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Edition 4 Volume 2 - February 17, 2011

Refugees: return or "tawtin"
Not at Jordan's expense  - Hassan Barari
Many politicians argue for better relations with Hamas to make it difficult for the PLO to concede on return.

Divergent views from Lebanon, but one common goal  - Franklin Lamb
Tawtin was used in the summer of 2010 as an emotional bludgeon.

Rethinking Palestinian refugeehood  - Ruba Salih
Palestinian refugees are producing political narratives, which see "integration" and "return" as compatible and desirable.

The refugee issue in the API: contradictory or complementary?  - Matti Steinberg
The two references to the refugees in the API go hand in hand.


Not at Jordan's expense
 Hassan Barari

The refugees' right of return has become a key issue in political discourse in Jordan. Neither the government nor opposition forces can afford to suggest an alternative point of view. Explicit in official statements is that Jordan has a stake in final status issues, particularly refugees, and it will accept nothing short of a "just" solution to the refugee problem.

The concept of "just" solution is incorporated in the text of the Arab Peace Initiative endorsed in March 2002. The text reads: "a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem is to be agreed upon in accordance with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194." Judging from what we know about previous negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Palestinians are not serious when they talk about the right of return. Diverse accounts of previous negotiations show clearly that the Palestinian negotiators have given up on the right of return and instead suggest the return of a few thousand refugees.

This submission, on the part of the Arabs, has to do with a widely-held conviction that Israel will not accept the right of return of about four million Palestinian refugees lest this compromise the Jewish nature of the state, the raison d'etre of Zionism. In private, many Arab officials make the case that Israel will not hesitate to pull out of any peace process if this core Zionist value is threatened. Therefore, this reasoning continues, the Arabs must be realistic and accept other options for solving the refugee problem, including "tawtin" or patriation. One need only read the Geneva document signed by Israeli non-officials and their Palestinian counterparts to see that the Palestinians have written off the concept of refugees' physical return to Israel proper.

Without a doubt, the Arab position as indicated in the above clause of the API is an accommodating one. It was phrased to send a clear message to Israelis that any solution that is not agreed upon by Israel will not be on the table. Put differently, the clause clearly gives Israel veto power over any solution that is not to Israel's liking.

That said, one needs to read article four of the API to understand the predicament of the Arabs. This article posits "...the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation [tawtin] which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries." This is most relevant to Jordan and Lebanon.

On the whole, Jordanians argue that Palestinian refugees must be repatriated regardless of how this affects Israel as a state and society. Political forces view tawtin as an abhorrent option because it has the potential to compromise the identity of Jordan. East Bankers in particular fear tawtin lest this transform them into a minority in their own country. The reformist nationalist Jordanians view this identity issue as an obstacle to introducing much needed genuine political reform.

Even the Islamists are against tawtin. In fact, one of the reasons for their opposition to the Oslo agreements and the 1994 Wadi Araba Jordan-Israel peace agreement is the issue of refugees. Neither Islamists nor Jordanian nationalists trust the PLO to negotiate with Israel on this specific issue.

Although the government has not said anything different publicly, some former officials, including a former prime minister, say that Jordan is for a "just" solution, one that enables the refugees to practice the right of return. Nevertheless, they insinuate that if refugees choose not to return they will be dealt with as Jordanian citizens with full rights. One may interpret this position as an acknowledgment of the impotence of the Arabs to do more. By throwing the ball into the court of refugees themselves, the state wants to pass the buck.

Some academics and politicians indicate they probably would not mind tawtin when they focus their arguments on displaced persons rather than refugees. Their argument is that if the displaced persons (some 900,000, who fled to Jordan in 1967 and thereafter) go back to the West Bank and Gaza, then East Bankers will be the majority and democracy would be welcome even if the refugees remain. In fact, many see the return of displaced persons as a personal decision, while the PLO rejects that notion despite its statements to the contrary.

In brief, regardless of where the regime in Jordan stands on this issue, Jordanians on the whole mistrust the PLO to handle this issue separately. Any decision on this will directly complicate the situation in Jordan, thus sowing the seeds of instability. For this reason, many politicians argue for better relations with Hamas to make it difficult for the PLO to concede and solve the problem at Jordan's expense.-Published 16/2/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org


Hassan Barari is professor of international relations at the University of Jordan.


