Israel Resource Review 15th June, 2000


Palestinian Refugee Issue Complicates Israeli-PA Negotiations
Julie Stahl
Bureau Chief
Conservative News Service

Jerusalem ( -- Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat heads to Washington next week, with two issues foremost in his mind: the future of Jerusalem and the future of Palestinian refugees who fled their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflicts.

Arafat has said of both issues, "there is no concession."

Arafat is scheduled to meet with President Clinton in an effort to advance the peace process to the point where a three-way summit between Clinton, Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak can be arranged.

"The Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their homeland and [for] compensation," Walid Awad from the PA Ministry of Information said at a recent seminar on the topic, hosted by the Israel Resource News Agency at the Beit Agron Press Center in Jerusalem.

Solving the problem, Awad said, will be an "awesome task" and "very, very complicated."

The PA is demanding that all Palestinians who fled and their descendants be allowed to return to Israel according to U.N. resolution 194 or that compensation be paid to those who do not wish to return.

Israeli Prime Minister Barak has said that he will not allow any refugees to return to Israel, but recent media reports have indicated that Barak's resolve may be weakening and they say he may be willing to allow a limited number of refugees to return.

The situation is complex, partly because the Palestinian refugee question is a factor in negotiations between Israel and virtually every other Middle Eastern player.

Two-thirds of Jordan's population is of Palestinian origin, and the camps in Lebanon recently gained attention as a possible breeding ground for anti-Israel terror attacks, given Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon two weeks ago.

More than 3.6 million Palestinians are registered as refugees with the United Nations Relief Works Agency. According to UNRWA, there are 1,541,405 Palestinian refugees in Jordan, 373,440 in Lebanon, 378,382 in Syria, 576,160 in the disputed West Bank and 808,495 in the Gaza Strip as of last November.

A Palestinian refugee is defined as a person who lived in British Mandatory Palestine for two years, "who lost their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict," and who took refuge in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank or Gaza Strip. The descendants of those people also are considered refugees.

Although, more than 1,384,000 so-called Palestinian refugees now live under Palestinian Authority control, they are still considered to be refugees.

UNRWA originally recorded 700,000 Palestinians who lived in the area under British rule for at least two years. Over the years, from those 700,000 people, the number of defined refugees has grown five-fold, to 3.6 million refugees today.

According to Awad, the 50 year-old problem will be solved only if two conditions are met: the establishment of a Palestinian state on all land that was controlled by Jordan until the 1967 Six-Day war; and the right of Palestinians from all over the world to freely live there.

"The Israeli government must assume responsibility for what happened to the Palestinian refugees," Awad said. Then a "pragmatic solution" can be found.

Israel has long argued that the situation of the Palestinian refugees was artificially induced for political reasons. In fact, the number of Arabs who fled Israel was roughly equivalent to the number of Jews forced to flee Arab lands as a result of the establishment of the State of Israel.

Fledgling Israel managed to absorb the Jewish refugees within 10 years, Israel contends, but 50 years later, one third of Palestinian refugees and their descendants still languish in 59 camps.

"[Many] stay for political as well as symbolic reasons," Sami Mshmsha, Spokesman for UNRWA in Jerusalem said.

Any refugee who can secure "economic improvement" is free to leave the camps, Mshmsha said, but those who live in the camps are on the lowest rung of the ladder economically.

Ironically, he added, there is a high literacy rate in the camps. Palestinian refugees are often highly educated and among the most highly educated in the Palestinian population, while Palestinians in general are among the most highly educated in the Arab world.

"They are astute politically. No one can tell them what to do," he said. However, "they don't use education as passports to a better life" but rather to further their national interests and ideology. Those who are not highly educated often become activists, joining the PLO and its cadre, he said.

"I'm sorry to see the third generation of refugees rotting in camps," Prof. Rafi Israeli, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem said. But he said it is a disaster that they brought upon themselves by refusing to accept the original 1947 U.N. partition plan of British controlled Palestine, which proposed to divide the area into separate Jewish and Arab states.

"Too bad for them they lost the war," Israeli said. "If you start a war and lose it, you pay the price," he said, referring to the all-out war waged against the pre-state and new state of Israel by the Arab world in 1947-48 and subsequent wars.

The problem with allowing Arab Palestinians to return in mass to sovereign Israel, Israeli said, is that it will do away with the Jewish state altogether.

Two-thirds of the Jordanian population is Palestinian - originally, Jordan was to be the Arab State divided from Palestine.

A second Palestinian State is in the process of being established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If as many as 3.6 Palestinians are allowed back into Israel, combined with the one million Israeli Arabs in a country of just six million, they will tip the balance toward an Arab state, he said.

"There will be no more Jewish State," Israeli said. "There will be three Palestinian States." Israeli suggests instead that Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the PA each absorb the refugees who are living there.

The issue of Palestinian refugees is one of several due to be solved by the September 13 deadline for reaching a final understanding between Israel and the PA.

It should be noted that President Clinton endorsed the in principle "right of return" for Palestinian refugees last July 2, 1999, five days before Prime Minister Barak was sworn in as Israel's Prime Minister. On June 14, 2000, on the eve of Arafat's meeting with Clinto to discuss the refugee issue, Barak gave a speech to the Israel Council for Peace and Security in which he declared that Israel would indeed assume the moral responsibiltiy for the Arab refugee problem.

