By Dr. Hasan El-Hasan
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
Golda Meir said in 1969 “there is no such thing as Palestinian people ..It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t’t exist”. I wonder how many Zionist supporters and sympathizers still believe Golda Meir big lie!! The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) estimated that there are more than nine million Palestinians scattered throughout the world today. More than one million are living in Israel proper, three and a half million live in the West Bank and Gaza, Two and a half million live in Jordan, and the rest are dispersed through the Arab world, Europe and North and South America. American-Israel Demographic Group disputed these findings and concluded that the PCBS total numbers are inflated by one million three hundred thousand.
Regardless whether they are nine millions or eight, fourteen years after signing the Oslo agreement and the recognition of Israel by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Palestinians, dispossessed and oppressed, are either living under occupation or in refugee camps across the Middle East and throughout the world.
Today, very few dispute the fact, as recorded by the UN, that number of the Palestinian refugees of 1947-49 Arab-Israeli war was the largest exodus for any nation since Second World War. They lost everything and denied by Israel the right to return to their homes in what became Israel. And more Palestinians fled the West Bank and Gaza during the 1967 war. The Palestinian refugees have been betrayed by the international community especially the West. But the worst was the betrayal that has been visited upon them by the Arab governing elites and most certainly by their own leaders. The PLO leaders turned PA administrators relegated the Palestinian refugee to a non-person status.
The Palestinian refugees have been languishing in camps in Lebanon for three generations with no equal legal rights or right to work and earn living. They survive only on UN handouts. They have been under constant harassment by police and hundreds were massacred by militants of their host country. Even in Arab countries that gave them legal rights, such as Jordan, Palestinians have been targets of discrimination at every level of government.
Other Palestinian refugees fleeing for their lives from the war in Iraq were stranded for more than a year in a no-man-desert in the open at the border with Jordan and no country would give them a refuge. Expelled Palestinians from Libya camped at the borders with Egypt for months before they were allowed to cross the border escorted by security forces.
The Oslo accords were designed by the Israelis to achieve their long term objectives by deferring the problem of the refugees and the right of return to the final-status negotiations. Oslo gave Israel alone authority to administer the entrances, the airports and ports, partly to prevent repatriation of refugees. Sadly, it was accepted by the PLO in September 1993 under the hollow slogan of “Peace Talks”. This was an important part of the Israeli plan in the Oslo negotiations from day one. It was intended to destroy the political unity of the Palestinians by separating the issues of the refugees from the immediate needs of the exiled PLO leaders in Tunis, and Israel succeeded beyond expectations.
Israel insisted to negotiate in Oslo only issues related to the West Bank and Gaza. The PLO followed the plan that the Israelis drew by transforming itself into the PA thus ceased to represent the refugees. Israel’s success in destroying the political unity of the Palestinians is a great Israeli triumph and a defeat for the Palestinian cause. What followed the Oslo agreement supports Joseph Massad conclusion that Israel succeeded in separating the natives of the West Bank and Gaza including the PA leaders from the refugees and the Diaspora Palestinians.
The PLO turned PA administrators focused only on establishing for them a presence in part of the post-1967 Palestine. They ignored the future of the refugee population in their dealings with Israel and Washington since signing the 1993 Oslo Accord. The PA leaders became the only beneficiaries of Oslo and were busy collecting its spoils. They, their families and their cronies who came to the West Bank and Gaza with only their shirts on their backs suddenly became rich living in mansions and enjoying the good life in their new little fiefdom.
Despite the rhetoric, negotiations by the Oslo architects in the current political climate are not likely to arrive at satisfactory solutions to the refugees issue or any issue as a matter of fact. Refugees, victims of Israeli cleansing policies are still in camps established for them sixty years ago. The families that kept alive their claims on land now in Israel should not trust the PA leadership to sign their right to their lands away. Should there be an independent Palestine negotiated by the PA leaders on Israeli terms, there is no guarantee that the refugees will find room for themselves in a state that might consist of scattered cantons.
The internal refugees of the Arab Israelis that number between 120,000 and 150,000 were the only Palestinians to take control of their own destination after the failure of the Madrid Conference of 1992 to address their plight. They were “convinced beyond doubt that the PLO and Arab countries had abandoned them”. They established “the Committee for the defense of the rights of Refugees in Israel”. The committee is seeking compensation from the Israeli government on behalf of villagers “uprooted from 40 villages within Israel proper”. The rest of the refugees failed to do the right thing. They put their trust in the hands of the PLO turned PA leaders. Strange! If they have not developed a fatalist attitude they should do some thing.
Under these circumstances, it is particularly important for the refugees to develop new approaches for presenting their grievances in international conferences and negotiating their case with the Israelis in case there will be negotiations. But first they have to vote for no confidence in the PA to speak on their behalf. Then they must take matters into their own hands. Since the refugees and the Diaspora Palestinians do not participate in the PA elections as dictated by Oslo, they should have elections of their own to choose their own representatives. This requires a grassroots movement from within the refugee communities that would reject the PA guardianship. If there are serious negotiations on the future of the refugees, only the representatives they choose should negotiate on their behalf.
-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan,Ph.D, is a political analyst and an author. He is currently working on a book: "The betrayal of the Palestinians: How Palestine was delivered." He has been living in the United States since the mid 1960’s and worked for 30-years in Avionics Engineering.