THEY SAID:
"[The Palestinians are] beasts walking on two legs."
--Menahim Begin, speech to the Knesset, quoted in Amnon Kapeliouk, 'Begin and the "Beasts"', New Statesman, 25 June 1982



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CPRR Press Conference #2
21 April 2000
Washington D.C.

On 21 April 2000, CPRR held the second in a planned series of press conferences about the Palestinian refugee issue, with board member and former head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Haider Abdul Shafi. Read about the first press conference here.

Summary:

The former head of the Palestinian negotiating team asserted the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. Dr.Haidar Abdel Shafi, who led the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid and Washington talks said that Palestinians "evicted out by terrorism and force" should be allwoed back to their homes.

"This is a matter that should go to the conscience of the world--and the democratic world especially." Saying that "the refugee issue is the heart and the core of the problem," Dr. Abdel Shafi, a widely-respected Palestinian leader, called on the Palestinian Authority to include "the issue of the Palestinian refugees on the basis of resolution 194" in the negotiations.

Abdel Shafi was joined by Francis Boyle, professor of International Law at the University of Illinois, who served as legal advisor to the Palestinian delegation. He also cited UN Security Council resolution's 194, passed in 1948 and calling for the return of the refugees at the "earliest practicable date."

In response to a question, Abdel Shafi replied that the current Palestinian leadership "will disqualify itself" if it were to sign away the right to return.

Buttressing his case for the right of Palestinians to return to their homes, Boyle cited U.S. policy favoring family reunification of Soviet Jews and precedents set in the compensation for losses resulting from the Nazi holocaust. He also noted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts "everyone has the right to return to his country."

Boyle, who provided legal assistance to the Bosnians and Kosovar Albanians, also cited the precedent of "Bosnian refugees to return to their homes in the aftermath of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. "The Palestinians should have the same right to go back to their homes".

Citing Yugoslavia and apartheid South Africa as examples, Boyle warned that "if Israel refuses to implement resolution 194, it will jeopardize its membership in the United Nations" and risk various sanctions. Israel was allowed membership in the United Nations on condition that it would fulfill resolution 194.

Boyle called the current circumstance "a remarkable opportunity for peace in the Middle East--if the U.S. and Israel show a commitment to international law."



Full transcript of the meeting:

MR. SHAFI: Thank you. And good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

I speak to you on behalf of the Palestinian Council for the Restitution and Repatriation of the Palestinian Refugees. I shall limit my talk to this issue, specifically, to the issue of the rights of the Palestinian refugees.

Now, as the peace negotiations have reached the stage of discussing the framework of the final negotiations of the peace process, we think that the Palestine Authority should include in this framework the issue of the Palestinian refugees, on the basis of Resolution 194. We think very strongly that this is very necessary. The refugee issue is the heart and the core of the peace problem, and we call on our Authority to do that in all seriousness and sincerity.

Now, we know very well that the Palestinian Authority is going to be pressured very strongly, basically I think by the United States government and by Israel and maybe by other parties, not to do that, not to put the refugee issue on the agenda of the framework for the final negotiations. And I hope that the Palestinian Authority would stand firm on its responsibility of the necessity of having the refugee issue, in the context of Resolution 194, on the final-stage negotiations.

I think, as you can imagine, the -- trying to relegate -- I mean, they will press that the issue should not be put on the agenda of the final status negotiations, but they would want to relegate it to the future. And that, of course, will deprive the peace negotiations from any real content and any seriousness and, of course, this will be very detrimental and it will be a death blow to the peace negotiations as such.

So really we cannot overemphasize this issue and, as I said, we expect that our Authority will do that in seriousness and strength. That's all I need to say about this issue. We have received tens of thousands of signatures from Palestinian refugees all over the Middle East and in the occupied territories affirming their right to repatriation and restitution, and we feel the responsibility and obligation as the Council, for the cause of the refugees and restitution and the repatriation, to emphasize this matter very much and to voice this call to our Authority first, to be aware of the seriousness of the matter, and also to all the parties who are involved in peace, especially the United States government and the world democracies in general.

Thank you very much.

MR. BOYLE: Thank you, Dr. Abdel Shafi. I hope everyone in this room understands that Dr. Abdel Shafi came all the way from Gaza just to be here and to make it perfectly clear to the United States government and to Israel that there will be no peace unless Resolution 194 is carried out.

Israel accepted Resolution 194 as a condition for its membership in the United Nations organization; the Palestinian right of return. And here, let me quote this language. Quote, "Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible," unquote.

