The Palestinian Refugee Question in the Final Status Negotiations
Political Statement on the Final Status Negotiations
Issued by the Union of Youth Activity Centers/West Bank and Gaza Refugee Camps
The final status negotiations, which reopened in September 1999, will directly confront all those hot and existential issues, which have constituted the Arab-Zionist conflict for the past century. Among these issues, is the one issue central to our people, i.e. the Palestinian refugee question. As the negotiations commence, we are confronted with the same old, rigid positions, which - upheld by all Israeli governments in the past and present – make up the Israeli consensus on Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, water and sovereignty. According to this consensus, these issues, as if a matter of the holy Torah, are treated as non-negotiable. We are to accept this consensus as sacred and we are not supposed to challenge it. The Israeli position – rigid to the bones – is supported, moreover, by the current balance of forces, including the shameful US alliance.
Given the difficult climate under which the final status negotiations are to take place, we find some Arab friends and brothers here and there, who volunteer their own opinion to the media and take the role of the refugees themselves. They are ready to sit at the negotiation table and speak on behalf of the refugees: as if citizenship would cancel our identity and our commitment to the land and the people; as if the passport of an exile or host country would cancel our original birth certificates; as if being in exile, in the refugee camps, would cancel our ancestors’ ownership right over the land.
Convinced of the justice of our cause and our right to defend it, we would like to present our analysis and opinion to the above-mentioned friends and brothers, in order to save them from thinking on our behalf, and to prevent them from disregarding our rights. We do so before misunderstandings turn into misconceptions, and before mistakes turn into sins. Along this line, we, the Union of Youth Activity Centers in the Refugee Camps of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, wish to announce and emphasize the following basic points:
1. The Palestinian right of return to homes and property is a basic and natural right, inherited by the new generations. No one has the right to cancel or disregard it. It is a right confirmed by international law and conventions, first of all UN Resolution 194 (11 December 1948). The right of return is non-negotiable. The right to live in one’s homeland is a basic and absolute right, which may not be infringed upon even in case of war or occupation. It is a principle expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (Paragraph 9), in many human rights agreements on the regional level (European, American, and African) and on the international level. The Nuremberg Convention and Fourth Geneva Convention, for example, define mass eviction and deportation as a war crime and a crime against humanity.
2. The Palestinian right of return remains un-debatable and beyond doubt. It cannot be replaced by substitutes, irrespective of the reason or justification. The catastrophes experienced by our people as a result of the Zionist discrimination since the beginning of the century include: mass eviction of the indigenous people; exile; racist settlement policy, and; the settlement of Jewish newcomers from all over the world – under the ugly Zionist slogan “a land without people for a people without land”.
3. Several international law experts have noted that, in the Palestinian case, the right of return includes a collective dimension, which supports the Palestinian right to self-determination. Rejection or violations of the Palestinian right of return not only affects individuals, but also the majority of the people. The international community in fact understands the importance of the organic connection between the right of return and the right to self-determination. Thus the UN General Assembly states in one of its resolutions that, Palestinian Arab refugees should benefit from their right of return to their land and property. This is an essential condition for the Palestinian people to practice their right to self-determination.
4. International law experts, including some inside Israel, are convinced that the implementation of the right of return is a binding condition for the recognition of the Israeli state. Israel’s membership in the UN was conditioned by its acceptance of the implementation of the UN resolutions on Palestine, especially UN Resolution 181 (Partition Resolution issued prior to the establishment of the Israeli state on 22 November 1947), UN Resolution 194 (Right of Return, issued several months after the establishment of Israel on 11 December 1948). The conditional membership represents the first precedent of this kind in the United Nations, and Israel recognized the importance of these resolutions and its obligations to the international community deriving therefrom. Therefore, Israel has not cancelled the Palestinian property rights inside its territory, but established a special legal framework for them.
