“Palestine Papers”: the refugee bits

Posted: January 25, 2011 by Rex Brynen in Palestine papers, peace process

al-Jazeera and the Guardian today released another tranche of leaked Palestinian negotiating documents, this time largely focusing on the Palestinian refugee issue. There is quite a bit of interest there, although—despite some rather exaggerated media headlines—not all that much that is truly surprising. Because the leaks deal with two sets of negotiations—those that were part of the so-called Annapolis Round during the Bush Administration, between the PA/PLO and the Olmert government, and those that have taken place since the election of the Netanyahu and Obama Administrations, I have separated them below. It is also very important to recognize that many of the documents are meeting summaries, rather than verbatim accounts—and hence need to be treated with an appropriate degree of interpretive caution.

The Bush/Olmert Era

23 March 2007: Meeting Minutes: Saeb Erekat and Karel de Gucht (Belgian FM)

Erekat suggests that any referendum on a peace deal won’t take place in the diaspora, possibly because Arab states will not permit it:

SE:  We’ll take the agreement to referendum.  We’re experimenting with the third party role now:  EU BAM, Japanese, TIPH.

KDG:  What about the diaspora?

SE:  I never said the diaspora will vote.  It’s not going to happen.  The referendum will be for Pals in Gaza, the WB and EJ.  Can’t do it in Lebanon.  Can’t do it in Jordan.

Of course, the diaspora is also more likely to vote “no”. By contrast, later in the documents Abbas seems to express support for a referendum in the diaspora.


27 January 2008: Meeting Minutes: Ahmed Qurei, Saeb Erekat and Tzipi Livni

Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) and Tzipi Livni discuss a number of issues. On refugees, Qurei emphasizes the need to engage the Arab host countries. Livni wonders about possibly engaging Canada, as former gavel-holder of the Refugee Working Group, but Qurei thinks this would be premature:

Abu Ala’: The problem that we’ll face is Israel’s desire to cut off part of the West Bank and annex it to Israel. As for the refugees, if the Arabs will be part of the solution there will be no problem in this issue. We’ve to engage countries that host the refugees directly or indirectly.

Livni: How can we engage Jordan, for instance? Will Jordan accept to be part of the process?

Abu Ala’: We’ll coordinate together. Even the Syrians want to be part of the process, and they don’t want to sit with you to discuss the matter but with us.

Livni: Can we use Canada in this matter since it’s the sponsor of the work groups on refugees in the multi-lateral talks?

Abu Ala’: Not now. Multi-lateral talks won’t look for a solution to the refugee problem, but they’ll help in the bilateral track. Let’s begin with the water and environment committees.

21 June 2008: Meeting Minutes: Bilateral Post-Annapolis Plenary Session

On the Palestinian side, Ahmed Qureia (Abu Alaa) outlines what the Palestinians would like to see in the refugee component of an agreement. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (TL) then responds.

AA: We need [returning to the issue of refugees]:
Second — the right of return,
Third — reparations for individuals
Fourth — reparations for host countries
Fifth – the international fund.
And then the fund of absentee…

TL: This is crucial for you for an agreement?

AA: Because everything relating to Palestinian property should be deposited in this fund.

TL: I would like to ask you something.  Reparations for host countries is not something that you want. It is something that the Jordanians want…

AA: We don’t want to keep the money!  But we are part of the host countries. Not you – it is your responsibility.
End of conflict, and arbitration mechanism.

TL: Why do you need it?

AA: We can include in two paragraphs.  The first – the two sides will try to solve. If not, the second [will outline the arbitration mechanism].

And a little later:

TL: We need nothing to do with it, but we understand the need for details on the international fund. Instead of responsibility we can talk of suffering of both our people.
By the way on responsibility – whose responsibility is it for keeping them in the camps? The Arab world!  Responsibility not just about the war, but what happened after. For creating false hope.
[We need to address also] the Jewish refugees.  Maybe as part of the international fund.

SE: With all due respect – you had an agreement with Egypt. With Jordan. But we never caused anything to the Jews.  This will not be in an agreement.

AA: All the Arab countries are ready to receive the Jews.

TL: We don’t want the right of return. We want to stay!
We need to give them suffering plus giving them compensation.  We need as you said before that this is the end of conflict –

The document also contain suggestions by Livni that the Israeli half of Palestinian villages that currently sit astride the Green Line ought to be swapped into the Palestinian state. The Palestinians refuse. Livni raised the same issue in an earlier meeting on borders on 8 April 2008.