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How the Oslo Opposition Movement Plays Into the Hands of the "Peace Now" Camp
David Bedein
Bureau Chief, Israel Resource News Agency

In the left-wing newspaer, Al HaMishmar, back in October, 1993, an intimate of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, industrialist Yekutial Federman, published a simple public relations strategy for the PM to deal with the increasing opposition to the Oslo accords. His counsel was simple: isolate and demonize the opposition to the accords. Federman counseled Rabin to portray the opposition as being totally ideologically oriented in a non-ideological society, while being concerned only for their real estate which may soon be up for grabs in a forthcoming peace deal. Federman presented the odds as very easy: 3 or 5 percent of Israeli society against the desire of everybody else for peace.

Federman assured Rabin that he could rely on the precedent of the failed opposition to the peace treaty with Egypt and the devastation of Yamit and eighteen other settlements in the Sinai, as demolished by the icons of the Israeli right - Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon and Rafael Eitan, who in 1982 were then the prime minister, Defence minister and IDF chief of staff.

For the last seven years, the protest movement against the Oslo accords has functioned in accordance with the analysis of Yekutial Federman. The leaders of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria, Gaza, the Golan and the Jordan Valley and the few ideologues whom they have managed to align themselves with have organized themselves on the basis of the idea that if they yell loud enough about their concern for the parcels of land upon which they live, and show themselves to be reasonable people who believe in Zionism and living a normal life, then the Israeli government will back down from the Oslo process.

What we have here is a community of people who essentially convince themselves to be more convinced by the day, while not addressing the concerns of 90% of the people of Israel, who do not perceive the importance of areas beyond the green line. The people of the Golan have not stressed enough that Syrian control of the Golan would represent a life threat to the people of the Galil. The council of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria have not conducted any thorough nor systematic effort to educate the people of greater Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva and Jerusalem that the permanent deployment of the Palestinian Liberation Army in Judea and Samaria will threaten the entire coastal plain of Israel, let alone the Negev and Jerusalem.

Essentially, the Oslo opposition movements have unwittingly served the interests of Federman formula, and strengthened the notion promoted by the “Peace Now” camp that the opposition is only interested in promoting a minority ideology and the private interests of their own parcels of real estate. The Oslo opposition movement has consistently ignored the Sadat/Yamit precedent. The people who lived in Yamit were peaceful people, some of whom were ideologically committed to Zionism. Once the Israeli government had convinced the people of Israel that it peace was more important than any sentiments for Yamit and its suburbs, 95% of the people of Israel supported the demolition of eighteen thriving Jewish communities.

Today, the settlers and the Oslo opposition movement project themselves as nice people with friendly faces a string of advertisements, as if this would prevent them from being moved out of their homes in the interests of what the public perceives to be a peace agreement.

So long as the public assumes that what the other side is offering is peace, public opinion in Israel will support the "peace now" position that supports the uprooting of settlements, no matter how many people have to be removed.

What the settlement movement and the Oslo opposition have not done is to conduct any kind of campaign to convince the public that the other side does not want peace.

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Arafat Aides Complain of Conflicting Orders
Steve Rodan
Bureau Chief, Middle East News Line

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is issuing conflicting policy decisions to his aides as he is being pressed by the United States to reach a compromise on a final status agreement with Israel.

Sources close to Arafat said he is telling aides to raise the prospect of compromise with Israel, the United States and even some Palestinian circles while the PA chairman renounces their positions and maintains a hardline stand. The result, the sources said, is that aides are being discredited in Palestinian society.

"Arafat doesn't want to make any decisions," a senior source said. "So, what he is doing is sending all sorts of conflicting messages through his aides and then renounces them if the reaction is not positive."

The sources said at least three of Arafat's aides have been "burned" by the PA chairman. They are PLO Executive Committee secretary Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Legislative Council speaker Ahmed Qurei and PA security chief Mohammed Dahlan. Abbas has been touted as a possible successor to Arafat.

Last month, Arafat sent Abbas and Qurei to Stockholm to conduct final status negotiations with Israel and later both indicated that an agreement could be reached. But Arafat dismissed any report of progress and dismissed any prospect of compromise on such issues as the future of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.

Dahlan was said to have been angered by Arafat's orders to address last month a Palestinian refugee committee in Gaza. Dahlan told the panel that the refugee problem was not regarded as an obstacle with Israel because most refugees would prefer compensation and resettlement in the West. He said Israel has agreed to allow 10,000 Palestinian refugees a year to enter the Jewish state from Lebanon.

Later, Arafat said Dahalan was not speaking for the PA.

The PA sources said Arafat's conflicting orders have exacerbated the dispute between aides of the PA chairman. Abbas and Qurei are pressing for the PA to work toward a framework agreement of a final status accord with Israel while PA minister and senior negotiator Saeb Erekat wants the focus to be on Israeli implemention of the interim agreements.

On Monday, Israeli and Palestinians negotiators will meet in Washington to resume talks. The Palestinians will include Dahlan, Erekat and Qurei. who will meet in two separate sessions. One will discuss final status negotiations while the other will deal with interim issues.

"We had agreed to discuss Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian state," Qurei said.

For his part, Erekat said Israel and the Palestinians have reached an understanding that Israel will free all 1,650 Palestinian security prisoners once the sides agree on a final peace treaty. Israeli officials said they envision a mass release once a peace accord is completed.

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