Whose Interests Will the Abrogation of the ROR Serve?
by Hanna Kawas
We are witnessing a calculated campaign of highly publicized attacks on the
Palestinian Right of Return (ROR), aimed at confusing, demoralizing, terrorizing
(physically and politically) and frustrating the Palestinian refugees and
people with the sole purpose of forcing them to abrogate this right. It started
with the Camp David "generous offer" and continued with Palestinian advocates
such as Sari Nusaybeh, pushing to drop the ROR if Israel met other conditions,
as if we are in a Bazaar, and as if what is on the line is vegetables to be
traded and not inalienable rights for human beings.
This intellectual debate reminds me of the debate inside the Palestinian resistance
movement after the 1973 war about being realistic and accepting the notion
of the two state solution with a Palestinian state in the 22 per cent of
what was left over from historic Palestine. It also reminded me of the debate
that took place after the first US war on Iraq in 1991, which led to the
Madrid conference and then to the Oslo process. That process led the Palestinian
people to what we are witnessing now at this pivotal juncture of our history.
I always hoped that well-meaning Palestinian intellectuals and leaders generated
these debates, positions and then actions, with the intention of advancing
the Palestinian peoples aspirations towards achieving their inalienable rights.
However, whatever the intentions, the results were clearly otherwise. Furthermore,
these two examples took place at certain stages where the US-Israeli strategies
for the Arab World were facing a crisis.
The first one was at the height of the Palestinian resistance movement in
Lebanon, after regrouping in the wake of the Black September 1970 defeat in
Jordan at the hands of the US-Israeli-Jordanian reactionary axis. It also
followed a major war in 1973, where Israeli invincibility was shattered. So
instead of building on these struggles and victories, we saw the defeatist
Arab leaders taking over and cheaply selling the blood of the Arab martyrs,
as in the case of Anwar Sadat in Egypt. On the Palestinian front, the introduction
of the project to create the "mini state" on the West Bank and Gaza led to
a debate about changing the strategies and tactics of the Palestinian liberation
movement. The people who introduced this debate claimed that due to the October
War, the balance of power had shifted, victory was near and Israel was going
to be forced by the two superpowers to drop the Zionist project. (As if Zionism
that lives on expansion, racism and seeks hegemony over the entire Arab world
was going to surrender its role voluntarily as a US military base in the region
and submit to the wishful thinking of a few Arab "intellectuals" and their
backers in Moscow.)
This debate was futile and demoralizing and led to the weakening of the Palestinian
liberation movement. So instead of building on the achievements of the people
and their heroic fighters to weaken the enemy- the US and Israel - it gave
these forces a reprieve till they found better objective conditions (the Lebanese
civil war and then the 1982 invasion) to try and finish the job they started
in September 1970. And, as with todays debate on the ROR, the debate over
the "mini-state" happened at a time when there was no real offer on the table,
no chance to implement whatever decision was reached from this lengthy and
The second example was the Madrid conference and the Oslo accords which came
as a result of a double crises for the US-Israeli project: the US showing
its true face to the Arab people during the first war on Iraq and the heroic
struggle of the Palestinian people in the first Intifada.
Instead of building on the popular Arab outrage regarding the US war crimes
against the Iraqi people, and the achievements of the six year long Palestinian
Intifada (not to mention the escalating resistance to the Israeli occupation
of South Lebanon), the Palestinian leadership opted for a fast solution that
depended mainly on the goodwill of the enemy and reducing the conflict to
a personal and not a historic and collective basis. The Palestinian leadership
decided to terminate all forms of Palestinian struggle for the sake of a weak
interim agreement with major tactical and strategic concessions. By doing
so they, objectively, helped save the US and Israel from their dilemmas as
a result of the war on Iraq, the Intifada and the Israeli losses in South
Aside from leaving the most important and crucial issues to be discussed in
five years time (indefinitely), following are some of the mistakes the Palestinian
leadership committed during this process.
