Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Generous Offer?

The Aix Group and the Palestinians

A Very Good Piece
(an Israeli peace with justice activist living in Ramallah, and a founder of the International Solidarity Movement)

"......In addition to oral testimonies given both by Palestinian refugees and Jewish combatants, many official documents describe policies and actions taken by Jewish militias which were designed to expel Palestinians from what has become the state Israel. According to Israeli Historian Benny Morris "In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah [the pre-state defense force that was to become the IDF] were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the villages themselves." Yet Olmert presented the refugee issue as a humanitarian problem, not unlike one caused by a natural disaster....

The suggestion that the refugees do not have the choice to return to the lands from which they were expelled, but instead "return" to a future Palestinian state, is contrary to international humanitarian law, and to UN resolution 194 that "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." Despite this, the United States President George Bush promised Ariel Sharon in a letter on the 14th of April 2004 "an agreed, just, fair and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel." Despite the illegality of these promises, they were ratified on June 23, 2004 by both the United States House and Senate. Olmert refers to this letter in his statement as a point of departure for the negotiations.

Working groups are now developing plans to implement Bush’s promise. According to Ha'aretz, The Aix Group, "a semi-official political-economic backchannel" is developing a plan for Palestinian refugees. The Aix Group's members include Israeli, Palestinian and international economic experts, academics, members of economic organizations, and officials from international institutions, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, who participate in the Aix Group in their personal capacities......

The reference to "substantial changes on the ground" as an obstacle that renders the UN resolution inapplicable perpetuates the myth that physical or material obstacles render return impossible. According to Salman Abu Sitta an expert on the Palestinian refugee issue, "90% of the village sites are still vacant, 7% are partially built-over, and only 3% are totally built over in Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem." Of course, there are obvious issues that would have to be addressed. But these problems have been dealt with in many places, such as Bosnia, Kosovo and Tajikistan, to name a few, and pose no obstacle in and of themselves to return. A hint to what the real obstacle may be lies in Ha'aretz correspondent Akiva Eldar's statement that "The Aix Group is convinced that if bold steps are not taken in the right direction, the vision of one state for two peoples, based on joint citizenship and equality before the law, will be placed on the agenda."....."

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