Divergent views from Lebanon, but one common goal
 Franklin Lamb

Lebanese opponents of civil rights for Palestinian refugees often use less objective and more crude wording to define "tawtin" ("settlement") than is normally employed in civil society discussions. During last summer's debate in parliament, which failed to enact laws that would allow the world's oldest and largest refugee community the basic civil right to work and to own a home, the "tawtin or return" discussion took on strident and dark meanings, which were largely effective in frightening much of the Lebanese public from supporting even these modest humanitarian measures. Right-wing opponents of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon often define tawtin during public discussions as "implantation" (as in inserting a foreign malignant object or virus into Lebanon's body politic), or "grafting," "insertion," "impalement," "forced integration," "embedding" "impregnation", or "patriation".

The concept's varied meanings among a largely uninformed Lebanese public have by and large prevented a balanced consideration of the provision in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that includes "a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UNGAR 194."

The discussion in Lebanon has centered on presumed Palestinian desires to stay in Lebanon at all costs, as opposed to returning to their country Palestine. The large anti-Palestinian political community has kept the discussion focused on the API's language: "the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation [tawtin] which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries."

The concept, indeed the very word, was used in the summer of 2010 as an emotional bludgeon, embodying all manner of dire social predictions from the political parties representing the Phalange, Liberal, Lebanese Forces, and Free Patriotic Movement's leader General Michel Aoun. Virtually all opponents of Palestinian civil rights frequently claimed that tawtin would ruin Lebanon. This was arguably the main reason that there was a broad-based consensus in support of the parliamentary decision of August 17, 2011 to do essentially nothing to enact relief for Lebanon's quarter million Palestinian refugees.

It was a spurious argument because very few in Lebanon, and even fewer in the Palestinian community, have any desire to see tawtin actually implemented. One remarkable aspect of last year's tawtin "debate" was that, in private discussions, few politicians publicly decrying its dangers really thought tawtin was a realistic threat to Lebanon. Nonetheless, the chimera was used to maintain a power base in their own sect or community. These political leaders assumed that their supporters wanted no rights for Palestinians in Lebanon; tawtin was a useful political boogie man. This view was not only common in various Christian sects but also among many Druze and Muslims. Numerous politicians have explained in private that their supporters by and large still believed that the Palestinian refugees were the cause of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war and many of Lebanon's current woes and wanted them out of Lebanon as soon as possible.

Another political factor contributing to the false depiction of tawtin were widely-rumored American and Israeli plans to use tawtin to permanently settle thousands of Lebanon's Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and thus take pressure off of Israel to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 194's right of return mandate. These suggestions by US officials during last summer's parliamentary examination of tawtin and return riled segments of the Lebanese public and provided grist for right-wing elements to politically, socially and economically squeeze Palestinian refugees yet again.

Palestinian refugees' views regarding tawtin were unfortunately rather muted or not credited during 2010 discussions in Lebanon and parliament. Occasional statements by Palestine Liberation Organization leaders that Palestinian refugees were grateful for Lebanon's hospitality and realized that they had overstayed their welcome, but that they had every desire and determination to return to Palestine, were largely ignored.

The fears of certain elements of Lebanese society about tawtin are unwarranted. The oft-expressed view that Palestinians secretly want to stay in Lebanon and abandon their right to return has been consistently refuted by Palestinian public opinion surveys, academic studies, and most compellingly by the statements of Lebanon's camp residents themselves.

According to a recent survey, fully 96 percent of Lebanon's Palestinian refugees living in 12 camps and more than 24 communities, insist on their full right of return to Palestine, eschew tawtin, and agree with the language of the API regarding 194.

Over the past few years, and one imagines even more since the events in Tunisia and Egypt, the demand for the full right of return has increased. The events at Tahrir Square raise hopes among Palestinians in Lebanon that return to Palestine may come sooner rather than later. Tahrir Square reinforces the view that Palestine's occupation could crumble faster than many have believed possible given the military and political power granted by the American and European governments.

Meanwhile, there exists in Lebanon near unanimity among the 18 sects and various Palestinian factions. Tawtin is not a desirable option. Only justice for Palestine, including the right of return as restated in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative will resolve the dilemma of tawtin or return for Lebanon and her Palestinian refugees.-Published 16/2/2011 bitterlemons-api.org


Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon.