Recognizing Israel before it defined its borders and without mutual recognition
of a Palestinian state.
Recognizing Israel without any reference to the stolen Palestinian land that
Israel sits on, and without a mechanism to return stolen properties that the
Israeli custodian is still holding. A genuine peace would have a mechanism
to compensate and return these properties to their original owners or their
Not clearly spelling out the Palestinian position on the Israeli settlements
during the Oslo process - even Sadat succeeded in forcing Begin to accept
the freeze on settlements during the Camp David negotiations.
Abandoning the armed struggle as a tactic and a strategy without a clear guarantee
from the Israeli side of not using its superior military power against the
Palestinian "sovereignty" and Palestinian civilians. This could have been
implemented by positioning UN peacekeeping forces on the borders of the recognized
Adopting the Oslo accords in the Palestine National Council (PNC) and annulling
the PLO charter in the same session under pressure from Netanyahu and Clinton.
This session was held under Israeli occupation, with the Israeli gun held
to the heads of the PNC members.
(We should thank Ariel Sharon for annulling the Oslo accords because what
the PNC agreed on - under the Israeli gun and with the American carrot - was
a strategic abandonment of our historic rights.)
The new debate on the ROR comes under similar conditions as existed during
the two examples I mentioned. The second Intifada is in its third year, the
US for the first time in the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict is saying
publicly where they stand without any concern for the ramifications to its
Arab puppet regimes, the US and Israeli economic crises are at their worst
in the last decade, and the continued aggression on Iraq and the upcoming
US war are in defiance of overwhelming world public opinion.
So instead of drafting a programme to escalate the Intifada and to build a
wide Arab front to challenge the existing US control and stop further hegemony
over Arab resources and markets, some of the Palestinian and Arab intellectuals
and leaders are competing with each other in trying to gain recognition and
favour with the US and Israel. Others are blatantly trying to sell us the
Within this backdrop falls the attack on the ROR in an attempt to liquidate
it under the guise of recognizing reality.
Mr. Elias H. Tuma's article "The draft constitution for a state of Palestine
II" is not only an attack on the ROR, it is also a distortion of facts and
a misrepresentation of the Palestinian refugees and their sufferings, struggles
My objective here is not to defend the draft Palestinian constitution, but
rather to defend the ROR.
I made my position clear about this constitution in a message I sent to the
Palestine representative to Canada Dr. Baker Abdel Munem on Jan. 30, 2003.
I wrote the following:
"To draft a Palestinian constitution on the
orders of the U.S. is a BIG and FATAL mistake. To draft a constitution before
even having a viable state is wrong. Israel has been a state for the last
54 years and still does NOT have a constitution. Why? Not only because it
does not want to define itself as a Jewish state and show the world what it
is truly is, an autocratic state, a theocracy and not a democracy, but also
because it would not have to define its borders. This draft constitution is
part of a conspiracy to split the Palestinian people on the hope that we
will never achieve a secular democratic state, or any state for that matter."
It is also worth mentioning that the Israeli government has already declared
that they could live with article 32 in the draft constitution on the Palestinian
Aluf Benn wrote in the Israeli paper Haaretz on March 4, 2003 that Israeli
"government sources do admit the article concerning refugees is relatively
easy for Israel to accept, since it does not refer to a mass return of refugees
The analysis of Mr. Tuma is based on the premise that "Under no foreseeable
circumstances will Israel allow more than a token number of refugees to return
to their pre-1948 villages or towns." According to Mr. Tuma, even taking a
vague position on the ROR, without a mechanism of implementing it "does not
seem to be favorable to the refugees. On the contrary, it tends to complicate
their problem by seeming to allow their current conditions to continue for
an indefinite future."
Also our growing number is a problem for us, according to Mr. Tuma. " The
problems facing the refugees relate to their numbers …The larger the number
of refugees, the more difficult it is to negotiate their repatriation to their
homes, or to resettle them elsewhere" Even if we forego our ROR, according
to him our resettlement is becoming a problem.
