Public Protests against the Surrender of Basic Palestinian Rights Promoted by Palestinian Intellectual Sari Nusseibeh

In recent weeks, Israeli and international media and politicians have welcomed and heralded what is perceived as "new Palestinian flexibility" on core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The source for their enthusiasm is the Palestinian academic and intellectual Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, who is being offered ample media time to present his "new ideas," such as: the need for the Palestinian leadership to reconsider its demand for refugees' right of return to Israel proper, which represents an obstacle for a political agreement with Israel over a two-state solution; the need to explore the option of so-called "population exchange" (absorption of refugees in Israeli colonies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be vacated by Israel); and, the call upon Palestinians to recognize Israel's existential ties to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Dr. Sari Nusseibeh's media statements have triggered anger and protest among the broad Palestinian public and the whole spectrum of political parties and national institutions in Palestine and the Palestinian exile. Despite the fact that Dr. Nusseibeh emphasizes that his old-new ideas about the Palestinian role in facilitating a political agreement with Israel are being made in his personal and private capacity, and do not reflect the official Palestinian position, nor derive from his office as responsible for the PLO Jerusalem portfolio, the large majority of Palestinians feel that he is abusing his office and his connection to western media in order to deal yet another blow to international support for basic Palestinian rights.

In a statement issued by the All-Party Coordination Committee in Jerusalem on 8 November, representatives of all Palestinian political factions state: "We and all our people are asking what is the purpose of such surrender in the name of 'rationalism'? What is the benefit of assuring that Israel will not accept the right of return? Are these statements serving the Palestinian or the Israeli position? It would be much better for these 'rational people' to focus on our sovereign right over the Haram al-Sharif (Al-Aqsa compound) in Jerusalem, to call for Israel's immediate withdrawal from Palestinian towns and villages, and to launch efforts for the re-opening of the Orient House and other Palestinian national institutions. We approach Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, who wants to represent Jerusalem and call upon him to return to the Palestinian national consensus. We affirm here that there is no legitimacy for any person in any official position, who substitutes his personal opinion for his people's rights."

Not surprisingly, Palestinian refugees who feel most directly affected by Dr. Nusseibeh's new ideas, have been in the forefront of public protest against the challenge of their right of return. In a public meeting convened yesterday in Balata refugee camp/Nablus, refugee community activists were joined by members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and National Council (PNC), in order to formulate steps for an effective public response. The meeting, hosted by Yafa Cultural Center/Balata Camp and BADIL Resource Center, decided not to focus its response on Dr. Nusseibeh personally, but to launch a series of activities, which will serve to challenge the political environment that opens the gate to Palestinian individuals who do not reflect the public consensus. The Balata camp meeting decided among others, to activate and improve coordination among grass-roots organizations and Palestinian institutions, especially those operating among Palestinian refugees; to hold a series of rights awareness raising activities during the month of Ramadan; to launch a renewed media effort aimed at clarifying the Palestinian consensus on the right of return; to convene a popular refugee conference at the earliest date possible; and, to submit a memorandum of protest against the suggestions promoted by Dr. Nusseibeh to the official Palestinian leadership.