23-24 July 2008: NSU email on the refugee issue

In an internal email, Ziyad Clot of the PLO Negotiations Support Unit complains that Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat are signalling too much flexibility too fast on the refugee issue:

As you know, SE decided to share our position on refugees very early in the negotiation process with the Israelis. He was willing to show to the US the Palestinians’ serious intentions to engage on the core issues. At the same time, he also did not feel that he had the expertise to handle real (oral) negotiations with the Israelis on this and preferred to proceed via an exchange of Is/Ps with T. Becker.

In parallel, AM offered an extremely low proposal for the number of returnees to Israel a few weeks only after the start of the process.

However, in the scope of the SE-TB track, we have not given away anything despite the pressure put by the Israelis, and now the US, and despite a very awkward and dangerous process (these exchanges of papers between TB & SE). The Israelis have also recently accepted the structure we have suggested for the Article on refugees (recognition of refugee rights and then implementation, rather than implementation via the international mechanism).

I remain convinced that the refugee file remains one of Israel’s main concerns but that they believe that they can get a good deal on this considering the Palestinian leadership’s weaknesses and the US recent involvement on the issue.

Strategically, it is in our best interest to keep the discussion over the substance of the file until the end in order to avoid giving any guarantee to the Israelis before we have a more precise idea of what the PLO might be able to get regarding the other files (???), and on Jerusalem, in particular…

There’s no indication of what the numbers were, an issue we’ll return to later. Ziyad’s unhappiness with Palestinian handling of the file is well known, and treated at length in his recent book. He also suggests, however, that the Israelis have accepted a framework for a refugee text that would start with the issue of refugee rights, and then move on to implementation mechanisms (the traditional Palestinian sequencing on the issue since Camp David in July 2000). That doesn’t appear to be the case from later documents.


24 June 2008: Minutes of Trilateral Israel/Palestinian/US meetings

The minutes detail a meeting of the three sides in Berlin to summarize where the parties and negotiations stand on key issues. After a variety of other discussions, Israeli negotiator Tal Becker (TB) starts a substantive presentation on refugees:

TB: Our aim is to have a single document on refugees. To clean up the rest of the text, so that what is left is to isolate all of the decisions that the leadership has to make.
We have agreement on:
Comprehensive solution. At the heard is the international mechanism to assist in three things:  1. options for the resettlement of refugees.  Here there are some options that we agree on, and one big one that we don’t.  We agree that a Palestinian state is part of the solution, but we disagree over whether all refugees will have Palestinian citizenship under Palestinian law.  We agree to look at third countries as well.  The role of the mechanism…

Saeb Erekat (SE) interrupts and add “[refugee] return” to the list. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (TL) then weighs in:

TL: Return is people who lived there and now want to return. But you say for all Palestinians [i.e. decedents] and not just Palestinians who left.  It is the broadest definition of refugees in the world.  When you create your own law of return for all Palestinians, this will be the beginning of the end of the conflict.  [Pal side notes the law of return in Israel.]

TB: [A phasing out of UNRWA with the implementation mechanism.] 2.  Rehabilitation/ assistance for integration. Jordan is asking for retroactive rehabilitation assistance.

[Long discussion on whether this was appropriate.]

TL: But when we raised the Jewish refugees, you said this was outside the scope of what you could discuss.  Do you represent Jordan on this?

CR: This is not an issue you can decide on your own – and it’s one where the international community will not want a precedent.
Compensating for past help [is problematic]. For rehabilitation, resettlement, going forward – I see. But retrospectively, the international community will have a view.

AA: If the Jordanians are satisfied with [the peace agreement – it is important].

CR: Also, there is a question of if the compensation will go to the refugees or to the states.  If the US is going to have a major role, we have a problem with funding the states for refugees.
Jordan now we are paying for some of the Iraqi refugees, through helping to cover some of the costs.  For example Lebanon – Lebanon won’t give so many Sunnis citizenship.  The living conditions [are awful.]… maybe the international community can contribute. We can start working quietly on this issue.

TB: Compensation – we agree that there will be compensation; that we mechanism will establish the criteria, timetable and the mechanism for payment; that the mechanism is the only source; and that Israel will contribute.
We disagree on restitution in kind – actual houses to owners; the kind of compensation and descriptive language there (i.e. total, comprehensive, etc.) and defining what it’s for (i.e. material, non material damages).
We have a major area of disagreement about responsibility. In our point of view this is basically asking us to take on their narrative.  No more responsibility with respect to refugees outside the agreement.

