9780415715041Later this month Routledge is scheduled to publish UNRWA and Palestinian Refugees From Relief and Works to Human Development, a new volume edited by Sari HanafiLeila Hilal, and Lex Takkenberg:

Exploring the evolution of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), this book fills a lacuna in literature on the agency.

UNRWA and Palestinian Refugees employs recent fieldwork in order to analyse challenges in programmes and service delivery, protection, camp governance, community participation, and camp improvement and reconstruction. The chapters examine the way UNRWA is adapting to a changing social, political and economic context, mostly within urban settings – a paradigmatic shift from understanding the Agency’s role as simply a provider of relief and services to one comprehensively supporting the human development of Palestinian refugees.

Examining the refugee debate using new disciplines and research frameworks, this collection aims to emphasise the centrality of the Palestinian refugee issue for Middle East peace-making and to contribute a better understanding of a unique agency. This book will be a useful aid for students and researchers with an interest in Middle East Studies, Politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Part I: Meeting Challenges in Programmes and Service Delivery

  • 1 Realizing Self-Reliance through Microfinance – Allex Pollok 2 UNRWA’s ‘Traditional’ Programmes as a Catalyst for Human Development – Tjitske de Jong & Miriam Aced

Part II: Protection: From Concept to Practice

  • 3 Incorporating Protection into UNRWA Operations – Mark Brailsford 4 Advancing Child Protection in Jordan, Lebanon, Occupied Palestinian Territory and Syria – Laurent Chapius

Part III: Governance: The Camps and UNRWA

  • 5 From Chaos to Order and Back: The Construction of UNRWA Shelters and Camps 1950- 1970– Kjersti Gravelsaeter Berg 6 UNRWA as ‘Phantom Sovereign’: Governance Practices in Lebanon – Sari Hanafi

Part IV: Civic Participation and Community Engagement

  • 7 From Beneficiary to Stakeholder: An Overview of UNRWA’s Approach to Refugee Participation– Terry Rempel 8 Community Participation and Human Rights Advocacy: Questions Arising from the Campaign about the Right to Work of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon – Sergio Bianchi

Part V: Camp Improvement/Reconstruction and Development

  • 9 Dynamics of Space, Temporariness, Development and Rights in Palestine Refugees’ Camps– Mona Budeiri 10 Talbiyeh Camp Improvement Project and the Challenges of Community Participation: Between Empowerment and Conflict– Fatima Al-Nammari 11 Implementing the Neirab Rehabilitation Project: UNRWA’s Approach to Development in Syria’s Palestinian Refugee Camps– Nell Gabiam 12 The Urban Planning Strategy in Al-Hussein Palestinian Refugee Camp in Amman: Heterogeneous Practices; Homogeneous Landscape– Lucas Oesch

Part VI: Palestinian Refugees and Durable Solutions: A Role for UNRWA

  • 13 UNRWA as Avatar: Current Debates on the Agency and their Implications – Rex Brynen 14 The Role of UNRWA in Resolving the Palestinian Refugee Issue – Leila Hilal

The book is based on a conference held  at the American University of Beirut in 2010, with contributions revised and updated for publication.

 

 

 

Chatham House Royal Institute of international affairs

Chatham House has released a summary report of its March 2014 workshop on “Israeli Perspectives on the Palestinian Refugee Issue”—it should be on the Chatham House website next week, but in the meantime here’s an advance copy.

This is a summary of discussions that took place during a one-and-a-half day workshop on Israeli Perspectives on the Refugee Issue, held on 5 and 6 March 2014 in Cyprus. The participants were Israeli and international experts on the Middle East Peace Process and the Palestinian refugee issue, acting in a personal capacity.

This workshop was intended to evaluate the status of the debate within Israel about Palestinian refugees, and various opinions were raised. Discussions focused not only on the opinions of the participants but also on their expertise of majority opinions and moods within Israel, which are summarized here.

The workshop took place at a time when the gap between Israelis and Palestinians on the refugee issue seems wider than ever, due in part to an apparent hardening of views within Israel over the past decade. Since the failure of the 2000–01 rounds of talks and the Second Intifada in 2000–05, Israeli concern have been particularly high over the demographic implications of any Palestinian refugee return. Additional issues implications for the Palestinian refugee issue have gained salience in the past decade, notably recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the forced displacement of Jewish people from Arab countries after 1948. Finally, both Israelis and international experts have expressed concern about the degree of policy expertise within Israel on the issue, and have noted the possible implications of this expertise gap for negotiations.