Rethinking Palestinian refugeehood
 Ruba Salih

In 2002, the Arab Peace Initiative offered to Israel the scenario of a comprehensive regional peace in exchange for "...a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees in conformity with Resolution 194". A further clause was aimed at reassuring the host countries' concerns, by endorsing "the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation ["tawtin"] which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries".

Almost ten years later, the long-standing issue of the Palestinian refugees' right of return, enshrined in international law since 1949, remains dramatically unresolved. The recent release of the Palestine papers has, if anything, confirmed the lack of any serious plan that would bring justice to four generations of displacement and statelessness.

For over the last 60 years, Palestinian refugees have been held hostage by two inflexible standpoints. On the one hand, Israel has adamantly refused to be considered accountable for the tragedy of the refugee crisis, the Nakba, and is only ready to accommodate, on historical Palestine, a symbolic number of first generation refugees. On the other hand, many host countries (with the exception of Jordan, where Palestinians have access to citizenship rights but are subject to more subtle forms of discrimination and exclusion) have endorsed the claim that tawtin (naturalization) and even "tawtir" (development) would constitute a de-facto assimilation of the refugee populations and, eventually, undermine their right of return.

In this context, Palestinian refugees are facing a paradoxical situation. They need to keep alive their identity and specificity as refugees (bearing the duty of representing the quintessential character of the Palestinian question), thereby normatively performing the role of the marginal subject, living in a condition of "permanent temporariness". At the same time, they are urged to find ways to exit their economic, political and social marginality in order to take in their hands their present and future predicaments.

With few exceptions, academic scholarship has also predominantly embraced a dichotomic understanding, where "return" is opposed to "integration". Pragmatists consider a full implementation of the right of return utopian (e.g., the Nusseibeh-Ayalon formula, 2002), while radical ideologues like Joseph Massad see any compromise on the forms and numbers of return as an attempt to nullify its political dimension by reducing it to a mere humanitarian question.

I would like to suggest that these polarised debates ignore not only refugees' realities on the ground, but also, and more importantly, their diverse and creative strategies for reconciling "return" with "integration". Whoever has conducted research among refugees in recent times cannot but clearly sense how refugees are increasingly partaking simultaneously in two identities and discourses, that of return ("haq al-awda"), and that of participation here and now. This could be seen as a reaction to the progressive abandonment of the refugee issue by the Palestinian Authority and the marginalisation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation as a site for the national claims of all Palestinians.

The diversity of the various locations of displacement cannot and should not, of course, be ignored. Palestinians live under different predicaments in their countries of exile, and these are often crucial in shaping their imaginations of return. However, all refugees across gender, generation and location share the idea that return is an individual, inalienable right that cannot be negotiated or dismissed from above. This sacred principle does not, however, contrast with individual and collective strategies of economic and political survival emerging from below.

In order to keep alive and politically visible the refugee's tragedy and "the right of return", Palestinian refugees are urged to integrate (but not assimilate) and are producing political narratives, which see "integration" and "return" as compatible and desirable. In fact, a recurrent narrative is that the more politically, economically and socially integrated Palestinian refugees are, the more they are likely to achieve the social and political capital critical to mobilize for the right of return in creative ways.

It could be said that Palestinian refugees are trying to think in terms of a post-national form of integration (not the classic top-down tawtin), one that should allow them to achieve rights and entitlements where they live, but without giving up their individual right of return and their membership claims in a Palestinian nation.

On the ground, this means differentiating between tawtin (naturalisation) from above and tatwir (development) and integration from below. The latter include bettering one's own living conditions and enacting survival strategies, among them self-urbanization, self-political representation, and also, more importantly, access to social, civil and even political rights in the countries where they reside.

By formulating new political strategies that reconcile integration (or citizenship) with return, Palestinian refugees may challenge both the state of denial and abandonment in which they have been left by their national representatives, but also the deeply-rooted, exclusionary nature of their host states' conceptions of citizenship.

In this sense, Palestinian refugees may become a political avant-garde, forcing us to rethink new political spaces and structures for the future Palestinian state.-Published 16/2/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org


Ruba Salih is a researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.


The refugee issue in the API: contradictory or complementary?
 Matti Steinberg

The Arab Peace Initiative comprises two main references to the Palestinian refugee issue that seem to be mutually contradictory. On the one hand, the API stipulates the need for "a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with United National General Assembly Resolution 194". On the other, it indicates "the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation ["tawtin"] which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries".