CR: Is this what I’ve heard about “end of claims”?

TB: Well this is related, but it is not it.  There is a separate clause for that, and for refugees.

SE: We need to not anger Jordan if they are going to help us and support the agreement.  I can’t speak on behalf of Jordan.  We are getting Arab states to look after their interests.

CR: Those are good points. I spoke to people around the table at Camp David (Americans) and they disagree about a lot but they all agree that there was not enough Arab Support.  Jordan, Egypt etc.  and Syria not to obstruct.
We would start thinking quietly about what the international community should do at the level of Jonathan. With your permission we’d like to start looking at this.  Jordan is our ally.

[SE and ZS note large amount of NSU work on the subject. CR invites us to brief them, esp Jonathan, on the issue.]

TB: I forgot to mention that we agree that there will be an international fund.

CR: Maybe we will be able to find countries that can contribute in kind. Chile, Argentina, etc. (i.e. give land).

In its reporting on the talks, the Guardian sees this as evidence of a US plan to “send Palestinian refugees to South America.” As can be seen from the transcript, they’re actually talking about in-kind contributions to an international fund, not resettlement. Rice might well be thinking that there could be some third country refugee resettlement in Latin America—after all, it happens now, and both sides have agreed for years that third country resettlement can be an option available to refugees. She might also be thinking of other ways in which land could be made part of a compensation package. It doesn’t really matter (and to be honest, she’s rather silly to mention it), because it clearly is a rather marginal issue. Put it down to one of those fairly common moments in negotiations where senior but non-specialist policymakers say something unhelpful because they don’t know the file in detail.

AA: They are focusing on the easier stuff.

TL: This way when it comes to us we’ll just have the hard questions.

This issue of focusing on the mechanism versus focusing on the principles and core issues will come up in further trilateral meetings too.


16 July 2008: Meeting Minutes: U.S.-Palestinian Bilateral Session

Ahmed Qurei updates the US on where negotiations stand. On refugees he notes:

On responsibility – TL refused. It is important for Israel to recognize its responsibility.  On the right of return – the API says a just and agreed upon solution in accordance with 194.  This means that the Arab League authorized the PLO to negotiate.  Therefore if we talk about the number of refugees over the number of years, that would be good.
There are many other issues – the host countries. I know your position regarding the precedents.
The Fund – the Absentee Property Fund – this is a good basis for compensation.  I know that [Tzipi Livni] and Shlomo Ben Ami both say not one single dollar exists in the fund.  I cannot accept it. Therefore it is important when we talk about the international fund, that this be the basis of that fund.

Further discussion with Condoleezza Rice (CR), Qurei, Saeb Erekat (SE) and David Welch (DW) follows:

CR: I will come to the trilateral with some initial ideas on the mechanism.
[SE: we will be able to review and comment before you present anything right? We don’t want to be surprised!  CR/US team: yes of course.]
By the way I did talk to the Jordanians at a very high level. They didn’t press the issue. I told them that international law will not help you because all the compensation is to the individual refugees.  There are no precedents where states get compensation.
1. You need to decide soon that you will offer all Palestinians citizenship wherever they are.

AA: This I think will be done.

CR: 2. Rehabilitation, relocation, help for families going forward.  I saw hints of this in both your positions.  [ZS notes that this is not a controversial issue.]
I think that when you say that all Palestinians are citizens, the Lebanese will relax that it will not impact their confessional balance.

SE: For the Lebanese, but for the Jordanians – they will need to decide not to allow dual citizenship.

CR: I think that they may.
For individuals who have lost property, they have a right to claim.  [With Germany, all they had to do was show up with a picture of the house and we allowed them to claim.]
Two things that are hard are:
4. non- material damages. There is no precedents anywhere else for this. It will be a hard sell. [ZS argued that no other place has 50 years of dispossession supported by consistent and extensive state actions. CR responded Albania, and US with respect to the Native Americans.]
5. responsibility.

AA: I accept what Yossi Belin said in his book.  [US: what’s that?] That it is Israel’s responsibility.

CR: If you want to talk about responsibility it is the responsibility of the international community, not Israel.  They created Israel.  [ZS argues that Israeli actions post-statehood are clearly their responsibility.  This is dismissed by CR.]

SE: It is a nation interrupted!

