While the political participation of citizens in ‘stable’ societies ensures effective citizenship, for victims in a conflict being involved in decision-making is required as a way of ending their suffering. The necessity for victim participation in a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is based on two interrelated principles. First, respect of rights as a matter of law and justice. Second, addressing the root causes of the conflict and, thereby, preventing its recurrence. An additional reason to guarantee refugee participation is that the majority of the Palestinian population is displaced (refugees and internally displaced persons).
A durable solution to the longstanding Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not be achievable without recognizing the rights of the refugees. As a matter of dignity, law and justice, every Palestinian refugee has the right to choose one of the three durable solutions to their condition: return, local integration in country of refuge, or resettlement in a third country. No representative nor national or international institution has the authority to infringe on this fundamental individual right. A lasting and just solution to the conflict will be impossible without ensuring the rights of participation for displaced persons who constitute more than two thirds of Palestinian people worldwide.
Some may argue that the Palestine Liberation Organization, as the sole legitimate representative of Palestinian people to the United Nations, is entitled to represent Palestinian refugees who are a subgroup of the Palestinian people. Based on that, they would conclude that collective national rights should be given priority in the negotiation process over the individual right of return. In such a calculation, a peace settlement is prioritized over the free choice of rights holders.
In principle, such an argument violates international law and falls short of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ recommendations and best practices in comparative cases. Most importantly, it ignores the requirement of refugee participation, a component of authentic representation. Based on principles of refugee participation, this issue of al-Majdal surveys the multiple facets and problems of representation for Palestinians today.
To combat physical and political fragmentation, Amjad Alqasis builds on a commentary from al-Majdal preceding issue arguing for a language that reflects unity of the disparate Palestinian community. In it, Alqasis delivers the findings of BADIL’s 2012 Survey of Palestinian Youth on Identity and Social Ties. Bisan Mitri and BADIL’s Manar Makhoul report on their participation in the 2013 World Social Forum in Tunis, describing the significance of Palestine for international civil society. The Trojan Cow: Pixelated Intifada is a photo-essay and interview based on Amer Shomali’s art installation in Ramallah. The project tells a cherished Beit Sahour story about the cows of the First Intifada, highlighting Palestinian ingenuity, self-sufficiency, humor and resilience.
Nour Joudah appraises youth perceptions of Palestinian representation and the potential for political change using primary interviews with refugees in camps across the Middle East. In The Arab Spring and Reviving the Hope of Return, Zarefa Ali and Amal Zayed document refugees’ interpretations of their right of return in the context of a changing Middle East. Thayer Hastings reviews a recurring discourse: the crisis of the Palestine Liberation Organization in two prominent media outlets that focus on Palestine. Lori A. Allen examines the intentions of international commissions against a Palestinian political strategy ineffective at challenging ‘facts on the ground’. In Enfranchising Refugees: PNC Elections in Comparative Context Terry Rempel articulates the electoral rights of refugee participation and lays the international context for evaluating the groundbreaking potential of Palestinian National Council elections.
This issue of al-Majdal, in other words, overviews the current phase in Palestinian discourse: where the fragmentation and the crisis of representation are being dissected and analyzed. This evolutionary process will potentially yield remedies. Indeed, nascent steps towards remedy have begun. The task ahead is to develop and hone them towards a comprehensive and sustainable vision.
Finally, since Spring 2006 (al-Majdal no. 29), the magazine has featured a round-up of the most important international news of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Today, the BDS movement has become a household term in the realm of social and political activism. Many campaigns and outlets such as the Electronic Intifada, Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the Boycott National Committee website have developed excellent coverage and documentation of BDS’s development. Beginning with al-Majdal no. 52, BADIL will no longer carry the BDS roundup, but it will continue to highlight the importance and use of the tool. For example, this issue features Rifat Odeh Kassis’ rebuttal to BDS-opposition by Reverend Andrew Love. Al-Majdal no. 54 will feature content from the 4th National BDS Conference, which was held in Bethlehem on 8 June 2013.
*Nidal al-Azza is the Coordinator of BADIL’s Resource, Research and Legal Unit, and Lecturer in Refugee Rights under International Law at al-Quds University.