Palestine cannot concede the right of return

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The right of return is a legitimate and irreversible right that should be granted to refugees with no concessions, despite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas saying he does not intend to “sink” Israel with refugees.

Dismantling the thesis of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is worth the effort; so is examining its deficiencies and cognitive dysfunction. The silence surrounding it makes it a popular saying, despite its lack of integrity at the national, moral, political, legal and legitimate levels.

In his speech a few days ago in front of a number of Israeli students, Abbas said: “I am not working on sinking Israel with millions of refugees and changing its nature. It is the ‘Israeli’ propaganda that is promoting such ideas, but none of this talk is true. All we said was this: Let's discuss and solve the issue of refugees through consensus and creative solutions."

What is the meaning of “we do not want” to return 5 million Palestinian refugees to their homeland, homes and properties? Is it true that the return of these millions would “sink” Israel?

We are not discussing the issue of the right of return, which is a historical, legitimate and irreversible legal right. It is not subject to any statute of limitations, as it is a personal right that stems from the sanctity of the private property of the refugees. Thus, it is an inalienable right, just like human rights, and it is not subject to negotiation and concessions. It neither gets revoked nor gets amended.

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We are not discussing the return of refugees, who did not return to the same place, village and city that they, their parents or grandparents were expelled from or that they left for some reason. The return of refugees to another place in Palestine or the West Bank is not deemed as a real return. In the 1948 territories (Israel) today, there are 1.5 million Palestinians and about a quarter of a million refugees, some of whom live within a kilometer (0.62 mile) of the site of their own house, which is now occupied.

We are not evoking the right of return stipulated by UN Resolution 194, which addresses the refugees’ return and their right to be compensated. This resolution has been affirmed by the international community more than 140 times thus far. An international relief institution for refugees (UNRWA) was established and the International Conciliation Commission was also created to facilitate their return and rehabilitate them.

Add to this the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, according to which any agreement between the occupying power and the occupied people or their representatives is legally void if it takes away the rights of the occupied people.

Suffice it to say that the roots of the Palestinians in Palestine are older than the roots of the British in Britain, and much older than the roots of Americans in America, and that Israel is the only country in the history of the United Nations whose membership has been accepted on two conditions, one of which is to accept Resolution 194 on the return of refugees.

The logical question that ought to be asked — away from rights, law and ethics — is: Will Israel really sink if 5 million refugees returned to it, i.e., to the Palestine that it occupied in 1948 and expanded the scope of its occupation in 1949?

Studies, maps and figures say no, Israel will not sink. The details:

  1. About 80% of the Jews living in Israel reside in only 15% of the current area of Israel, while the rest (20%) live in Palestinian cities and towns. Moreover, 2% of them live in the refugees’ territories, whose area constitutes about 85% of Israel’s area.
  2. More than 90% of the Palestinian towns have been destroyed and remain evacuated to this day, as most of Israel’s urbanization has been carried out on Jewish areas, owned by Jews since the end of the British Mandate. The area of these territories does not exceed 6% of Palestine’s area. This is in addition to about 3% of some Palestinian villages, especially those surrounding Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem.
  3. There are about 530 Palestinian towns and villages, in addition to 600 small villages that have been occupied. “Israel” has destroyed about 90% of them. The ruins of these villages are easily spotted and have yet to be urbanized and reconstructed.
  4. About 30% of the refugees live in the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) territories, while the rest of them live in exile and refugee camps outside Palestine. These refugees should have the right to return to their homes and properties.
  5. A reunification project, which has been talked about within Israeli and US circles, is not the same as the inalienable right of return. Any errors in diagnosing the issue of the return of refugees would be a disastrous mistake. Without the right of return, Israel will have exclusive ownership rights of Palestinian lands, with the implicit approval of the Palestinians themselves. Thus, Israel will legitimately proceed with the ethnic cleansing process of the Palestinian people.

In brief, the return is possible but it must be done in phases, starting from the villages of Galilee and the central and southern towns, all the way to the coastal and inland Palestinian cities, without sinking Israel. This is especially true if Israel truly seeks a comprehensive and lasting peace.

One may say that today Israel is in the best state it has ever been in since its inception, while Arab nations surrounding it are degenerating, sunk in bloodbaths and internal strife. Arabs will continue to turn a blind eye to the Palestinian cause, especially in light of the turmoil gripping the region. Therefore, there are no strategies or tactics lurking in the horizon for the liberation of Palestine. The PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the leaders of Gaza have become mere pawns used to absorb the public frustration in the face of a stalemate and lack of strategy or vision. Nevertheless, all these pretexts do not justify the abolition of the right of return.

The late Yasser Arafat mentioned the idea of “a state without a land” in 1988 in Oslo. Today, the tables have turned. “The land is without a state.” Should things drag down this path, we might end up with “no state and no land.”

The right of return must not be conceded. It's a right that can be applied without sinking Israel.

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Found in: right of return, refugees, refugee camps, politics, palestinian authority, palestine, mahmoud abbas, israel
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