of an officially recognised Jewish state would be devastating to Palestinians: undermining the rights of 1.5 million Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship and signifying the abolition of the right of return for those Palestinians who were displaced in 1948.

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