Now, for years here in the United States we heard an enormous amount about the right of family reunification for Soviet Jews, and the United States government was at the forefront of that battle. Likewise today, we heard President Clinton say that he was in favor of family reunification for Elian Gonzalez and his father, Juan. Well, there are about 5 million Palestinian refugees who need to be relocated, reunified, with their families, with their homes, and with their lands.

And here, let me quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, by the way, the United States government invoked to support reunification of Soviet Jews and the United States government has invoked all over the world in support of family reunification. Quote, "Everyone has the right to return to his country," unquote. And the United States government has consistently taken the position that this is a right of customary international law.

Just recently, we have two instances where the United States government has stood up for the rights of refugees to return to their homes.

In the Dayton agreement for Bosnia, drafted by the State Department, supervised by Richard Holbrooke, it says quite clearly that the Bosnian refugees have the right to return to their homes. The same principle must be applied to the Palestinian refugees.

Just recently, a year ago, NATO intervened in Kosovo and went to war with Serbia to guarantee the right of the Kosovar Albanian Muslim refugees, as well as Kosovar Serbs, to return to their homes. This process is now going on under the direct supervision of NATO, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States. The same must be done for the Palestinian refugees.

Let me make it quite clear that if Israel refuses to implement Resolution 194, it will jeopardize its membership in the United Nations organization. As I said, as a condition for its admission to the U.N., Israel formally agreed to accept Resolution 194 of 1948, and General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, demanding the partition of the Palestine Mandate into two states -- a Jewish state and an Arab state; and an international trusteeship for Jerusalem. If Israel continues to refuse to recognize and implement Resolution 194 and Resolution 181, it can lead to the de facto suspension of Israel from the United Nations organization. This is exactly what has been done to, what at that point in time was a criminal apartheid regime in South Africa, and also to the government of the rump Yugoslavia, that still today does not participate in the activities of the United Nations organization.

Second, if Israel continues to refuse to implement 194 and 181 -- and, by the way, Prime Minister Barak has rejected both resolutions publicly -- the provisional government of the state of Palestine can move to have the United Nations General Assembly adopt comprehensive economic, diplomatic and travel sanctions against Israel pursuant to the terms of the Uniting for Peace Resolution 1950.

Palestine has already invoked the Uniting for Peace Resolution successfully against Israel in the General Assembly. Right now, the General Assembly's emergency special session on Palestine is in recess, but it can be recalled at any time.

Third, any further negotiations with Israel must be conducted on the basis of Resolution 181 and its borders, Resolution 193 -- sorry, 194; subsequent General Assembly resolutions and Security Council resolutions; the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949; the 1907 Hague Regulations; and other relevant principles of public international law. So far, the Israeli government has not negotiated in good faith in accordance with these basic principles of international law and, I regret to report, the United States government has supported Israel in its defiance of basic terms of international law and the terms of reference for these negotiations.

There is a remarkable opportunity here for peace in the Middle East, but this is going to require that the United States government and the Israeli government adhere to these basic principles of international law that I have outlined for you here today. If Israel and the United States do not adhere to these principles, I regret to say I don't believe there will be a durable peace in the Middle East.

Thank you.

I've now been asked to chair the question and answer session. Please identify yourself and your affiliation and whether you wish your question to go to Dr. Abdel Shafi or myself.

(Pause.) As I say to my students: It's all so clear there are no questions? (Laughter.)

Yes?

Q: Yes. Dr. Abdel Shafi, do you have contacts with some of the outside Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria and in the West Bank, for that matter, since -- (inaudible) -- and particularly those in Lebanon? And what impact does this idea of return and restitution and increasing compensation have on your relationship with those refugees still in the camps?

MR. SHAFI: It certainly has a very great impact on all Palestinians, not on me alone. This is a matter of right. And all of us know the history of this refugee question; how they were forced out of their habitat by terror and violence and all this. And so they are very much attached to this Resolution 194, and I think it is in their own right to claim this legally and from all points of view, and we certainly stand support them on this. And I hope that our Authority will prove its standing to the occasion.

Q (Name inaudible): -- Voice of America. Actually, I have two questions, first of all, regarding the Palestinian Authority itself. Have they started taking measures to accommodate the refugees if they come back, because, you know, they can take them back anytime. Or are they limited to the numbers by Israel?

MR. SHAFI: Nobody, as you probably -- probably you don't know -- nobody is repatriated except by an Israeli permission. Nobody is allowed to come to the Palestinian territory except through an Israeli permission. So the returnees are very limited, and this is all together under the discretion of Israel.