CR: That is true – a nation’s development is interrupted.  You should [look to a solution that describes the conditions and tries to work from there.] Responsibility is a loaded term.
[Notes the example of reparations for slavery in the US.] I’ve always objected to it. It’s not forward looking.  Would I personally be better off? I don’t know. But I do support affirmative action.  [ZS argues that this is the same point – it’s as if we are trying to restore Palestinians to a status, similar to the post-civil rights movement. Except unlike in the US, Palestinians options are far more limited as we are not talking about unlimited return to Israel, and there is 50 years of suffering. In other words many of the elements of “moving forward” (such as affirmative actions programs) are missing in the solution here.  Key, in order for Palestinians to be able to compromise on implementation points, is that there be a recognition of responsibility. This also is part and parcel of the non-material damages point.]
[Bad things happen to people all around the world all the time.  You need to look forward.]
The first compensation is a state [describes state].
Second is that the world and Israel accept that the Palestinians need help to get back on their feet.  [i.e. as evidenced by participation in the mechanism]
Israel had to put away some of their aspirations – like taking all of “Judea and Samaria”.

AA: Do you think that the Israelis can implement an agreement?

CR: Yes. No one will run right of Ariel Sharon.  But it needs to be sellable to the Israeli people, just like to the Palestinians.

DW: You said you don’t want to be blamed, like post-Camp David. That will not happen.  Failure is also not an option. But we need to have some irreversibility to this process.

CR: Israel needs to move on security.  You need to move on borders.
On the reference point – it will be easier if you nail that down.
On the refugee mechanism, we will come with ideas.
On the narrative – you need to move to try to imply responsibility without using that word/saying it directly.

29 July 2008: Minutes of Trilateral Israel/Palestinian/US meetings

There’s quite a bit of discussion of the refugee issue in this document, which summarize several bilateral and trilateral meetings. The minutes are rather fragmentary and often lack much nuance. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice identify where she thinks there is agreement in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to date, as part of an effort to pull together a joint summary and statement of principles:

Agreement will bring a solution that will end all claims.   The obligations of the parties will be defined in the agreement.  There will be an international mechanism that will assist in refugee issues. One goal is to help them find a permanent home, to end refugee status, and eventually end UNRWA.  Palestine, third states, brackets around Israel.

Saeb Erekat interjects, noting that Israel should be listed as the first destination for refugees. Rice continues:

It is important for the solution on compensation.  The possible criteria for distribution, etc.  A fixed Israeli contribution to the fund.

Erekat suggests the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property as a source of funds, but Rice thinks that it probably is now empty. Zeinah Salahi notes that it is important to access the Custodian’s property records. Rice continues:

The international mechanism will provide assistance to host states for their contributions to solving the refugee issues. I have to insist – not for the past. I’ve raised it with a few colleagues internationally. There can’t be a claim for the past saying that they are owed compensation.

Here she is appears to be about international opposition to compensating host country for the past costs of supporting refugees, emphasizing that international funding will require that this aspect of the fund be couched in forward-looking terms.

There will be an international fund to finance the activities of the mechanism. The international mechanism is the exclusive mechanism for addressing the refugee issue.

Erekat emphasizes the importance of negotiating around actual texts, suggesting “What we need to do secretly is to continue what we started on the refugees, etc.  To make every effort to put things on paper.” Clearly with the Olmert government imploding and a new Administration on its way, the Palestinians want to pin down some positions.

Later, Tzipi Livni states that “For us it is critical to have a reference to two states for two nations. For the Palestinians, of course, no.” She also addresses other aspects of the issue:

Refugees – it is critical for Palestinians. For us, it is critical for the end of claims.
Issues to be agreed – Palestinian citizenship. We raised.
Recognition of responsibility (they say) of suffering (we say)
Return – I think that the answer is the Palestinian state.
End of conflict end of claims.  This is critical for us.  The moment it kicks in is still not agreed.

Rice once again summarizes where things appear to stand:

On refugees, Saeb and Tal have a reference paper.  You’ve asked us to do some work on the international mechanism. I want to tell you what I think that the international community should do.
We are proceeding on the basis that the agreement will include a comprehensive solution to the refugee issue.
The solution will include an end of claims.
The obligations of the parties [are wholly in the agreement].
There will be a mechanism
One task of the mechanism will be to help find a permanent home for the refugees
That a goal is to end the refugee status
And to end the need for UNRWA.