Mr. Tuma shows lots of "concern" for us and says that, we, "The Palestinian
refugees have already sacrificed two generations by waiting for a viable political-economic
solution that has not been forthcoming." This is one of the most outrageous
statements I have ever heard in my lifetime.
It is we "the Palestinian refugees … who sacrificed two generations by waiting".
It was not Israeli ethnic cleansing and the western support for it that sacrificed
us for the sake of their selfish interests in controlling the Arab region
at any cost of human life and dignity.
For Mr. Tuma's information, the Palestinian people did not "wait…for a viable
political-economic solution"; we have been struggling since the inception
of the Zionist settler colonialist project. Although they destroyed our livelihood,
over 400 villages and towns, and uprooted us from our homeland, we have never
stopped resisting and making our voices heard all over the world.
Mr. Tuma also asks of us as refugees to recognize reality and adopt the following:
"The most promising option, therefore, for
the Palestinian refugees is to recognize the inability of the leadership to
achieve a viable collective political settlement in the near future, and to
individually act in their own self-interest. It is for them as individuals
to seek homes wherever they can. In such homes they can become self-reliant
Why can the Palestinian refugees not do the above i.e. become productive and
self-reliant citizens to the best of their capabilities and still fight for
the ROR, both individually and collectively. Mr. Tuma wants us to drop our
internationally recognized right and to seek "individually" our "own self-interest".
He wants us to forget the injustices committed against us and give the thieves
(the west and Israel) a certificate of good conduct and absolve them of their
crimes against us. It is the logic of defeatism. Perhaps more energy should
be spent on demanding that the Zionists abrogate the Israeli Law of Return
because of the successful Jewish integration in many countries.
In fact, the Palestinian refugees have always sought homes wherever they can,
although these homes have never been safe for us even in North America. The
dilemma for the West and Israel is that the majority of us have never considered
our second homes as permanent ones.
Mr. Tuma harps on the "self-reliant productive citizen" and in other places
he accuses us, the refugees, of surviving "virtually on charity from other
countries". He adds, "Regardless how hard UNRWA tries to render aid as free
of stigma, such aid is charity just the same."
He should realize that this aid is not charity, it is but a small faction
of the compensation we are entitled to. Also when we have the chance, and
when the countries we live in allow us to work, we are as productive as any
other people. What UNRWA distributes is a pittance of the billions from the
western exploitation (theft) of our Arab resources. If the west wants to be
truly charitable, please give us our rights - no more, no less.
Mr. Tuma, we have studied and understand history. We know that we cannot drop
our rights and then ask for them a decade or a century later. The North American
Native nations are a prime example: a number of them never ceded their territories
and this is why they are now successful in many of their land claims. Even
slaves did not accept their "destiny".
We are not against any Palestinian who drops his/her ROR, this does not mean
though that we are going to respect them.
Mr. Tuma goes on to doubt the resolve of the Palestinian people and the legitimacy
of their cause, and accuses the Palestinians of being cowards. He says: "
These groups, as well as individual leaders, would be afraid of being tainted
as traitors were they to recognize reality and agree to any compromise solution,
unless 'forced' to do so. The lack of courage and the absence of unity among
the Palestinians, and the almost complete marginalization of the refugees
from decision-making, have been major obstacles in the way of a compromise
Mr. Tuma, your reality is not our reality. Although you talk about "marginalization
of the refugees from decision-making", at the same time you do not respect
the feelings nor the decision of the majority of the Palestinian refugees
in their endeavors and struggles to realize the ROR. If it is not the sentiment
of the majority of Palestinians- refugees or otherwise- to firmly support
the ROR, why should the leadership " be afraid of being tainted as traitors".
Further, it is slanderous to accuse the Palestinians of "lack of courage".