5. Based on our understanding of the two UN Resolutions (181, 194), we call for attention to the fact that the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, which provide an insufficient framework for the realization of the right of return. Both UN Resolution 242, issued after the 1967 war, and UN Resolution 338, issued after the 1973 war, serve to amend the problems created by these two wars. They call for a political settlement based on the respect for the security and the sovereignty of the states in the region. UN Resolution 242 calls for a just and comprehensive solution, including a solution to the Palestinian refugee question, without, however, specifying the concrete terms. UN Resolution 338, mainly reconfirms the need for implementation of the provisions of the earlier Resolution 242. Both resolutions fall short of encompassing the refugee question in its original context and specific international legitimacy. This problem is aggravated by the fact that the PLO, its constitution, its programs and aims, were established based on the two resolutions 181 and 194, in order to solve the problems which derived from the Nakba of 1948. What is demanded therefore, is the development of the Palestinian national struggle, including the Palestinian negotiation position, in order to force Israel to accept its historical and political responsibility for the expulsion of the Palestinian people, recognize the Palestinian right of return, and implement all relevant international resolutions, especially UN Resolution 194, which represents the core of the solution to the refugee question. In this context, we also demand the immediate implementation of UN Resolution 237 (14 June 1967) which calls for the unconditional return of the Palestinians displaced by the 1967 war, and the facilitation of their repatriation by the Israeli government.
6. Based on the above, we denounce innocent calls by the PA via the local press, for a national consensus prior to the signing of any agreement. Given the refugees’ position that the right of return is an absolute right confirmed by tens of international resolutions it is neither a subject for the negotiations, nor a matter of people’s opinion.
7. We demand to expand the circle of participants in the negotiations, in order to guarantee the representation of a broad spectrum of political views and intellectual thought. This process must start with an evaluation of the whole negotiation process with the aim of improving and developing a clear Palestinian negotiation strategy. Our aims must be clear and binding for the negotiators in the battle over the final settlement which will answer the hopes and needs of the majority of our people wherever they are. The negotiations must not be tied to a time frame or a certain political or social sector. In this way, we will protect the interests and the future of our people in the century to come. Thus the national dialogue which was launched several weeks ago, must be continued, strengthened and deepened with the participation of all political forces, institutions, and individuals composing our people. This is the only guarantee for national unity.
8. We call upon the host countries to stand up to their historical and Arab-national responsibilities, in order to protect the right of return and to work for its realization as the only solution. This right must not be subject to narrow, internal or bilateral calculations. Re-settlement schemes must be rejected, because they will result in the dismantling of the refugee question. The swamp of compensation, as an alternative to the right of return, must be avoided. The dream about millions of dollars entering the state treasuries in the form of compensation funds must be abandoned. We wish to remind here that the refugees have not been an economic burden on any country. Rather, the contrary is true. Palestinian refugees have been exploited as a labor force without mercy for the development of the economies of the host countries.
9. From the position of historical and national responsibility, we and our people are worried about the danger represented by some interested research and study centers, which, under the pretext of so-called pragmatism and realism, work on proposals for a solution that – injected in small doses over time - result in the frustration of our people.
10. Given the current balance of forces, we call urgently for the unification of political speech and the conduct of political negotiations. While it may not be possible to force Israel into accepting and implementing the right of return, unified speech and conduct will express the commitment of the Palestinian negotiator to a clear strategy to guide negotiation about the mechanism and tools for implementation of the right of return. This requires steadfastness, the unification of internal fronts, and the re-activation of the role of the PLO as the sole representative of our people in the homeland and in exile, and as the leadership of the Palestinian national struggle.
11. While the right of return is the focus of this statement, we do not mean to belittle the importance of other national rights on the agenda of the final status negotiations: Jerusalem, settlements, water, sovereignty, and borders. We consider all of these rights to be strongly interconnected, linked to the core of the conflict, i.e. the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. We therefore reject any attempt to prioritize these rights or the suggestion that they contradict each other.
12. Given the great challenges posed by the upcoming negotiations, most of all the Palestinian refugee question, the Union of Youth Activity Centers in the West Bank and Gaza Refugee Camps reconfirms the need to cling to Palestinian principles and emphasizes that the Palestinian right of return represents the core of the Arab-Zionist conflict. Any attempt to achieve a just peace in the area will fail, unless it can resolve the Palestinian refugee question in the framework of relevant international resolutions, especially UN Resolution 194. It is our opinion that implementation of the right of return is the key to real reconciliation in the region, and to ending the suffering of the Palestinian people.
With promise and commitment to the people who deserve our deep respect until we achieve the realization of the sacred Palestinian triangle: return, self-determination and the establishment of the Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital.
Union of Youth Activity Centers in the West Bank and
Gaza Refugee Camps
18 September 1999
For more information contact: BADIL Resource Center, PO Box 728, Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine; tel/fax 274-7346 or 277-7086; email,