She is interrupted by Ahmed Querei (Abu Ala), who emphasizes refugee return to Israel. Rice responds, and a very long discussion ensues:

CR: I said third countries – there is a dispute if Israel is one of those third countries.
The mechanism is a way to find homes, to find compensation for refugees.  The criteria and timing [for awarding compensation], the international mechanism expects contributions from Israel.  It will furnish resettlement, integration and rehabilitation, it is not just compensation for land but also to find housing, etc.
We might provide support to states that have hosted refugees, so that states [can fund programs going forward, etc.].
When UNRWA goes away, someone will have to provide services.

[ZS notes that UNRWA would likely be an implementing partner because of its special role, access, etc.  CR clarifies her comment.]

CR: Yes, UNRWA has certain specialized capabilities and we may be able to use those.  But we agree that the international mechanism is the sole mechanism, but they may farm out their work [to other institutions to assist, etc.].

Tal Becker [TB]: I think [that you’ve mostly reflected our understanding. Our point is not to overload too much the bilateral agreement with issues that can be resolved in the mechanism].
CR: Palestinians need to agree that all Palestinians will have citizenship.

AA: The international mechanism will decide where they go?

CR: No – but the mechanism will [talk to potential host states, try to maximize the options available to refugees].

TB: There are a few points of disagreement in the draft.  If we start to outline the mechanism now, we will fight over the details.

CR: At some point you need to stop deferring issues. I went through the I’s and P’s.  Most are easy. There are two big issues.
First – will Palestinians return/go (as most of them won’t be returning at this point) to Israel. Is Israel an option? Second – the issue of responsibility. Everything else in that paper you should decide tomorrow. Or let the mechanism decide on those which seem the least controversial. Let’s get writing down what the international mechanism is to do.
Because at some point you are going to need to motivate the international community to support this.

TB: [Too much detail now will prevent us from getting a bilateral agreement because both sides will be disappointed with the mandate of the mechanism.]

CR: Disappointment is part of negotiations. You need to stop deferring.

SE: You specified two issues that need decisions.  [SE adds restitution as a decision. SE and ZS also note that it is the refugee that chooses, and not the mechanism. CR agrees and notes that the mechanism is just about the creation of choices.]

SE: [Notes that the resolution of the refugee issue needs to be matched with another – the issue of Jerusalem. If we make progress on security and refugees, the balance has to be Jerusalem and 1967.]

CR: [Clearly getting annoyed.] We are not going to get anywhere like this.  You (to Isr) don’t want to move on anything because you don’t want a fight.  You (to Pal) want them to move on issues that are important to you or to stop discussing the others. [On Jerusalem I am not asking you to solve the historic problem that the Haram and the Temple are in the same place.  No one will decide on this until they are absolutely sure that the outcome of negotiations and the resulting states are acceptable to all.] The refugee mechanism cannot possibly be so sensitive!

SE: There is restitution too!

CR: There are things that you are not going to get people to pay for.

AA: I am in favor of the international mechanism.  But is this like putting the cart in front of the horse?  There is a critical issue – unless we solve it, for what will the mechanism be responsible?  [Unless the mechanism is going to do it all and take responsibility away from us.]

CR: You all think that everything is the cart before the horse.   You need to start with some issues!

AA: [Notes that that does not translate into putting secondary issues before the principle ones.]

CR: The international mechanism… the international community – we all KNOW that there will be one.

TL: Even according to your understanding [i.e. all the sensitive issues are addressed in the way you want them to be addressed] the international mechanism is still there!  Even according to your ideas [about responsibility and return].
Without it… [it is important to resolve the issue for the refugees].
You feel that this is instead of something more important.  But you can say that this is NOT instead of.

SE: How can I do this if I don’t know if there is an option of Israel?

[SE/ZS make the point that the mechanism cannot resolve the political issues, and those must be resolved by the parties.  CR and TL agree.]

AA: [Asks why put the mechanism first?  Why not the substance of the issue first?]

CR: [Notes that work can be done on it while the parties are debating the political issues.]
You can work with the US on the technical aspects of the mechanism while you resolve the politics.

AA: [Notes that the mechanism should come from outside because it will help to secure contributions, etc.]

CR: We need to start to get a sense of what the international community will be asked to do.  [I.e. find money, find third parties who will help with implementation…]

[Discussion of internal Palestinian sensitivities.]

TL: [Notes some of the politically sensitive issues.]  Tradeoffs between issues are not about the whole issues.  On refugees, responsibility and the right of return (as Palestinians call it, or the claim of return as I call it)…

AA: Anything that we agree, the international community will implement.

CR: Don’t take it for granted.

