November 28, 2000 Special Dispatch No. 157

Abu Mazen Discusses Jerusalem and the Refugees

November 28, 2000
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 157

In an article published by the London-based pan-Arabic daily Al-Hayat, Secretary-General of the PLO Executive Committee, Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen revealed some details of the Camp David negotiations over Jerusalem and the refugees. Following are excerpts from the article:


"...In Camp David... the Israelis and Americans were releasing test-balloons regarding solutions to the Jerusalem issues...."

"In all of their proposals, they spoke of annexing more than one quarter within the walls; they focused on the Armenian quarter, assuming that [the annexation to Israel of] the Jewish quarter was a given."

"We categorically rejected all of these proposals, and so they dropped, the bomb of their demand for sovereignty over the Al-Haram [the Temple Mount], claiming that the remains of Solomon's Temple are in its square or directly underneath the Al-Haram Al-Sharif itself. They also demanded praying privileges in the Al-Haram for a set number of people per day or per week."

"We rejected this as well, but we agreed that they could pray next to the [Wailing] Wall, without acknowledging any Israeli sovereignty over it. We relied on the resolution of Britain's 1929 Shaw Commission. The Commission acknowledged that the Wall belongs to the Muslim Waqf, while the Jews are allowed to pray by it as long as they do not use a Shofar."[1]

"After the summit they demanded, through mediators, to establish a small synagogue in Al-Haram's square and said that they would be satisfied with that. When their proposal was rejected, they proposed that a Muslim state establish an installation on Temple Mount, part of which would be used by the Jews as a synagogue. However, we rejected this proposal as well."

"Afterwards, they proposed that the sovereignty [over the Temple Mount] be [given] to God and that neither side demand proprietorship. We rejected this proposal because God is sovereign of the Universe in its entirety; why, then, should His sovereignty be established specifically in this case? In fact, they wanted to establish it specifically in this case so that the sovereignty would return to them, since they, in their view, are the closest to God out of all the world's nations [i.e. 'the Chosen People']."

"Israel operates in such a way in order to indicate to its adversary or enemy that any demands of it are futile... it tries to cause its enemy or adversary to doubt his own rights and his ability to achieve them..."

"Some believed that erasing the [Israeli] 'redline' or 'taboo' on the issue of Jerusalem is a victory for us... the truth is that Israel has no objection to opening up taboo issues in order to feel the other side's pulse. Thus, they create an impression that it is Israel that makes concessions and demonstrates flexibility, so that the other side is expected to answer in kind and begin the process of compromising..."

"Therefore, whatever achievements we may gain [by the erasing Israeli taboos], we will end up the losers, because it is merely a negotiating maneuver which cannot be perceived as a [Palestinian] victory or achievement..."

"Our position on the issue of Jerusalem is simple: Jerusalem is part of the territories occupied in 1967 and, hence, Resolution 242 applies to it. Jerusalem must return to our sovereignty and we will establish our capital on it. We have no objection that East and West Jerusalem will be open to one another and cooperate in municipal activities."

The Refugee Problem

"The issue of the refugees was at least as important as the Jerusalem issue, and judging by the results, maybe even more important and difficult. We encountered, and will encounter in the future, fierce resistance on this subject from the Israeli government, because the bottom line is that [the return of refugees] means altering the demographic character [of Israel] that the Israelis hope to preserve. In addition, recognition by Israel of the existence of a refugee problem entails an acknowledgment of Israel's responsibility for this humanitarian tragedy."

"The refugee issue is an Israeli taboo and Barak's foremost redline. This is the most prominent issue on which there is an Israeli consensus: left, right and center, religious and secular, new immigrants and old. Therefore, all the doors to this difficult problem are locked... [In Israel's view] the Refugee Problem is an Arab and international affair in which Israel does not have the slightest interest. This is the Israeli rhetoric as we see, hear, and read in all their media and in their leaders' statements."

"...The Israelis say how the Palestinians left their homeland of their own volition and after a call [to leave] by Arab and Palestinian leaders, who wanted to annihilate Israel."

"If compensation is needed, Israel will be delighted to put up an international fund. It is even ready to participate in this fund in order to settle the refugees - outside of Israeli territory, of course - but Israel also states that there is a tragedy that is parallel to that of the Palestinian refugees: the tragedy of the Jewish [immigrants] from Arab countries. Israel claims that the international compensation should include these people and that the money should be divided equally between the Palestinians and the Jews..."

"We, on the other hand, claim the following: paragraph 2b. of Resolution 242 says that 'achieving a just settlement for the refugee problem' is necessary. There is no UN resolution dealing with the Refugee Problem other than General Assembly Resolution 194 from 1949 that states 'compensation should be paid [...] for those who choose not to return.' The right of return has priority and whoever does not wish it, may demand compensation. It is noteworthy that the US kept bringing this resolution up each year until it was nicknamed the "American baby resolution."

"Testimony by Israeli new historians prove that the main reason for the exile of the refugees was the premeditated massacres committed by the Zionist organizations in order to empty the land of its inhabitants..."

"Compensation should be paid by the Absentee's Property Fund that was founded by Israel in 1949 in order to invest the money of the Arab absentees whose property was stolen. Therefore, compensation should go to those who wish to return as well: compensation for the use of their lands and for their suffering for fifty years and more. Naturally, this compensation should also go to the refugee-hosting states: Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, and the PA."

When we entered the details of the number of refugees, the Israeli side claimed that no more than 150 thousand refugees left their homes. However, we confronted them with official international, and even Israeli, data. According to UN figures, the number of refugees who left their homes [in 1948] was 950 thousand, while official Israeli circles set the number at 750 thousand. Whatever the real number may be is irrelevant, since the question relates to the principle and the right.

It is noteworthy in this matter, and this is also what we clarified to the Israelis, that the Right of Return means a return to Israel and not to the Palestinian State... When we talk about the Right of Return, we talk about the return of refugees to Israel, because Israel was the one who deported them and it is in Israel that their property is found..."[2]

[1] Although the violence erupted in August 1929, the Shaw Commission submitted its report in March 1930, and recommended an International Commission of Inquiry, which in its turn submitted its own report in December 1930. This report declared the Muslim Waqf as the proprietor of the Wailing Wall and stated that Jewish prayer arrangements should be in accordance with the status quo. The Ottoman status quo prohibited the use of the Shofar by the Jews.

[2] Al-Hayat (London-Beirut), November 23, 2000 part I, November 24, 2000 part II.

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