Affirming Refugee Rights while Advancing Strategic tools to Achieve these Rights
Upon reviewing Fateh's political program, it becomes apparent the extent to which the Draft Papers on the the Defense of Displaced Palestinians' Rights (the Refugee Paper) discussed at the Sixth Conference of the Palestine Liberation Movement (Fateh), and which were the result of refugee community lobbying efforts at the Conference, were influential. Under the title “Principles,” the political program adopted by the conference included:
Regarding refugees, the Fateh movement commits itself to the following:
Continuous work to achieve the right of refugees to return, compensation and restitution of property for all refugees, irrespective of their places of residence, including refugees in 1948 lands. The movement regards the preservation of refugee camps as a political and principled witness of the refugees and their experience, who were prevented from returning to their homes until the resolution of their cause... There is also a need to work on behalf of improving the status of refugees and refugee camps while confirming that the PLO provides the political reference for Palestinian refugees.
To affirm opposition to the principle of forced naturalization or the call for an alternative homeland…To this we say – “No naturalization in Lebanon and no to an alternative homeland in Jordan!”
In the same context, and beneath the heading "the forms of struggle in the current period" the document states: "amongst the forms of this struggle which can be practiced with success in the current period to support and activate the negotiations, or alternatively, in the event of their failure," are included "boycotting Israeli products internally and externally by way of popular mobilizing, in particular with regards to consumer goods where a domestic alternative exists." Also included in forms of struggle are the "practicing of new forms of civil disobedience against the occupation, and action to escalate the Palestinian campaign to boycott Israel and its institutions and products and to benefit from the experience of the South African liberation struggle." It also proposes discussing "alternative Palestinian strategies if the path of negotiations fails to achieve results. This includes the proposition of the idea of calling for a unified democratic state which rejects racism, external domination and occupation, and developing struggles against Israeli apartheid and racism."
With regards to work required to develop the performance of the PLO in negotiations, the political program confirms amongst other matters, the necessity for the PLO to remain committed to administering negotiations "on the basis of international norms and UN Resolutions 181, 194, 242, 338" and "rejecting the delaying of negotiations on Jerusalem, the refugee issue, or any final status issues." The document also calls for "rejecting the recognition Israel as a Jewish state absolutely and unequivocally as a way to protect the rights of refugees and the rights of our brothers inside the Green Line."
As for activating the PLO and its institutions, the program insisted upon three points: First, to strengthen the presence of the PLO amongst Palestinian refugee communities in the Diaspora, in particularly in the camps in the Arab world and beyond; Second, to revive and activate the bonds of the PLO with Arab and international solidarity forces, rebuilding relations with them; Third, developing relations between the PLO on the Arab and international levels, both on a popular level, as well as on the political party and governmental levels."
In regards to it addressing the concerns of our people in exile, the program confirmed the necessity to reactivate and strengthen the role of these Palestinian communities, to support activists and skilled professionals, and to activate the unions and popular organizations in all places where Palestinians are located in exile. This is needed so as to "preserve the culture and belonging of communities outside the Arab world, including supporting their connections with their homeland by putting in place educational programs for them to teach their children Arabic and the history of their homeland, the struggle of their people and to preserve their belonging and their rights to return to their homeland.
As to the Palestinian community inside 1948 areas, it was confirmed that "our peoples in 1948 lands are an indivisible part of the Palestinian people and live under the danger of 'Judaizaiton' and ethnic cleansing." In that context the movement rejects calls for recognizing the 'Jewishness' of the state of Israel and racist calls for ethnic cleansing, while affirming the natural and historical right of the presence of our people in their homeland, both before the establishment of Israel and after its desecration [in the Nakba]. In that regard Fateh supports all those who strive to achieve the needs of our people for equality and to regain their rights…"
As for work on the international level, the document affirms the need to strengthen relations with political forces that can pressure political parties, unions and NGOs, particularly those that work in the field of human rights given their influence and effect nationally and internationally."
This matter requires "preparedness to escalate the international campaign against Israel's racist practices, arriving at an international boycott, similar to the experience of South Africa."
The ability of the refugee paper to highlight the rights of Palestinian refugees and displaced persons within the Fateh program underscores how the refugee cause remains firmly implanted nationally, remaining at the heart of any final solution to the conflict. This modest influence is highlighted in many aspects, the most important of which have strategic influence in the following regards:
First, to affirm the right of return of refugees to the original homes to areas occupied in 1948, and to uphold the right to compensation and restitution of property. The articulation of these rights has never been so expressly put in writing in the program of Fateh or the PLO, at any time prior.
Second, the document's ability to affirm the unity of the refugee cause in historical Palestine and throughout the Diaspora, makes the PLO and not the PA the political reference for Palestinian refugees. In so doing, the situation returns to that which existed prior to the Oslo Accords. This principle also strengthens the role of the PLO which had been weakened in part through the role of the PA, and will have consequences upon all institutions regarding Palestinian refugees in all their localities, particularly those located in exile.
Third, the confirmation of the rights of 1948 Palestinians, including those internally displaced, considering them part of the Palestinian people, and entitled to the right to return to their homes, compensation, restitution and full equality. This reaffirms the national identification of Palestinian citizens of Israel as an organic part of the Palestinian people.
Fourth, the adoption of a boycott campaign against Israel as an effective means of struggle and to demand that Fateh activate this campaign in a popular and official manner on all levels, represents an advance step for the movement, particularly when compared with the ambiguity of vision and approach that the organization and its members have shown in the past towards this campaign.
Fifth, the opening of the doors before the possibility of proposing strategic alternatives such as the "single democratic state" idea, despite the fact that this matter is partly conditioned on the failure of the negotiations, represents a departure from the previous doctrine placing full trust in the strategy of negotiations being capable of achieving a just and lasting peace.
Sixth, the description of Israel as an "occupying, colonizing and racist state," that "practices judaizaiton and ethnic cleansing" and as such calling for "developing the struggle against Israeli apartheid and racism" also has important repercussions. This clarifying terminology attempts to expose the colonialist and racist nature of Israel and implies the necessity of not interacting with it because of this nature.
While it might be argued that in practice, Fateh's rule will not be restricted by texts, which for a long time have often been treated as merely ink on paper, this does not mitigate the importance of the inclusion of these elements in Fateh's political program, when the time comes to say "No" where it matters. While it might be said that that which takes place on the ground contradicts the text in form and content, this does not mean the text will not have great significance at decisive moments.
Furthermore, while various stipulations are not mentioned in the program, there are still opportunities for their inclusion upon the convening of the forthcoming session of the Fateh Revolutionary Council. It should also be said that the text will remain significant strategically, and not merely historically; it can play a role in supporting popular movements and popular activity in a period characterized by the need to restrain the direction of negotiations and the need for Palestinian collective empowerment. In such regard, these texts, even if they seem absent from the actions of the leadership, remain necessary for all those who desire to continue the path of struggle, not merely for purposes of being guided by them, but more so as a means to establish responsibility and to make it a basis for accountability.