By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
I would like Mahmud ‘Abbas, the president of the State of Palestine, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), president of the Palestinian National Authority (PA), and leader of the Fatah Movement, to tell us exactly what the Palestinian Fundamentals are today?!
‘Abbas, speaking to an Israeli delegation from the Meretz Party that visited him in Ramallah on 23/8/2013, reassured and guaranteed the Israelis that at the conclusion of successful negotiations, they undertake to end all the demands, and that they will not ask to return to Jaffa, Acre and Safad. The Israeli media, including Israel’s Channel Two, quickly picked this up.
Remarkably, while ‘Abbas was hinting that he could be willing to waive the Palestinian Fundamental of the right of return for Palestine refugees, he still evoked the Fundamentals in his remarks, as he said that it is important to stress that they negotiate without compromising on any of their Fundamentals!
We thus do not know if ‘Abbas believes that the right of the Palestinian people to return to the land from which they were driven out is one of the Fundamentals. If it is not, then let us know what the Fundamentals are!
On 29/10/2013, the London-based al-Hayat newspaper published a report, it said was based on consistent Israeli press reports, indicating that the Palestinian negotiating team gave its Israeli counterpart a “position paper” on the core issues of the conflict. In the paper, the Palestinian team offers waiving the right of return for Palestine refugees to the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948 (where Israel was established), asking instead to give the refugees a choice between returning to the West Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS), reparations, going to a third country, or staying where they are.
If these reports are true, does this mean that one of the most important Palestinian Fundamentals, namely, the right of the Palestinian people to live in their homeland, and to return to the land that they were driven out of, will be the new Fundamental that will also be sacrificed in the peace process, after the Fundamental related to the historic Palestinian lands was sacrificed (77% of Palestine)?
Concerns regarding forfeiting the right of return are real, and not just rumors. The understandings known as the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement date back to late 1995, and include relinquishing the right of return, as Beilin himself confirmed. Moreover, the famous Geneva Accord, which was signed in 2003 by prominent Palestinian figures close to Palestinian decision-making circles, contains the same proposals that al-Hayat referred to, unequivocally forfeiting the right of the refugees to return to their occupied land of which they were driven out in 1948, linking this to Israeli consent.
The reader can examine the document and the names of the signatories on its website, and will find the names of those who sponsored the document or signed it like Yasir ‘Abd Rabbo, member of the PLO Executive Committee, Hisham Abdul Raziq, former Minister of Detainees’ Affairs, Nabil Qassis, former minister of tourism; Ghaith al-‘Umari, the political advisor to Mahmud ‘Abbas, in addition to Muhammad al-Hourani, Qadura Fares, and Zuhair Manasra, leaders in Fatah.
Behind closed doors, and as the author observed in many conferences and meetings, figures involved in the project for a peaceful settlement do not hesitate in talking about the necessity of forfeiting the right of return, if the Palestinians want to be “realistic” about establishing their state in the WB and GS.
The refugee issue is the core of the Palestinian issue, which is the issue of people who were uprooted from their land in which they lived for thousands of years. These people existed even before the Israelites came to Palestine, and were present during their existence in Palestine and after they were gone. The Zionist project could only materialize after destroying the social fabric of these people, destroying more than 400 of their villages and cities, confiscating most of their land, and usurping their properties, buildings, factories, and endowments.
Among 11.4 million Palestinians in the world, there are 6.3 million Palestinian refugees who hail from the lands occupied in 1948, or 55% of the Palestinian people, of whom 4.5 million live outside historic Palestine, in addition to the 1.8 million who live in the WB and GS. Therefore, the right of return is considered the fate of the Palestinian people rather than a bargaining chip.
The right of return is a natural, inalienable, and a basic human right safeguarded by international consensus, and on which more than 120 international resolutions were issued, and in addition to being a collective right, it is an individual right that neither ‘Abbas nor the PLO leadership, or any other faction, has the right to forfeit.
It is the right of the Palestinian people to worry for what is left of their Fundamentals, after the PLO leadership squandered the Fundamental relating to their land.
On 3/3/1965, late Tunisian President Bourguiba gave a speech in Jericho. Addressing Palestinians and Arabs, he called for accepting UN resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine. On 21/4/1965, he proposed an initiative for a peaceful settlement on the basis of this resolution. There was outrage among the Palestinians, Arabs, and the Arab regime, and Bourguiba was accused of the worst kinds of accusations, including treason. But on 15/11/1988, amid a massive rally of the 19th Palestinian National Council (PNC), “independence” of Palestine was declared.
It included an implicit recognition of the UN partition plan for Palestine as one of the basis of the Declaration of Independence, and based on the premise that the plan provides conditions for the international legitimacy that guarantee the right of the Palestinian people to sovereignty and national independence. The freedom fighters of yesteryear stood applauding and congratulating one another, for the same thing over which they once accused Bourguiba of treason and collaboration with the enemy.
In the same conference, they also recognized resolution 242, which they had rejected for long, because it dealt with the Palestinian issue as an issue of refugees. Everything that was once called Bourguiba’s betrayal became the basis of revolutionary realism that took into account the requirements of the current stage!