Q: And the other part of the question is regarding Israel itself. One time I interviewed an official -- Israeli official, and I raised this question with him, and he said this means -- the return of the Palestinian refugees means the death of Israel, so nobody in his mind would accept that, because this actually would imbalance the demographical --

MR. SHAFI: It need not be so. This is only -- you know, that the -- initially the Zionist movement claimed all of Palestine, and they knew that Palestine had its own indigenous people, and they decided that their program cannot be implemented except by force, and they continue to claim all Palestine. But in reality, there is a place for the refugees.

Now, a Palestinian researcher, Abu Sitah (ph), recently made a detailed study about the -- whether there is room for repatriation or not, and he made it very evident there is plenty of room for repatriation.

And anyhow, Israel cannot claim the land for itself alone and deprive indigenous people of their right to self-determination.

Q: (Name and affiliation off mike.) Correct me if I'm wrong. Does the PNA has the right to negotiate about the Palestinian people right of return, or is the right of the PLO to do that, as a representative of the Palestinian people?

MR. SHAFI: Well, the negotiating -- the present negotiating delegation negotiates in the name of the Palestinian people.

Q: But the PLO or the PNA has the right to negotiate?

MR. SHAFI: Well, I'm sorry that this matter is blurred, and it is -- it should not be. And it's the responsibility of the Palestinian leadership to make this very clear. I mean, for the short term, it looked as though the PLO is marginalized, and this is wrong. But actually, there is no conflict. The Palestinian -- the PNA is supposed to be to implement the rulings of the PLO.

Q: (Off mike) -- do you have any indications whether the negotiators will insist -- the Palestinian -- on dealing with this matter in the final settlement by the 13th of September, or -- Many fear that an ambiguous language will be used to cover, to deal with this issue, and it will be pushed further. I mean, what are indications from talking to various --

MR. SHAFI: That's exactly why we are here, as the council for restitution, repatriation of the refugees, we are insisting upon. That's why we affirm in this peace conference, we call on the Palestinian Authority to insist on having the question of the refugees according to Resolution 194 to be on the agenda of the framework of the final negotiations.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Recognizing the validity of their claims, there can be really no -- if you look at it legalistically or humanistically, there can be no questioning of it.

But in terms of practical negotiation, there has to be a question of it by the Israelis, who as someone has suggested, are immediately going to say, "It destroys the nature of our state" -- at least the nature of their state because they wanted and they proclaimed a Zionist Jewish state. And if repatriation occurs, there would be more Arabs than there would be Jews, inside even the pre-1967 borders.

Has anyone proposed any way of dealing with this problem politically, so that the Jewish state could feel that it still existed as a national, cultural, political group, as well as offering the same statehood to the Palestinian entity? Are there any practical solutions to this?

MR. SHAFI: Yes, certainly, there could be practical solutions. And there is enough room; I mean, it's a matter if Israel claimed all Palestinian territory or if she makes provision for the rights of the Palestinian people; I mean, if she insists on separation. There is no talk about a binational state, where Jews and Palestinians live together in equity. But if they insist on separation, then there should be room provided for the Palestinians, and that territory should not all be taken to the Jewish side.

After all, I think -- I am sure all of you are aware that, initially, the demographic ratio in Palestine, at the time of the start of the British mandate, was -- Palestinians to Jews -- was 11:1. And that was violated very crucially by the British bringing in immigrants against the existence of the Palestinians. So in a span of 25 years, this demographic ratio moved from 11:1 to 2:1, and that was a great violation of the right of the Palestinians to self- determination.

Anyhow, I would want to say at least that Palestinians have exhibited their desire to live peacefully. And as a matter of fact, in the past in the many generations, there was viable co-existence between Jews and Palestinians in Palestine until this was destroyed by the advent of Zionism.

Now, let me give you just one example about the position of the Palestinian people now in the occupied territories. You know, when the Palestine National Council agreed to go to Madrid, this was not a unanimous decision; it was a majority decision. That means there were opposition parties.

So these opposition parties, on the eve of Madrid, they called on the people in the occupied territories to demonstrate against Madrid.

Now, what the people did -- they did demonstrate in support of Madrid the next day -- means that the people who are there, they want peace, but they want peace and equity and justice.

Yes?

Q: Is you presence here an indication of dissension within the ranks of the Palestinian delegation or of the Palestinian effort to negotiate a peaceful settlement?

MR. SHAFI: I didn't get your question. Sorry.