The workshop formed part of Chatham House’s on-going work on the regional dimensions of the Palestinian refugee issue, known as the ‘Minster Lovell Process’1, which aims at an informal and comprehensive discussion of the Palestinian refugee issue, including the role of host countries and international actors. The workshop was hosted by the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme and was kindly funded by a grant from the UK Conflict Pool. The other workshops in the current series have addressed compensation and implementation mechanisms2 and the normative dimensions3 of the refugee issue.

Key findings

  • Israeli official knowledge on the Palestinian refugee issue lags behind the state of research and policy work, particularly on the technical dimensions of implementing the refugee component of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
  • Israeli public interest in the refugee issue also remains low. The issue is considered highly sensitive and any compromise on refugees and on right of return is closely linked in public discourse to the perceived threat of the destruction of Israel.
  • There is scope for expanded engagement with the Israeli public, experts, and opinion leaders on the issue. Polling and practical experience suggest that there might be opportunities to encourage a more nuanced approach to the topic within Israel in ways that would enhance the prospects for any eventual agreement.

My own account of the meeting has been previously posted to the PRRN blog.

POMEPSThe Project on Middle East Political Science and George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies will be holding a conference in Washington DC on 10 April 2014 on Reacting to Refugee Crises in the Middle East: Responses from States, Scholars, and Humanitarian Organizations.

This interdisciplinary conference will bring together a diverse group of scholars and practitioners to discuss historical and contemporary crises of population displacement in the Middle East and Africa. Special attention will be given to the ways in which government institutions, humanitarian organizations, and refugees themselves address the structural causes of recurring crises, the challenges of providing assistance to displaced persons, and the lived experiences of individuals struggling through these conditions.  
Thursday, April 10, 2014 9:00 AM
1957 E Street, NW
Lindner Family Commons, 6th Floor

RSVP Here

Welcoming Remarks 9:00 – 9:10

Marc Lynch, The George Washington University

Introductory Remarks 9:10 – 9:45 

Refugees and Crisis in the Middle East: Research Agendas and Frameworks

Julie Peteet, University of Louisville

Panel I 9:45 – 11:15
State Responses to Refugee Flows & Displaced Populations
Lamis Abdelaaty, University of California – Santa Cruz
Rochelle Davis, Georgetown University
Elizabeth Ferris, Brookings Institution
Break 11:15 – 11:30
Panel II 11:30 – 1:00
Humanitarian Organizations & Responses to Refugee Crises 
Geraldine Chatelard, Institut Français du Proche-Orient
Margot Ellis, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East 
Adrienne Fricke, University of California – Davis, Human Rights Initiative
Hani Mowafi, Yale Medicine & Amnesty International

Lunch 1:00 – 2:00

Panel III 2:00 – 3:30
Documenting the Experiences of Refugees and the Displaced 
Zainab Saleh, Haverford College
Nell Gabiam, Iowa State University 
Wendy Pearlman, Northwestern University

At his Council of Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams warns that recent comments by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas signal a continuing Palestinian intransigence on the “right of return” that will wreck current US mediation efforts:

So Abbas’s maneuver here, as we approach the Kerry deadline in April, makes a genuine peace agreement unrealistic and in fact impossible. The terms he has just set forth will never be met. Rather than preparing for peace, he is not only making it impossible for himself to sign a deal, but also setting out terms that will make it impossible for his successors  to sign a deal.

In particular he cites recent comments made by Abbas to Fateh activists:

The Right of Return is a personal right. If you are a refugee, your son is a refugee as well. Perhaps you will decide to relinquish this right while your son decides not to, or vice versa. Your son is free to do so. When we say that this is a personal choice, it means that he can decide for himself.

This, he suggests, makes agreement impossible:

By making the “right of return” a personal right for each Palestinian, Abbas is saying the PLO has no right to negotiate over it and no right to sign an agreement that defeats or even limits that “right.” If that’s really the PLO position, there will never be an agreement.

What is interesting about Abram’s piece is the extent to which it misunderstands refugee rights (and, for that matter, all other internationally-recognized rights) altogether.

Put simply, such rights are always individual rights. On this point there is broad consensus among both refugee and international law experts. They cannot be eliminated or withdrawn by states on behalf of their citizens, for if they could do so it would undermine the whole purpose of rights in the first place. In other words, all that Abbas is stating here is almost universally recognized principle of international law. Palestinian negotiators can no more give away Palestinian refugees’ right of return that Israeli negotiators could give away the rights of Israelis (or diaspora Jews) to life, liberty and security of person.