An "agreed upon" solution that necessitates the consent of Israel locks the door to a massive return of refugees to the state of Israel, while the "rejection of patriation" in the Arab host countries leaves no other option but return. So is the latter provision a sort of escape clause that voids the earlier provision of any substance? Moreover, is there really an "either-or" dichotomy here: either return or tawtin?

In order to clarify the issue, we must address the origins, i.e. the text of 194 (article 11):"...the refugees WISHING to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practical date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those CHOOSING not to return..." (my emphasis).

The highlights of 194 are manifested in these two terms: the "wishing" and the "choosing" of the refugees themselves. It is up to the individual refugee to decide on return or compensation. For many years since 1948, this fundamental principle has been the cornerstone of the Palestinian and Arab position on the refugee problem. And herein exactly lies the main constructive innovation of the API concerning the refugee problem: the achievement of a "just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem" must be "agreed upon in accordance with . . . 194". In spite of the seemingly clumsy language, it is clear that the exclusive burden to decide on this issue is taken from the refugee and is subordinated to the agreement between the two parties, namely Israel and the PLO-Palestinian Authority.

This is precisely the interpretation of the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department (headed until recently by Saeb Erekat): "The API ensures that through a process of negotiations, Israel's concerns will be taken into account in deciding how the resolution [194] should be implemented. The initiative provides a framework for an 'agreed upon' solution to the refugee problem with all the relevant parties, including Israel".

Furthermore, PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) attested to the API's references to the refugee issue in his March 2009 guidelines to the Palestinian Negotiations Support Unit. According to the meeting minutes leaked recently by al-Jazeera and the Guardian, he stressed that the API phrasing of "just and agreed upon" is the cornerstone for addressing the refugee issue: "On numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million or indeed one million--that would mean the end of Israel. They said 5000 over 5 years. This is even less than family reunification and is not acceptable. There also has to be compensation."

In this interpretation, the Palestinian antagonists see eye to eye: on the first day of the API, March 29, 2002, Hamas harshly attacked it for abrogating the "sacred right of return" and denounced "the transference of the issue of the right of return to the negotiation table and the demand to implement it through mutual understanding and agreement with Israel". Hence, in the eyes of Hamas, the expression "agreed upon", attached to the solution of the refugee problem in the API, is tantamount to a shameful betrayal, and for this reason Hamas sanctifies the literal and original wording of 194 that exclusively empowers the refugee himself to determine his fate.

Nor is there a contradiction between the "agreed upon" clause in the API and the clause about "the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation [tawtin]" in the Arab host states. First, the rejection of tawtin does not contradict the return of refugees to the Palestinian state side by side with Israel. Second, this rejection is not categorical in the API but conditioned upon "the special situation of the Arab host states". Therefore, in places and circumstances where there is no such contradiction, Palestinians could stay as citizens.

In fact, Abu-Mazen instructed his advisors to that effect: "All refugees can get Palestinian citizenship (all 5 million) if they want to (for example, Palestinian refugees in Jordan may not want, while for refugees in Lebanon there is a need). With that, Palestinian refugees will no longer be stateless but rather foreigners."

Thus, Abu Mazen's understanding of tawtin clearly and fully complements and does not at all contradict the "agreed upon" solution. The Palestinian refugees would remain in their Arab host countries as alien residents and would be able to acquire Palestinian citizenship. In this way, the two references to the refugees in the API go hand in hand.

The most important evidence concerning the real significance of the refugee issue in the API appeared in the resolutions of the two last Arab summits (Doha, Qatar, and Sirte, Libya, March 2009 and March 2010, respectively). Moammar Qadhafi, the leader of Libya, insisted on adding the following remark to the text of the API: "[Libya] affirms its reservation to the API and other terms of reference which are not conductive to the establishment of a democratic state on all Palestine or to the return of Palestinian refugees." Had the "tawtin" clause voided the meaning of the "agreed upon" clause, Libya (along with Hamas, the Muslim Brothers, Iran, Hizballah and the Global Jihad) would not have so vehemently rejected the API.

To sum it up: the two pertinent provisions in the Arab Peace Initiative concerning the refugee problem are complementary.-Published 16/2/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org


Dr. Matti Steinberg is a Gruss-Lipper visiting scholar and a visiting lecturer in Middle East Policy Studies at Woodrow Wilson School for Public Policy, Princeton University.




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