The Geneva Accord: Racism Repackaged
By Salman Abu Sitta
The orchestrated media blitz, replete with approving noises made by those European and Arab politicians eager to be rid of Palestinian refugees, conveniently ignored the fact that the understanding reached between some Palestinians and Israelis on the shores of the Dead Sea, later dignified with the name Geneva Accord, is in essence no more than the blueprint produced by the Israeli intelligence service to solve the issue of Palestinian refugees.
Following the first Palestinian Intifada of 1987 Yitzhak Shamir, on a visit to the U.S., called for an international conference to discuss ways to disperse Palestinian refugees across the globe and make the international communityi.e. Europe and the rich Arabspay for the scheme. Later, during the Madrid Conference of 1991, Shamir declared: The land of Israel [Palestine] is our true homeland...any other country is still Diaspora.
The Israeli official position underlying the Dead Sea understanding was later formulated by the former chief of Israeli Military Intelligence, and the first governor of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, General Shlomo Gazit.
Gazit produced a report in 1994, shortly after the Oslo Accords, for the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, entitled The Palestinian Refugee Problem. The reports solution to the refugee problem included the following:
The option of return should, under no circumstances, be provided to the Palestinians. Israel may allow a small number of returnees, under the [existing but useless] shaml program, for humanitarian reasons but only if this does not compromise security or national interests.
The return of refugees to their homes (in Israel), Gazit states, will threaten the Jewish character of the state.
UNRWA, the UN relief organization, should be disbanded because it confirms the refugees identity as Palestinians by issuing identification cards. The legal status of refugee must be eliminated.
The PLO must renounce the right of return on behalf of the Palestinian people.
An international fund must be set uppaid for by the world and controlled by Israeloffering paltry compensation to the refugees to enable their dispersion and permanent exile. Against this compensation, paid by others, Israel will retain free and legal title to Palestinian land and property in 530 towns and villages, representing 93 per cent of Israels area.
For the sake of PR Israel will apologize to the Palestinians. The apology, though, will have no legal implications as regards compensation or the prosecution of those guilty of crimes against the Palestinian population.
To give a final veneer of legitimacy the UN, with Arab and Israel agreement, should pass a resolution canceling all previous resolutions supporting Palestinian rights, including resolution No.194. Any refugee claiming a right of return thereafter would be considered an enemy of peace.
Such is the stuff of which the Dead Sea understandingotherwise known as Geneva Accordis made. It has been repackaged but it is nothing more than the Israeli intelligence services plan.
Needless to say, the articles in the Dead Sea understanding announced in Geneva regarding the refugees fly in the face of international law.
To begin with, the right of return is entrenched in international law and in universal and regional covenants on human rights. Being an individual inalienable right, it cannot be compromised by time, sovereignty or political agreements. It can only be lost by the voluntary surrender of the right individually.
Why then this fuss over Geneva? Because the media blitzand it is nothing more than thattargets two kinds of audience. The first are the Palestinian refugees, especially those who suffer under the brutal and bloody Israeli occupation. Their lives are shattered, their children killed, their homes bulldozed, their livelihoods destroyed. The aim is to drive those refugees to despair and accept any kind of life anywhere as being better than the one they endure.
The second audience comprises Arab and European politicianswith the obvious exclusion of those in the U.S. and Israel who do not need to pretendwho pay lip service to international law but put pressure on the Palestinians to abandon their rights. They want to wash their hands of a problem that betrays their impotence and political expediency.
Nothing in the last 55 years indicates that the ploy will succeed. On the contrary, advocacy of the right of return is stronger than ever. In October 2003, and against considerable odds, 100 Palestinians from all over the world, from refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank, from Israel (yes, there are 250,000 refugees in Israel), from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, the UAE, North Africa, Europe and America met in London and formed an umbrella organization, the Right of Return Congress, with chapters in several countries.
The planeload of Palestinians who attended the Geneva hoopla may choose to drop their right of return. There is no problem with that. But they have no right to make the same decision for more than five million refugees. Nor have they any right to issue on behalf of the Palestinian people any certificate exonerating Israelis from crimes committed from 1948 to today.
The Israeli left may well benefit politically from the fanfare. It remains, however, committed to racist policies. Unlike the Geneva Palestinians, it does not disavow the ethno-religious discriminatory institutions so often censured by the UN Treaty-Based Human Rights Committees. The concessions were decidedly one-sided, and they were made by the wrong side.
If the rights of refugees are ignored, as the Dead Sea understanding attempts to ignore them, instability in the area will increase. First, Israel will have the cover necessary to expel or exterminate its 1.25 million Palestinian citizens. Israels racist policies will be legitimized as Palestinians are restricted to virtual concentration camps bounded by an apartheid wall defining a Palestinian state with no credible sovereignty.
If only one per cent of Palestiniansin Jordan, Lebanon and other placesare driven to despair by the elimination of their rights and decide to fight ever more fiercely for them, 40,000 angry people could be taking unpredictable actions.
Refugees settled outside the Arab world have an increasing voice in the media, parliaments and NGOs. Their efforts may still be modest but with 59 percent of Europeans seeing Israel as the largest threat to world peace, international support for the basic rights of Palestinians will grow.
Efforts to continue ethnic cleansing and disperse Palestinian refugees across the four corners of the globe are destined to fail, as they have failed for more than half a century.
The only road to peace is the application of international law and the final and complete abolition of all vestiges of racism by Israel.
The writer is the general coordinator of the Right of Return Congress.
Al-Ahram Weekly, January 7, 2004