Rather than Abbas’ statement being a position of intransigence, it is probably better seen as an effort to remove the pressure on Palestinian negotiators to obtain explicit recognition of such a right in a permanent status agreement. Implicitly his comments suggest that such recognition is irrelevant, since it exists independently of whatever treaty text Israel and the Palestinians might agree. Of course, this runs counter to Israeli’s oft-expressed interest that any  agreement be an end of all claims against Israel by the Palestinians. However, there is broad agreement here too among experts that while an agreement can substantially narrow the scope and weight of such claims, it cannot prevent all individuals making such claims. After all, why would a Palestinian citizen of the US (for example) somehow be bound by what Palestinian leaders in Ramallah agree to? I doubt very much that Abrams would favour a future Palestinian state be given this sort of extra-territorial power over Americans.

That the “right” might still exist even after an agreement does not mean, however, that significant number of Palestinians would thereby gain access to residence in Israel. I’ve argued before that the “right of return” is a much more ambiguous and contingent right in international law than many Palestinians believe it to be. It is doubtful that it applies to refugees with citizenship, and it certainly fades slowly over succeeding generations. It is also not at all clear that it applies to original homes (in Israel) rather than homeland or “country”—both of much might be reasonably understood to refer to the future Palestinian state. Finally, no Israeli court is ever going top force an Israeli government to accept the return of Palestinian refugees, and no other court would have jurisdiction. While Israeli might accept some symbolic number of refugees (as it proposed in the 2001 Taba negotiations, and again in the 2007-08 Annapolis negotiations), in practice acceptance would likely remain a matter of sovereign discretion (as expressed in the December 2000 Clinton Parameters).

Elsewhere in his blog post, Abrams also expresses concern about Palestinian plans for a referendum on any peace deal that would include the diaspora, worrying that refugees might find the package unacceptable. That is indeed a risk, although the countervailing benefit is that an endorsement would force Hamas to accept a deal too. Abrams is also criticizes Abbas’ position on refugee compensation:

Abbas has every one of those people receiving compensation. Those who move to Palestine get compensation; those who “return” to Israel get compensation; those who move to Canada or stay in Canada get compensation, and so on. So, the young man or woman born in Jordan or Canada and having full citizenship there, and staying there, gets compensation. It’s a nice fantasy for a politician to describe—every Palestinian takes part in this bonanza—but it is just that: a fantasy. Once again, it has nothing to do with actually making the choices peace will require nor with preparing Palestinians for the real future.

This is slightly odd, since the general position Abbas expresses has been the (pre-Netanyahu) Israeli position on compensation too, as evidenced by the Israeli negotiating position at Camp David, Taba, and Annapolis. Compensation may be very difficult to do, and there may be questions about who pays how much to exactly whom, but in the past decade and a half of negotiations there has never been any serious controversy (yet) over whether it should be part of a deal.

larg

UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations have joined in a social media campaign to raise awareness of conditions in Syria and to demand “immediate, secure, substantial and permanent humanitarian access for all civilians” there:

On the third anniversary of Syria’s pitiless conflict, we demand immediate, secure, substantial and permanent humanitarian access for all civilians, including countless children, in Syria. In the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, the parties had shown they could come together in ways that facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations.  We urge all parties on the ground to listen to the voice of the international community as expressed unanimously through the Security Council and to act now to halt the march of death, injury, hunger and suffering. We say to our leaders: don’t let the people in Syria, children and families, lose another year to bloodshed and suffering, violating the most fundamental laws of war. We must stand #WithSyria. We say as one: #LetUsThrough.

This Thunderclap campaign aims to generate at least 23 million tweets, the pre-war population of Syria, with the #LetUsThrough hashtag. Once we have achieved that, our Thunderclap image will appear on the electronic billboard in New York’s Times Square, not far from United Nations Headquarters, sending a powerful message to the global diplomatic community that we demand they unite and “LetUsThrough.” We will then photograph the image on the Times Square billboard and tweet it out to the millions who followed us in the campaign.