Q: Is your presence here an indication of dissension, of differences of opinions within the ranks of the Palestinians' will to negotiate a peaceful settlement?

MR. SHAFI: Well, I don't negate the existence of differences of opinion among Palestinians about what's going on. But here I am not coming with the purpose of dissension, I am just -- we are just calling on a very important matter pertaining to the peace process and to the outcome of the peace process, and that it should address in seriousness the issue of the refugees. So we are just calling on the Palestinian Authority, which is engaged in the negotiations, that it should insist that this matter should be on the agenda of the final stage negotiations. That's our purpose.

Q: Have you met with the Palestinian Authority prior to coming here? And do you plan to meet some American officials here?

MR. SHAFI: No, I am not planning to meet any American officials. And I could meet the Palestinian Authority any time I ask for, and why I am in contact -- (off mike).

Yes?

Q: What do you think would happen in the refugee camps if President Arafat did sign-away the right of return, or agree to the return of just a token number of Palestinians?

MR. SHAFI: I dare say that if the -- if our Authority yields on pressures about this issue, it will disqualify itself, I'm sorry to say so. The matter is so serious that it cannot pass by very easily.

Q: I have a question for Mr. Boyle.

MR. SHAFI: Yes, please.

Q: It's always known if there is any agreement between Israel and Palestinians or Syrians or whatever, it's always the American taxpayer pays something there. So how do you foresee America's financial involvement in this refugee issue, if there is any solution to it?

MR. BOYLE: Well, my main concern is that you'll have a paper document that won't mean anything; that there will be a document that says, "Oh yes, the Palestinians have a right of return or compensation." Notice it's either/or. But I want to point out, it is their choice as a basic human right. It simply cannot be sold out by anyone purporting to represent them, but it is their choice. Well, my main concern then, would be setting up a fund in name only on paper that is not really funded, or that they call for voluntary contributions alone. Unfortunately, this is what Richard Holbrooke did to the Bosnians: They called for setting up a fund, but it was never funded, and they called for voluntary contributions. Those have been few and far between.

So my concern is that there will be some type of paper document recognizing the right, making some titular gesture to this, but when push comes to shove, we will see a very small number of Palestinians actually returning to their homes. And we have to remember here, there are also large numbers of Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank in refugee camps, and this right to return also applies to them going back to what is Israel today.

Now, I also want to note one other point for the record. Back in the peace negotiations in 1991, Secretary of State James Baker instructed his press spokesperson at that time, Margaret Tutwiler, to publicly raise the issue of 194, and that issue was publicly raised by Baker and Tutwiler during the course of the negotiations. I was there at the Grand Hotel when this issue came up in public.

So it seems to me what we need from the Clinton administration is a recognition of the requirements here for a just peace, and that means the right of return in accordance with the wishes of the Palestinians; it means a genuine independent Palestinian state, not a Bantustan model that is currently being proposed by the United States and Israel; and also some type of shared arrangement for Jerusalem so that Jerusalem can become the capital of both states -- a Palestinian state and an Israeli state. And then at that point, the U.S. Embassy could move to Jerusalem and be accredited simultaneously to both states.

I think this can be done if there is good faith on the part of the United States and Israel. But so far, I don't believe that is the direction that these negotiations seem to be moving.

MR. SHAFI: I just want to -- further on this matter. You see the refugee problem didn't come about spontaneously.

This was premeditated and planned for a long time. Zionist deliberations about moving Palestinians out of Palestine started, actually, before the beginning of the last -- of the 20th century, and they were very much in vogue during the '30s. And the Israeli claim that the Palestinians left their homes voluntarily and all this, it's a farce. There were evicted out by terrorism and force and everything like this.

Now, this went into the context of the main Israeli strategy, Zionist strategy, of facing the world with facts on the ground, and this is one of the most painful and serious that Israel has done in this respect, to face the world with fait accompli, and this -- I mean now they face the world with fait accompli around Jerusalem, while they have made changes in the physical character of Jerusalem.

But this pertains to humans, so how we can neglect this? I think this is a matter that should go to the conscience of the world, of the democratic world, especially, that this matter could not pass by, that Israelis can get away with a fait accompli that pertains to the lives of people.

And so I think this is really a very, very serious matter. It should be very serious, not only for the Palestinians, but for the conscience of the world and the democratic world, especially.