When the PLO was founded in 1964 to liberate the land of Palestine occupied in 1948 (west of the WB), Fatah and some factions accused the PLO of being a lackey of Arab regimes and that it was not sufficiently revolutionary. In the summer of 1968, Fatah entered the PLO to lead it and revolutionize it. But on 13/9/1993, the leadership of the PLO, which is Fatah’s leadership, was signing the Oslo Accords establishing limited self-rule in some areas of the WB and GS, which were not even occupied when Fatah and the PLO were founded. The leadership thus recognized that the land the PLO was created to liberate (Palestinian lands occupied in 1948) is now officially Israel.
Hence, Palestine (27,009 km2) is no longer the Palestine that we know; 20,770 km2 (77% of its surface area) was removed from it, making Palestine now limited to the areas of the WB and GS. “Creative” politicians, writers, and journalists started using the term “the Palestinian territories” to refer to the WB and GS.
The land became no longer one of the Fundamentals. Palestine that we knew became historical Palestine, and not the present and future Palestine. The pro-resistance revolutionary anthem that went, “We will never relinquish one grain of sand…If we love Lod and Ramleh” disappeared, and so did the voice of the poet who said, “He who sells an inch of my homeland, I will sell him for free.”
The famous cartoonist Naji al-‘Ali drew a cartoon in which he used word play to express this idea. He recalled how the revolutionaries of yesteryear rejected al-Hal al-Marhali (interim solutions), only to accept them later, and wrote on the cartoon al-Hal al-MurrHali (the bitter solution is now sweet)! Not long after, Naji al-‘Ali was assassinated by the Israeli Mossad as claimed by some circles, but others accused Palestinian figures, who were furious with his strong sarcastic criticism and his rejection of Palestinian concessions.
Now, if the two major Fundamentals of the Palestinian issue related to the land and the people have been stricken down, what Palestinian Fundamentals remain? What is left that cannot be compromised?
If we agree that Jerusalem is one of the Fundamentals, this Fundamental is now being remolded and emptied of its contents. West Jerusalem was removed from the issue of the city and deemed an Israeli area, and there are Palestinian hints about the possibility of relinquishing al-Buraq Wall (the Western Wall), the Moroccan Quarter, what is called the Jewish Quarter (al-Sharaf Quarter) in the old town, and the Jewish cemetery in Jabal al-Zaytoun (Mount of Olives). There are also pledges not to make any changes in al-Aqsa Mosque area without Israel’s approval, as the Geneva Accords indicate. This is in the addition to John Kerry’s proposal making Jerusalem a joint capital for Israel and Palestine.
Concerning the sovereignty of Palestinians over their land as a Fundamental, there are near-certain indications that Palestinian negotiators have agreed to a state with incomplete sovereignty (with an incomplete land) in the WB and GS, which would be demilitarized, and has no army to protect it.
Concerning the right of the Palestinian people to engage in armed resistance to liberate their land as a Fundamental, this Fundamental has been sidestepped ever since the PLO declared it would “renounce terrorism,” pledging not to resort to force to resolve the conflict with Israel. The PA then proceeded to preoccupy a large part of its security services’ energy in cracking down on armed Palestinian resistance factions, and in security coordination with Israel, on the ground that resistance operations were disrupting the peace process aiming to establish the promised Palestinian state.
Regarding the Palestinian national charter that is supposed to bring us together, most of the articles of this charter were abolished in the ceremonial session of the PNC, which was held on 22/4/1996 in GS, affecting 25 out of 32 articles that make up the charter. The articles include, for example, those stating that Palestine is the homeland of the Palestinian Arab people; that within its boundaries that existed during the British occupation it is one indivisible entity; that the Palestinian people are the rightful owners of the land; that armed resistance is the only path to liberate Palestine; that the partition plan of 1947 is invalid; that Israel’s founding is to be considered void from the outset no matter how much time elapses; that the Zionist movement is racist, aggressive, expansionist, and illegitimate movement; and that Israel is Zionism’s instrument, and a permanent threat to peace….
Do Mahmud ‘Abbas and the leadership of the PLO and PA notice that the Palestinian factions—which were forbidden from or didn’t participate in the PLO, especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine-PIJ (along with wide sectors of the Palestinian people)—are more committed to the Fundamentals of the Palestinian national charter than the leadership of the PLO and its influential faction (Fatah)?!
The PLO, which is supposed to represent the people and uphold the Fundamentals, has withered and waned, while most of its departments and institutions have become extinct. The PLO has been relegated to become one of the institutions of the PA, instead of the later being one of the instruments of the PLO’s work. The PLO was placed in the “Recovery Room,” to be awoken whenever its “rubber stamp” was needed, to give cover to the leaders of Fatah and the PA to pass their policies and attitudes.
Therefore, waiving the refugee issue is waiving the Palestinian issue itself. A people who have lived on their land for more than 4,500 years do not have the “realism and pragmatism” of the PLO leadership and the Palestinian Authority to forfeit their natural right to return to their land. There is no consensus among the Palestinian people like their consensus on the right of return.
It is the right of the Palestinians, whose Fundamentals have been stricken down, while the negotiating team squandered the land, the people, the sovereignty, the sanctity, the charters, and the representative institutions, to stand up and shout: enough is enough!
In short, Fundamentals are not merchandise, and the ordinary Palestinian would say: He who forfeits my right to my land, and my right to return to it… does not represent me, no matter who he is.