Click here to learn more about UNRWA’s effort to help Palestine refugees from Syria
Read more on the crisis in Yarmouk Camp

JPS169_Cover_Page_1 (565x800)

The delayed Autumn 2013 edition of the (redesigned) Journal of Palestine Studies has now been published. It includes a couple of items that will be of particular interest to scholars of the refugee issue:

The Evens Program for Mediation and Conflict Resolution at Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute have published the results of their most recent Peace Index poll, conducted in Israel on 3-4 March 2014. It shows Israeli public support for peace negotiations with the Palestinians, but pessimism at their likely outcome. It also shows considerable doubt with regard to current US mediation efforts, with a large majority of israeli Jews believing that the Kerry initiative is biased in favour of the Palestinians.

PIM14Q3Israeli Jews are doubtful that Palestinians will accept any recognition of Israel as homeland of the Jewish people:

PIM14Q10Interestingly, a large majority of israeli Jews are willing to postpone the issue of compensation for Jews from Arab countries. They also show little confidence in the handling of any such future compensation funds by the Israeli state:

PIM14Q11

IMG_2054

Paphos, Cyprus—looking absolutely nothing like a Palestinian refugee camp.

This past week I attended a meeting in Paphos, Cyprus on “Israeli Perspectives on the Palestinian Refugee Issue,” organized by Chatham House as part of its ongoing Minster Lovell process of policy-relevant workshops and discussions. At the two day workshop Israeli and international analysts explored Israeli perceptions, concerns, interests, and policy capacity as they relate to the refugee issue. As might be expected, the discussions were lively. The weather was also a good 30 degrees or more warmer than snowy Montréal.

In time, a summary of the event will (as usual) be published by Chatham House. In the meantime, however, I thought I would outline a few of my own take-aways from the session.

First, almost all of the Israeli participants stressed the need for greater discussion of the issue within Israel, among experts, officials, politicians, and the mass public alike. Most made the point that it was a topic Israel preferred to ignore, in part because of difficult normative questions it raises about past Israeli actions. Several (including former senior officials) also pointed to what they saw as limited understanding of the issue within government. This “knowledge gap” relates to both technical and factual issues on the one hand, and empathy on the other. There is certainly a need to plug more Israeli scholars and activists more fully in the policy research community on the refugee question.

Most of the participants at this meeting tended to the left or centre of the Israeli spectrum. While that was helpful in sustaining a constructive dialogue, it will also be necessary to widen the discussion. Indeed, those who took a harder line were a very useful reminder of the challenges that these issues face.

Second, recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” or “homeland of the Jewish people”—a relatively recent demand by Israeli negotiators, and a topic that came up at a previous meeting—once again emerged as important for many. Whether this demand will prove a hindrance to negotiations, or whether it can skillfully be incorporated into a package of statements addressing  intangible needs, remains to be seen. (For my part, I continue to think that while “Jewish state” may prove particularly difficult for Palestinians to accept, “homeland of the Jewish people” is far more amenable to productive compromise.)

Third, we also spent time discussing the issue of Jews who were forcibly displaced from Arab countries. One longtime Israeli advocate for this issue argued the need to transform this from a zero-sum competition with Palestinian refugee claims (that is, somehow offsetting or cancelling them out) to a normative bridge of sorts, built on mutual recognition by both sides of the suffering and injustices experienced by the other. Doing so would involve not pitting both sets of victims against each other by compensating them from a common fund. It might involve Palestinian acknowledgement of, and reparations for, forcible displacements of Jews that took place within Palestinian areas in 1947-48. And it would likely involve Israeli acknowledgement that the appropriate source for most reparations would be the Arab regimes that were responsible, not the Palestinians or international community. It would be interesting to see if greater common ground might be built on this issue.

There was considerable discussion of Israeli public opinion. It was noted by those who had done research on the subject that there was more acceptance than commonly believed among the public that Israel shares some of the responsibility for the situation of Palestinian refugees. Polls indicated that Israelis are strongly opposed to Palestinian refugee return. Most Israeli Jews want some acknowledgement of the Jewish character of Israel in an agreement. There might also be reluctance to contribute very large amounts to refugee compensation. However, as several participants noted, public opinion can be moved to some degree by political leadership, especially in the context of a larger deal that offers a realistic prospect of peace.

Many participants expressed the hope that Palestinians would more clearly signal moderation on the refugee issue, and highlighted that mention of the right of return was seen as especially, even existentially, threatening by Israeli Jews. There was praise from several for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’ recent statements on the issue. There was also recognition that the political challenge from Hamas has made Fateh leaders reluctant to indicate a willingness to compromise.

I continue to feel that many Israelis continue to overestimate the degree of international resources that will be available to support a peace agreement, and especially with regard to refugee compensation. This issue of resource mobilization was also raised at a previous meeting in the Minster Lovell series.

