Cutting through the bullshit.

Friday 31 January 2020

No deal

In the two days since the US released its long awaited Deal Of The Century, the grandly titled Peace to prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, it has been the subject of considerable discussion and criticism, much of it cogent. What this article addresses is the details of the treatment of refugees in Section sixteen, which potentially leave hundreds of thousands of refugees in limbo. It is interesting that the first five paragraphs of the sixteen devoted to refugees deal with the Jews who fled various countries in the Middle East and North Africa during the 1950s, many of whom settled in Israel, and endeavour to establish an equivalence between them and the Palestians who fled in 1947-49.

While it’s important to understand the reasons for these migrations, for the purpose of this argument it doesn’t matter. Regardless of any provision of any law, treaty, or resolution, anyone with a modicum of compassion will acknowledge that it is wrong to prevent anyone from returning to their home or to expropriate their property, whatever the reason for their departure. Basic human solidarity, moreover, requires that the displaced are entitled to return home, to resume their property, and to expect those who displaced them to compensate them for their losses and inconvenience.

Accordingly, just as the Palestinian refugees are entitled to return to their former places of residence, whether in ‘Israel Proper’ or not, the Jews who left Morocco and Iraq are entitled to return there and recover their property. Just as the Palestinian refugees are entitled to compensation by Israel, the Jewish emigres have a just claim to compensation for their losses.

And these entitlements, I hasten to emphasise, are individual in nature. It is not possible for one refugee’s entitlement to somehow balance another’s, nor for any instrumentality to presume to negotiate on their behalf. Advocates of the Palestinian refugees’ right to return typically couch their arguments in terms of Article 11 of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 11 December 1948, which 'Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible...

This approach has always been problematic. For one thing, a UN General Assembly resolution does not have the force of law, as commonly assumed. For another, the principal provision of 194 was to establish a Conciliation Commission, whose deliberations over a long period turned out to be inconclusive. More importantly, even within the context of Article 11, whatever its force, it only provides a right of return for those ‘wishing at peace with their neighbours’, which not only places the onus of establishing peaceful intentions on the victims rather than on the usurpers, but also effectively leaves it up to the usurpers to determine which refugees, if any, actually have peaceful intentions. Furthermore, they should only be permitted to do so 'at the earliest practicable date’. Israel has always insisted that the earliest practicable date would be after peace treaties had been concluded with all the countries it had fought with during its ‘War Of Independence’. It’s precisely because UN General Assembly Resolution 194, or indeed any law, treaty, resolution, or what have you, is susceptible to such cynical interpretation that it is always imprudent to conflate law with justice, fairness, or humanity.

Previous endeavours to formulate a Two-State ‘Solution’ have always paid lip service to the right of return by providing for the permanent settlement of recognised refugees – those who fled Palestine in 1947-49 and their descendents. The Geneva Initiative (Art. 7.4), for instance, allows refugees to settle in their current host countries, in third countries, and even in the state of Israel, with the consent of the receiving country. But resettlement in the State of Palestine 'shall be the right of all Palestinian refugees’. [my emphasis]

In contrast, under the Kushner plan, ‘There shall be no right of return by, or absorption of, any Palestinian refugee into the State of Israel’ and ‘The rights of Palestinian refugees to immigrate to the State of Palestine shall be limited in accordance with agreed security arrangements [my emphasis], giving the government of Israel a veto over which refugees may resettle in the Palestinian bantustan. This is consistent with the conceit that it is up to Israel to determine which refugees wish ‘to live at peace’ as well as the fundamental principle of Peace to prosperity that it is Israel that will exercise sovereignty over all of historic Palestine, including the independent State of Palestine to which it accords no control over borders, airspace, waters, or electromagnetic spectrum, and which it precludes from entering into international agreements, etc., save with the coloniser’s approval.

Furthermore, for those refugees excluded from ‘Absorption into the State of Palestine’, the only option is ‘Local integration in current host countries (subject to those countries [sic] consent)’, except for up to 50,000 who may be accepted for resettlement over a ten year period ‘in individual Organization of Islamic Cooperation member countries who agree to participate in Palestinian refugee resettlement (subject to those individual countries’ agreement)’.

So any Palestinian refugee not already resident in the West Bank or Gaza who Israel deems unacceptable and whose current host country refuses to integrate will remain stateless. Those countries, for all their legion faults, have refused to integrate Palestinian refugees for over seven decades on the assumption that they are one day to resume their Palestinian nationality. As the creation of a Palestinian bantustan does nothing to address their concerns in this regard, it is far from outlandish to anticipate a significant number of refugees, potentially millions, will find themselves in exactly this situation. Unlike the present, however, ‘Upon the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, Palestinian refugee status will cease to exist, and UNWRA will be terminated’ with ‘the dismantling of all Palestinian refugee camps’. So not only will they remain stateless, they will not have a mechanism of support or a place to live save by the grace of the host countries.

In the view of Peace to prosperity, funds will benefit refugees more ‘if used to implement the Trump Economic Plan’ than to compensate them for their losses. Nevertheless, in its magnanimity, the plan envisages ‘an endeavor to raise a fund to provide some compensation to Palestinian be administered by two trustees’ one to be appointed by the State of Palestine and the other by the Palestinians’ perennial benefactor, the United States. Although the plan is silent on the source of funds for the trust, it’s unlikely that the coloniser will contribute much to cleaning up after itself.