Q: Then, how could you overcome the problem of Israel at this time changing the status of the ownership of some properties over there? Like, most of the properties are listed under absentees' properties, but now they are giving, changing, the numbers and names of the parcels; and according to Dr. (Al-Chai, they study a few ?) -- you know? So how could you overcome this, and how could we claim, those Palestinians, claim their properties, if there is a change in the records?

MR. SHAFI: Well, I would like to hear Professor Boyle's comment about this, but I would say that what we need is that Israel acknowledges Resolution 194 and express its decision to implement or participate in implementing this resolution, and then, I'm sure, through discussion, we can find the right way of implementing this resolution --

MR. BOYLE: I want to answer this question, then I'll recognize you, sir, because you had your hand up.

Well, as we know, there are precedents here.

The current precedent is the Jewish people right now are in negotiations with the German government, the Austrian government -- apparently they're going to start with the French government -- to try to do the best as possible to determine who owned what and why. Commissions have been set up under the auspices of the United States government, I should point out, to do this. The Swiss government has done it. It does not appear that most of the Jewish refugees from the Second World War and the Nazi Holocaust want to go back. That is their right. But they do want recognition of their property and compensation to be paid if property was taken.

So I think there is adequate precedent here. I have not been retained by the provisional government of the state of Palestine to do this study. But there is more than adequate precedent for doing precisely what you're asking in the manner that Jewish claims have been handled after the Second World War. And there's been a good deal written about this and a lot of precedence going on. So I think a study could be made and an agenda could be drawn up to do this.

Sir?

Q: Can we pursue that? And particularly, would you comment on what is a striking recent precedent for how one goes about funding compensation, and that is what was done by the United Nations vis-a- vis Iraq, where 30 percent of Iraq's foreign exchange earnings were sequestered and put into a compensation fund. Why could that not be considered as a way of funding the compensation claims by the Palestinians vis-a-vis Israel?

MR. BOYLE: I have already said, in my opinion -- and I have advised the provisional government of the state of Palestine on this -- that under the Uniting For Peace Resolution, the General Assembly can, if it wishes, adopt comprehensive economic sanctions on Israel. I did the memorandum for the provisional government of the state of Palestine on how to do this. They have currently began to invoke the Uniting For Peace Resolution. The last invocation was to have the General Assembly adopt a recommendation that no companies invest in occupied Palestinian lands. The session is currently in recess; it can be recalled, and they can move up the level of what sanctions might be.

In the Korean War, the United States government sponsored the Uniting F or Peace Resolution, and we convinced the General Assembly to adopt comprehensive economic sanctions against North Korea.

So yes, you are right, this can be done, if they're not prepared to negotiate in good faith, yes.

The other mechanism, which I've also recommended to the provisional government of the state of Palestine, is to sue Israel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. I personally gave that memorandum to President Arafat. I haven't heard back from him yet. I take it that he's trying to see if he's going to get anywhere in these negotiations with the Israelis. But that is a second mechanism that is available to the provisional government of the state of Palestine.

To go back to the earlier question about who has the authority to negotiate, and again, Dr. Abdel Shafi has pointed out the blurring of authority here, but legally speaking, the Palestine National Council created a state in 1988.

I was the legal advisor for that matter. Today, the Palestinian state is recognized de jure by about 130 states. We have de facto recognition for almost all of Europe. And the only reason Europe has not recognized the Palestinian state is massive pressure, applied by the United States. Even Europe has said, about a year ago, they are prepared to give de jure recognition to the Palestinian state. The only holdouts on de jure recognition for the Palestinian state are Israel and the United States. And even Israel is now coming around to the point of view that, yes, they will have to recognize the Palestinian state.

A year ago, the provisional government of the state of Palestine obtained de facto membership in the United Nations organization. They have all the rights of a U.N. member state, except the right to vote. So they have international legal personality. They have presence and a voice at the United Nations.

They have used mechanisms that are available, and there are further mechanisms that can be invoked if necessary, if Israel is not prepared to negotiate in good faith in accordance with two resolutions that they accepted as conditions for their membership in the United Nations organization. And I have already done a memorandum, for the government of the state of Palestine, that their outright repudiation of 194 and 181 has violated the basic conditions for their membership in the United Nations organization. And although they could not be formally suspended or expelled over a U.S. veto, nevertheless, their participation in the General Assembly could be suspended. And their participation throughout the entirety of the United Nations organization could be suspended, exactly what was done to the former apartheid government in South Africa and the current rump Yugoslavia.

So these are very serious issues. There are severe consequences, some of which Dr. Abdel Shafi has pointed out. I am just here to address the legal issues.

Is there a further question before we adjourn? Thank you very much.

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