On questions of residency, participants opposed all but limited or symbolic return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, and several expressed a preference that this number be zero. Most supported that Palestinian state having full control over its own absorption policy, although a few expressed support for Israel having some veto over what Palestinians might repatriate to the Palestinian state for a limited transitional period. One participant voiced concerns (more widely shared in Israel as whole) that refugees repatriating to a Palestinian state could be a future security risk to Israel itself

Finally, there was considerable discussion as to whether past assumptions about resolving the refugee issue were still entirely relevant. I noted that the Syrian civil war has created strong “push” factors for hundreds of thousands of refugees, in contrast to an earlier era when Palestinians in Syria would be unlikely to face immediate pressure to repatriate following a peace agreement. Several participants also expressed doubt that a comprehensive peace deal was possible in the current era, arguing that a series of incremental and a transitional arrangements were more likely. Under such circumstances would the resolution of the refugee issue be postponed? Or were some sort of intermediate initiatives possible? It is a question that certainly needs further attention.

Visualizing Palestine: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

Posted: February 28, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Lebanon

The Visualizing Palestine project has produced a series of excellent infographics depicting the discrimination and marginalization faced by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. I have posted one below, but for the full series see their website.

vp-ilo-facts-figures-en-final-20140220

Chatham House has published a summary of their recent workshop on the normative dimensions of the Palestinian refugee issue.

This is a summary of discussions that took place during a one-and-a-half day workshop on The Palestinian Refugee Issue: Normative Dimensions, held on 13 and 14 February 2014 in Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire. The participants in the exercise were regional and international experts on the Palestinian refugee issue, acting in a personal capacity.

The ‘normative dimensions’ of the refugee issue refer to the intangible needs of both parties and the moral acknowledgment of these needs, including the acknowledgment of ‘the human dignity and moral worth of victims’. Moral acknowledgment includes statements of apology, as well as recognition of rights and suffering. Participants were divided into working groups and asked to produce ‘formulations’, or multiple versions of language that would meet these needs, with the aim of encouraging new and innovative ideas. In constructing formulations, participants took note of the relevant language from previous negotiations and Track II exercises, including the ‘Beilin-Abu Mazin Talks’, Core Group Track II Exercise, Israeli Camp David Position, Clinton Parameters, Taba Talks, Arab Peace Initiative and the Geneva Accord, among others. The draft formulations ranged from complete paragraphs to one sentence or phrase, and the list can be found in the appendix.

Although this summary presents the needs and perspectives of Israelis and Palestinians in separate sections, throughout the discussions there were internal debates among both perspectives, as well as nuances in individual positions and contributions from international experts with a comparative perspective.

The workshop formed part of Chatham House’s on-going work on the regional dimensions of the Palestinian refugee issue, known as the ‘Minster Lovell Process’2, which aims at an informal and comprehensive discussion of the Palestinian refugee issue, including the role of host countries and international actors. The workshop was hosted by the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme and was kindly funded by a grant from the UK Conflict Pool.

KEY FINDINGS

Some of the main findings of the workshop include:

  • Normative dimensions are central to resolving the refugee issue, although opinions vary on when these dimensions should be addressed. While some argue that negotiations must address intangible needs now to signal acknowledgement of the each party’s deepest needs and thereby facilitate agreement in other areas, others stress that the normative dimensions of the refugee issue should be deferred until after significant progress has been made on other elements of an agreement, such as territorial issues regarding borders and Jerusalem.
  • Two of the most pressing intangible needs around the refugee issue are the right of return and recognition of the Jewish character of Israel. On these two questions, mutual Israeli and Palestinian unwillingness to recognize the other’s need becomes a threat to the other’s feeling of legitimacy and security. Palestinians view the right of return as an internationally acknowledged moral and legal right that requires recognition, even if the actual number of refugees returning might be limited or even largely symbolic. Israelis view recognition of Israel’s Jewish character as a signal of regional acceptance of Israel’s founding and continuing legitimacy as a country for the Jewish people, as well as acknowledgment and respect for Jewish identity and Zionism.
  • Demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state could become an immediate and permanent obstacle to peace. However, recognition of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people could provide the necessary flexibility to meet the needs of both parties.
  • Other key normative dimensions of the refugee issue include acknowledgment and/or apology for 1948, recognition of Palestinian rights and dignity, an end of claims and the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

You’ll find my own take on the workshop here.