Refugee rights of little concern to PA, documents reveal

The Palestine Papers reveals how Palestinian negotiators bartered the rights of refugees. (MaanImages)


More has been revealed in the Palestine Papers, Al Jazeera’s expose that uncovers internal documents and secret correspondence from the last decade of negotiations between the Israeli government, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and the United States.

Yesterday the network, which has shared its information with the UK’s Guardian newspaper, released documents related to several “core issues,” including the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

Also released were papers detailing plans by the Israeli government to barter the citizenship of Palestinians in Israel in an effort to create a purely Jewish state, and minutes of meetings outlining the recalcitrance of the administration of US President Barack Obama to abide by previous policy agreements.

Al Jazeera began releasing its cache of more than 1,600 documents on Sunday, with the first batch related to dramatic concessions by the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority on the issue of illegal Israeli settlements in Jerusalem and “land swaps.” The network labeled the dealings as “unprecedented” in the decades-long history of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

The Electronic Intifada’s co-founder and executive director, Ali Abunimah, has been given special access to the documents and has helped analyze them for Al Jazeera.

Monday’s release of documents expose startling concessions by the PA on the rights of Palestinian refugees, a key issue since Israel’s establishment and the ethnic cleansing of approximately 800,000 indigenous Palestinians in 1947-48.

The Palestine Papers reveal that PA leaders were willing to limit the number of Palestinian refugees able to return to their homeland to only “a symbolic amount” — one document put the number at ten thousand per year for a period of ten years. There are more than five million Palestinian refugees in the global diaspora, including hundreds of thousands in refugee camps inside the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem; the Gaza Strip; Lebanon; Syria and Jordan.

In March 2007, Palestine Liberation Organization chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Palestinian refugees “would not have voting rights on a possible peace deal with Israel,” wrote Laila al-Arian (“PA selling short the refugees,” Al Jazeera English, 24 January 2011).

“I never said the diaspora will vote,” Erekat stated during a meeting with then foreign minister of Belgium Karel De Gucht in March 2007. “It’s not going to happen. The referendum will be for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Can’t do it in Lebanon. Can’t do it in Jordan.”

Al Jazeera stated that the papers “also reveal that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed that 1,000 Palestinian refugees be allowed to return annually to Israel over a period of five years — totaling just 5,000, a tiny fraction of those displaced after Israel’s creation.”

Al Jazeera added, “While Erekat conceded the rights of Palestinian refugees to determine their own fate, during such meetings Israeli negotiators made clear their vision for the refugees.”

Following those concessions, in June 2008 then foreign minister Tzipi Livni flatly told the Palestinian negotiations team that Israel would not budge on the issue of Palestinian right of return. “… [T]hey should instead hope for charity ‘from [Microsoft founder Bill] Gates and his like,’” Livni stated (“Qurei to Livni: “I’d vote for you”,” 24 January 2011).

Livni subsequently rejected any right of return for Palestinian refugees, Al Jazeera reported, telling former PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei that “we will not agree to 194.” United Nations resolution 194 guarantees the right of Palestinian refugees expelled since 1948 to return to their land and homes.

Condoleezza Rice, then US Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, suggested Chile and Argentina as possible states that could absorb Palestinian refugees, the Palestine Papers also show.

Additional documents reveal plans by Israeli leaders to purge its Palestinian citizens by way of “land swaps,” in an effort to build a purely Jewish state. Al Jazeera revealed that Livni and Israeli governmental advisors listed a number of Palestinian towns and villages that they proposed would be annexed to a future Palestinian state (“Expelling Israel’s Arab population?,” 24 January 2011).

These land swaps would be implemented without the consent of Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship, according to the Israeli plan.

Writing in Al Jazeera, The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah said that Livni “made it clear that only Jews were guaranteed citizenship in Israel and that Palestinian citizens do not really belong even though they are natives who have lived on the land since before Israel existed” (“A dangerous shift on 1967 lines,” 24 January 2011).

Livni stated “Israel [is] the state of the Jewish people — and I would like to emphasize the meaning of ‘its people’ is the Jewish people — with Jerusalem the united and undivided capital of Israel and of the Jewish people for 3,007 years.”

It was also revealed that the Obama administration was willing to ignore prior agreements under the George W. Bush-era “Road Map” in favor of placating Israeli ambitions to continue the state’s illegal settlement project, possibly opening the door to Israeli plans of “population transfers.”

It was clear, Abunimah reported, that US envoy George Mitchell continued to pressure the Palestinian negotiating team to “adopt formulas the Palestinians feared would give Israel leeway to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank without providing compensation.”

However, Mitchell did not demand of the Israeli side that they agree to certain terms of reference for US-brokered peace negotiations. According to Abunimah, “… the US position perhaps unwittingly opens the door to dangerous Israeli ambitions to transfer — or ethnically cleanse — non-Jewish Palestinian citizens of Israel in order to create an ethnically pure ‘Jewish state.’”

“The Obama administration’s failure to press Israel to accept the international consensus that the Palestinian state would be established on all the territories Israel occupied in 1967, except for minor adjustments, dooms the two-state solution,” he added.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday that despite the upset following the Palestine Papers leak, she believes the negotiations should continue.

Meanwhile, PA officials have admonished Al Jazeera for the document leak, with top officials calling the Palestine Papers “fabricated” (“PA negotiators reject leaked report,” 24 January 2011).

Speaking on Al Jazeera English on 24 January, PLO official Nabil Shaath acknowledged the veracity of the documents published by Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera says the network “will not reveal the source(s), or detail how they came into our possession.” More Palestine Papers documents will be released in the coming days.

The network said that it will expose information on the “security cooperation” plans between the PA and Israel, as well as documents including “private exchanges between Palestinian and American negotiators in late 2009, when the Goldstone report [on the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza] was being discussed at the United Nations.”

The entire Palestine Papers archive is being made available online on the Al Jazeera English website: “http://english.aljazeera.net/palestinepapers/”.

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