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Monday, September 25, 2006


An Open Question to Dr. Mustafa Barghouti on Right of Return

Annie's Letters was authorized by Dr. Salman Abu Sitta, the renowned Palestinian author and researcher on refugees to publish an e-mail exchange between him and Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary of the Palestine National Initiative.

Subject: An Open Question to Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi on the Right of Return

Dear Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi

As you may have heard, your remarks in Switzerland about the Right of Return has caused concern and there is a need for explanation.

You were quoted in reply to a question on September 8th at Restaurant Karl der Grosse :

"We have to be realistic. We cannot just say all of them [the refugees] have to come back immediately tomorrow, because this will be the end of Israel . Let’s be frank about it."

Your reply to the Swiss daily "Tages-Anzeiger" was this,

"Barghouthi: The right of the [Palestinian] refugees to return as such cannot be discussed, but its implementation can be.
Question: Does it mean the return of a small number and a compensation for the large rest?
Barghouthi.: On this issue I can speak first in a conference [meaning negotiations with Israel]."

The statement (in English) on Al-Mubara web site is as follows,

“This Initiative calls for the implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions requiring the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the West Bank and Gaza and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.” Note the word : homeland, not homes.

The letter you sent us (in Arabic) states,

Al Mubadara announcement on 15th May 2005 calls for
"the affirmation of RoR, as an individual and collective right, which no body whatsoever can forfeit" [my translation]. No specific details.

All these statements cause concern to Palestinian refugees. If that was an inadvertent formulation, then it should be corrected publicly. If this is the policy you wish to pursue, the majority of Palestinians will not agree with you.

You may be aware that the Explanatory Memorandum of resolution 194, as well as Bernadotte report on which resolution 194 was based, clearly states that the refugees should return to "the homes and lands" from which they were expelled or left. To return to their "homeland" is neither legally correct, not accepted by the refugees. The slogan "to return to their homeland" is adopted by the Israelis and their supporters such as Yasser Rabbo and Sari Nusseibah as a cover for tawtin. They advocate two ethnic states: Jewish Israel in as large part as possible of historic Palestine, and Arab Palestine statelet in what is left.

Resolution 181, on which Israel's Declaration was based, never envisaged, nor could it, in international law, advocate any ethnic state. Resolution 181 in Chapters 2,3 clearly protects the full rights of minorities in the majority state, whether Arab or Jewish. This is in recognition of the right to live in one's home and of the sanctity of private ownership regardless of the sovereignty on the place.

The claim that the return of refugees is undesirable because it may mean the end of Israel is outrageous. Do you expect the refugees to live in exile forever, in proximity to their homes, while Jewish immigrants are brought in to live in their homes? Do you support the institutionalized racism and Apartheid policies in Israel, the only state in the world to do that, which is the only obstacle to the return of the refugees? I do not think so. I hope not.

As to "implementation" of RoR, we have made extensive studies, more are coming, that the return is quite feasible, without major dislocation to present inhabitants.

But this is not the issue. As long as Israel is not dezionized and did not shed its racist and Apartheid policies, no return of the refugees will be accepted by Israel and the bloodshed will continue. In the end, it is Israel's policies that are doomed, because they are against legality, morality and history, not the right of refugees to return to their homes, a right they insisted on for 58 years and have no intention of abandoning.

Advocating Ramallah banana republic as a substitute for the core of the Palestine Question: the Right of Return, will never win political mileage whoever phrased.

You have expressed total devotion to RoR when speaking to Al Hakim. That is why he and his party supported you in the last elections.

I hope you now express your position on RoR in unambiguous terms to all those who wish to hear it.

Hoping to hear from you soon.

Salman Abu Sitta
Right of Return Congress

Dear Dr. Abu Sitta

Thank you for your e-mail which gives me the opportunity to clarify a few points.

Firstly, you should know by now that I have always been unequivocally supportive of the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees to the homes they were displaced from, adn not to other places. I support this position because it is a national right, underlined by United Nations Resolution 194, but also because it is an individual human right tht is confirmed by international humanitarian law, and that cannot be reneged by any government.

This has been made quite clear in both Al Mubadara's program, and Independent Palestine's election platform, which stated that: "We support the refugees' Right of Return not just to their homeland, but to the homes they were displaced from."

There is no ambiguity here, and so the manner in which some continue to question our position, is surprising.

This does not contradict, but confirms what I said in my recent lecture in Zurich and in several other interviews, that the Rifht of Return itself cannot be negotiated, although its implementatin can, because rights are rights, and are not subject to negotiation.

I doubt that there is anything wrong with also stating that it is unrealistic to expect that all refugees will return at once, tomorrow.

As for the Geneva Accords, you know tht I have been one of their most pblicly outspoken critics, on television, and in writing. I was very strongly critical of the Accords recently at both the Geneva and Zurich meetings, a fact that you may have been informed of.

Regarding the Apartheid nature of what Israel has created, I think I was one of the first to call the Wall the "Apartheid Wall." We have been working very hard to expose Israeli policies as one contnuous policy of Apartheid that has become a system worse than that practiced in South Africa.

I hope my message is clear. I would be very happy to continue exchanging views with ou, and of having the opportunity to participate in some of the conferences that you organize.


Mustafa Barghouti

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