This is an insult to those who were martyred, to those who were permanently
disabled and to those who lost everything while confronting the Zionist colonialist
project in Palestine, let alone to the Palestinian refugees who have endured
the treason and seemingly endless collaboration of some Arab and Palestinian
"leaders" and "intellectuals".
Mr. Tuma then goes on to discredit the work of Al-Awda and states:
"However, Al-Awda leaders are efficient in
holding meetings, issuing statements, and adding to the rhetoric that has
little influence on the life or future of the refugees-except probably in
making them feel good for the moment. Al-Awda's statements have little prospect
of being taken seriously."
In another part of his article he also alleges that the refugees are being
"misled by the sterile rhetoric of well-meaning but helpless agencies". It
would seem that he is also referring here to Al-Awda.
As a member of Al-Awda, let me make clear the following points:
If anything is "sterile rhetoric", it is the argument that betrays, questions
and tries to delegitimize an internationally recognized right such as the
- Al-Awda is not misleading the refugees. Most of its members consider
themselves as part of the Palestinian refugees, and if anything, they will
not mislead themselves.
- Al-Awda is empowering all the Palestinian people and not only the refugees
and is a counter-balance to those who dream to sell out our rights and aspirations.
Mr. Tuma insists on slandering the Palestinian people and their sacrifices
and struggles by stating: "In fact their victim mentality, passed from one
generation to another, must have been demoralizing and wasteful of any political
influence they might have been able to acquire."
The last 100 years of our struggle is a concrete witness to Mr. Tuma's falsehoods.
Our political influence is growing and this is why the sole superpower, the
US, spends so much time and resources to try to liquidate our struggles.
If anything is demoralizing, self-centered and defeatist, it is the following
statement for Mr. Tuma:- "The most promising option, therefore, for the Palestinian
refugees is to recognize the inability of the leadership to achieve a viable
collective political settlement in the near future, and to individually act
in their own self-interest."
If the current Palestinian leadership is unable "to achieve a viable collective
political settlement in the near future", that does not mean to surrender
nor does it mean we are not recognizing reality. All it means is that the
conditions for our victory are not yet ripe. Perhaps we might need new leadership,
we might need a new programme for liberation (at present we do NOT have even
a Charter since the PNC abrogated it in their last session), we might need
to mobilize, and we might need to weed out defeatism from our ranks.
But we certainly do not need to drop a sacred right that the last three generations
sacrificed many things for it, including their lives, the most precious commodity
Finally Mr. Tuma concludes by trying to deceive us, as we were deceived after
the 1973 war. He states:
"The draft constitution of a state of Palestine
should be a living document that empowers the Palestinians. It should be a
guiding light toward their freedom and growth. And it should promise only
what is feasible and helpful to encourage creativity, independence, and achievement
by the individual and the community. But above all else, it should help the
constituents to recognize what is possible and what is not, face reality,
and have the courage to deal with it."
If we want "to recognize what is possible and what is not…and have the courage
to deal with it", then here is what we should have the courage to face:- a
viable and sovereign "state of Palestine" is not in the cards at present,
it is simply not possible at this stage considering the expansion of the illegal
Jewish settlements, the expropriation of more Palestinian land and the existing
"balance of power". Accordingly, a draft constitution now is irrelevant and
diversionary at best and dangerous at worst, as is evidenced by the divisive
debate that has ensued. Mr. Tuma is the one who should "face reality, and
have the courage to deal with it" for the rosy picture he is trying to paint
for us is only a mirage (as if renouncing the ROR will magically solve the
refugees' burdens). It is also wishful thinking on anyone's part that Palestinians
will again fall for these tricks, including the truncated Palestinian state
that George Bush and Tony Blair are promising us.
The only realistic option for us right now is to intensify our struggle on
all fronts, the fight for ending the brutal Israeli occupation, the struggle
for the right of return, the struggle for equality and democracy within Israel
and the defense of the Palestinian refugees human rights wherever they sought
The struggle will continue till justice is served.
* To see Mr. Elias H. Tuma's article "The draft constitution for a state of Palestine II"