Monday, January 15, 2007

Palestinian refugees and exiles must have a say-so

Rima Merriman, The Electronic Intifada, 15 January 2007
(Rima Merriman is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank)

"Today, Palestinian refugees outside the occupied territories and Palestinian exiles feel completely excluded from the body politic and national debate currently taking place in the occupied territories. They listen to the feuding emanating from the territories in helpless dismay. They watch those on the inside who are caught up in a carefully engineered web of power struggles and passionate rifts that seem incomprehensible in their intensity and misdirection.

This fragmentation in the Palestinian political process has long been in the making. The Palestinian National Authority, courtesy of the Oslo negotiations, is designed to represent only Palestinians living in the occupied territories and to function as no more than Israel's administrative arm.

The advent of Hamas on the Palestinian political scene has forcefully brought to the fore the question of adequate forms of representation for the Palestinian people. Far from enhancing democracy and representation, the elections of the Palestinian Legislative Council exclude Palestinians outside the territories. As it turned out, these last elections were also deemed by the international community as irrelevant.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the sole legitimate voice of the Palestinian people as recognized by the United Nations and the Arab League in 1974, is now separated functionally and structurally from the Palestinian diaspora. Its links with the outside were weakened and marginalized when the core elite of the PLO moved to the West Bank and Gaza as a result of the Oslo negotiations in 1994.

What all this means is that the vast majority of Palestinians are disenfranchised. The number of Palestinians worldwide as of the end of 2006 was estimated by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics to be 10.1 million. Of these, only 39.2 percent (or 3.95 million) live in the occupied territories.......

.....What's on the table currently by way of a "peace plan" is an Israeli unilateral plan that has US backing for a putative Palestinian state. This plan means the Israeli annexation of a further 15 percent of the West Bank and the vast majority of its water aquifers, a plan whose essential features are already "facts on the ground". On the Palestinian side, there is a proposal based on a referendum drafted by the leaders of Palestinian prisoners of various factions in Israeli prisons. This plan drops Palestinian territorial claims beyond the 1967 borders and promises full Arab recognition of Israel. It is a proposal that has only partial legitimacy, because it does not include consensus from Palestinians living outside the occupied territories in the far-flung diaspora. Needless to say, neither the Israeli side, nor the Palestinian side, even in its partially-formed and troubled current consensus, accepts the plan of the other.

But continuing to give precedence to the concerns of West Bank and Gaza residents over those of non-resident Palestinians means the planting of a time bomb in the heart of the peace process. Their inclusion guarantees that the historical roots of the conflict, something that Israel has spent its monstrous state apparatus denying for decades, will be taken into consideration, as it is the right of every Palestinian that they should be. Israel must understand that Palestinians will never forget these roots. Here is what one CIVITAS participant in a public meeting in Toronto, Canada has to say: "Young Palestinians should go and visit their towns just like the Zionists do through their Birth Right program; after all, there are a lot of Palestinians in the world with foreign citizenship. So why not plan visits to Yafa in an organized way and sponsor the youth to go back to their homeland?"

Palestinians must start building political infrastructures that go all the way to the top for Palestinians now outside the West Bank and Gaza who have never relinquished their right of return. These Palestinians must have active and constructive involvement in the decision making process."

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