Creating civic structures for Palestinian refugees in exile
For Immediate Release
No. (E/25/04) 25 June 2004
An EU-funded study at the University of Oxford will assess how Palestinian refugee communities living in exile in the Middle East, Europe, and further afield can build civic structures to enable better communication with their political leadership and national representatives.
The project, entitled Civitas, will run over the next 18 months, and will establish the precise types of mechanisms needed by Palestinian refugees outside the West Bank and Gaza in order that they might participate effectively, and contribute democractically, to the shaping of their future.
Millions of Palestinians across several generations live in refugee camps and exile communities outside the West Bank and Gaza. Under the Oslo arrangements in the mid 1990s, these communities were excluded from the elections that took place there, as well as the establishment of civic and institutional structures, all of which were largely funded by the European Union. The role of the refugees was left to be determined in 'final status' negotiations, which in the end never took place. Refugees outside the West Bank and Gaza have thus – so far – been systematically excluded from all political and civic aspects of both the state-building process and the Middle East peace process itself.
The first step of the project is the establishment of a database to gather information about the size, location, and structure of Palestinian communities across the world.
In a second stage, each community will run their own needs assessment exercise, where they will determine for themselves which structures they would like in order to engage more effectively with their political leaders – for example by regular newsletters, delegations, monthly meetings, visits, and other means of communication. These will be decided by series of publicly convened debates and deliberations, run over a period of two months, within the communities and refugee camps.
The results of these deliberations will then be brought together in a report whose recommendations will assist in the incorporation of this large constituency of Palestinians into the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians – an essential precondition for the achievement of a durable peace.
Dr Karma Nabulsi, Director of Civitas, is a Research Fellow at Nuffield College, from where the project will be managed. She said: 'The key point about this project is that it will be run by the Palestinian communities themselves. Democratic structures have to be created from the bottom up for them to hold. This is the lesson which can be learnt from many recent transitions to democratic rule, where consultation and participation have been vital to establish new democracies. The Palestinian case is unique in that the majority of the people are dispossessed and dispersed throughout the world. If you want to build peace, public participation and civic involvement are the cornerstone.'
The project will draw on a range of expertise from across Oxford University. It has been developed in collaboration with the European Commission of External Relations, through a series of reports and workshops run at Nuffield College, the European University Institute, and exile Palestinian communities over the last four years. The final report is due to be published in October 2005.
For further information on the Haifa conference, contact:
BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Bethlehem