Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks as he visits a construction site in the Israeli colony of Har Homa in East Jerusalem, a day ahead of parliamentary elections. Netanyahu is seeking his third consecutive term as premier, his fourth overall. 16 March 2015 (© ASSOCIATED PRESS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks as he visits a construction site in the Israeli colony of Har Homa in East Jerusalem, a day ahead of parliamentary elections. Netanyahu is seeking his third consecutive term as premier, his fourth overall. 16 March 2015 (© ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Palestinian refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) worldwide suffer from a grave ‘protection gap’, which refers to the lack of protection they are entitled to in accordance to international law. Individual states bear the primary responsibility for protecting the rights of their citizens and those subject to their authority and jurisdiction. In light of Israel’s failure to afford this protection to Palestinian refugees, the international community has an obligation to protect the rights of Palestinians, in particular the right to self-determination and the right of Palestinian refugees and IDPs to reparation (repatriation/return to their homes of origin, property restitution, compensation and non-repetition).

The international community, through the United Nations, nevertheless, has largely failed to meet its obligations towards the Palestinian people for reasons primarily resulting from the lack of political will among powerful western states. Despite the gravity of the policies and practices implemented by Israel, which have resulted in the mass forcible transfer of Palestinians spanning decades, no UN agency or other authoritative body has been designated as primarily responsible for their protection or the pursuit of durable solutions. The United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), the agency that was created for such purpose, has been inoperative for over six decades, leaving Palestinian refugees de facto without international protection. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is mandated to provide humanitarian assistance for Palestinian refugees, which is a necessary intervention and one of the core pillars of international protection, but it can only be a temporary measure aimed at alleviating suffering and cannot be considered a substitute for a comprehensive political solution.
 
The Oslo Accords marked the beginning of the Oslo peace process in 1993, which aimed at achieving permanent peace between Palestinians and Israelis and finding a durable solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees. However, in the several rounds of negotiations that took place during this process the refugee question was left off of the table, and refugees were neither given a chance to participate nor were their rights or the protection gap addressed. Instead, Palestine witnessed a ‘peace process’ stretching 24 years that brought little positive change in practice. This could stem from the fact that the resolution of the refugee issue is the keystone for any successful peace process seeking a just and durable solution in the Middle East. Thus, from the moment it was decided to postpone or ignore the refugee question in the negotiations, the Oslo roadmap was set to fail.
 
It is in such a context that this issue of al-Majdal magazine comes to explore a range of different paths Palestinians could follow to achieve durable solutions to the refugee issue, and more generally, to the ongoing Israeli policies of forced population transfer, colonization and apartheid. In March 2015 BADIL surveyed over 3,000 Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan and Lebanon to examine the perceptions of Palestinian refugees residing in UNRWA camps regarding the protection they receive and the protection they are entitled to, including durable solutions.[1] BADIL explored how the protection gap affects Palestinian refugees, with the aim to reinforce advocacy efforts in emphasizing the lack of an international agency mandated to provide such protection. When asked about their preferred paths to achieve a durable solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, the participants marked the BDS movement, Security Council sanctions and the International Criminal Court (ICC) as their top choices. It is interesting that despite the failure and lack of political will among international duty bearers to take effective measures to address the protection gap, these results show that the refugees still have significant expectations of the international community to bring about change to the current situation.
 
But when analyzing the potential of international duty bearers to provide effective protection to Palestinian refugees, there are two questions that require our attention. First of all, do international duty-bearers – states, UN agencies – recognize the existence of the protection gap of Palestinian refugees? And, secondly, in the cases where such a gap is recognized – whether fully or partially – what steps have been taken to address it? These questions are important as in the past years UNRWA has issued statements highlighting some aspect of the protection gap, such as the shortage of humanitarian assistance, or the legal discrimination suffered by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The same is true for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or some of the host states of Palestinian refugees, especially now in the context of the ongoing conflict in Syria, which has highlighted the lack of protection suffered by Palestinian refugees when trying to flee to neighboring countries. Nevertheless, what is clear, especially in the light of the ongoing displacement and lack of protection of Palestinian refugees, is that no measure has been taken to address these gaps and other gaps in protection.
 
Addressing this completely unacceptable and unsustainable state of affairs therefore represents a matter of great urgency and it can only be realized through the application of concerted pressure by the international community through all available channels. These joint efforts should be based on adopting and supporting rights-based durable solutions as a long-term strategy; developing mechanisms and taking effective measures to bring Israel into compliance with international law; ensuring effective protection of Palestinian refugees, IDPs and those at risk of forcible transfer in Palestine and host countries; and including the Palestinian refugee and IDP communities’ participation and engagement in the process of identifying protection gaps, ensuring effective protection, and crafting durable solutions.
 
It is in connection to this last recommendation that this issue of al-Majdal starts by analyzing the results of the most recent Survey carried out by BADIL, in an attempt to bring refugee voices back to the fore. The magazine begins with an article that provides an overview of the main paths to solving the refugee issue chosen by Palestinian refugees living in UNRWA camps. These results offer unique information about how refugees themselves want to proceed to close this protection gap and achieve a durable solution to their plight. The article is followed by five articles that analyze each one of the main options chosen by refugees. The first article, written by Bangani Ngeleza and Adri Nieuwhof, focuses on the BDS movement in South Africa and how it evolved from a minority grassroots campaign to gaining the support of the international community. Professor Joseph Schechla writes about the Security Council, its lack of effectiveness historically to bring about peace and justice and the problematic of its lack of neutrality brings for the Palestinian case. Following is an article focused on another international mechanism, the ICC, written by Dr Valentina Azarova. The article analyzes the main obstacles Palestinians will face when bringing their claims to this court. Simon Reynolds provides a legal analysis on the use of different forms of resistance by Palestinians and their legitimacy according to international law. Finally, Jamil Hilal explores the need to build representative Palestinian institutions, focusing on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
 
As the results analyzed in this issue show, Palestinian refugees are demanding that the international community take sound steps to isolate and pressure Israel to be accountable and ensure Palestinian refugees the protection they are entitled to. They have already pointed at some of their preferred channels through which to realize their rights, which is why this call should be used to bring about effective measures on the ground and bridge the ongoing ‘protection gap’ suffered by Palestinian refugees. The UN (mainly through UNRWA and UNHCR), states, and other duty bearers should make the fulfillment of Palestinian rights and ensuring protection a priority of the highest order.

 


[1]    For more details about the questionnaire and results of other questions, please see the BADIL Survey 2013-2015: http://www.badil.org/phocadownloadpap/badil-new/publications/survay/Survey2013-2015-en.pdf