TL: The international mechanism is not a tradeoff issue.  It helps the refugees, it helps us to know that there will be a resolution…

AA: It is sensitive to start with it.

TL: But we didn’t start with it!

[Discussion regarding the secrecy of the discussions.]

SE: If we discussed Jerusalem, that would be secret too.

CR: Are you saying that we should stop work on the international mechanism?

AA: No.

CR: So we’ll keep working on it.  [She notes that if someone asks, she will make a general statement about helping the parties on some issues.]

AA: Work on it in a different place than the [bilateral] negotiations.

CR: We’ll work on it from Jonathan’s office.  The US will do it on our own. JS may on behalf of the US, consult the parties.  I’ll say it carefully now – the US has undertaken – we can bring it back to the negotiations later – to design an international mechanism that could support an agreement on the refugees, on its own behalf, and can consult the parties. And later, it will come back to the negotiations.  We can move it offshore.

SE: I don’t want any bridging proposal [looking at TL].

CR: [Agitated.]  If you are talking to me – talk to me!

[Long discussion where the proposals are repeated and debated many times.  Resolution is that JS, in consultation with the parties, will work on the issue of the mechanism.]

There’s an awful lot that could be commented on from this—most notably  that by July 2008 really core refugees issue had yet to be agreed. It is also interesting to hear the US side highlighting the limits of international generosity on compensation and implementation issues, which suggest that the constant messages on this from the Europeans and others had finally begun to reverberate.

31 August 2008: Palestinian summary of Ehud Olmert’s “Package” Offer to Mahmoud Abbas

I’ve already commented on this on the PRRN blog, but it is worth summarizing the refugee component of Olmert’s offer of August 2008, which the Palestinian side did not accept:

  • The preamble will state that the agreement represents the implementation of UNSC Res. 242 and 338, as well as fulfillment of the API (no mention of UNGA Res. 194).


  • Israel would acknowledge the suffering of – but not responsibility for – Palestinian refugees (language is in the preamble). In parallel, there must also be a mention of Israeli (or Jewish) suffering.
  • Israel would take in 1,000 refugees per year for a period of 5 years on “humanitarian” grounds. In addition, programs of “family reunification” would continue.
  • Israel would contribute to the compensation of the refugees through the mechanism and based on suffering.
  • Not clear what the heads of damage for compensation would be, just that there would be no acknowledgement of responsibility for the refugees, and that compensation, and not restitution or return (apart from the 5,000), would be the only remedy.

The Netanyahu/Obama Era

24 March 2009: Meeting Minutes, Mahmoud Abbas and NSU staff

Meeting with NSU staff, the Palestinian president stresses the important of the Arab Peace Initiative as an Arab consensus position:

The API represents close to a universal consensus. The whole world is talking about it. Even some in Israel speak positively about it. The focus should be on explaining it, as many don’t understand it fully, for example that it includes not only Arab states, but the Islamic ones as well. Also, many people either understate or exaggerate the article on refugees: either say it is not enough, or interpret it to mean that 5 million refugees will return. Neither is correct. The language is correct in stating “just and agreed upon.” Therefore I recommend that you focus on the API. It is being raised by Obama, Kerry, the British, French, even Peres. You need to explain it to all audiences. It has been translated and published in many languages. So it is important to clarify it to the whole world, so that when negotiations are resumed it will be the basis.

Asked by NSU staff about the previous position, Abbas responds:

On refugees, we said some but not all would return to what is now Israel. All refugees can get Palestinian citizenship (all 5 million) if they want to (for example Palestinian refugees in Jordan may not want to while for refugees in Lebanon there is a need). With that Palestinian refugees will no longer be stateless but rather foreigners.

He makes it clear that the PA/PLO would like a referendum on a final peace deal that includes the Palestinian diaspora, and emphasizes that the Palestinians rejected Olmert’s offer of only 5,000 refugee returning to Israel as inadequate:

The referendum would be on the whole agreement. Given that the issues relate to all Palestinians, not only those in the West Bank and Gaza, it should be for all Palestinians. On numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million, or indeed 1 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, which should come from the Absentee Property fund. We would like you to follow up and ask about this fund and get as much information as possible. And there needs to be compensation to host countries.

Finally, he asked by one Israeli-Palestinian staff member whether Palestinians in Israel would be eligible for Palestinian citizenship. He replies that they would not:

I understand why you ask this. I am a refugee from Safad. The answer, strategically, is no. You should stay where you, protect your rights are and preserve your community. You don’t need a passport to prove that you are a Palestinian. In 1948 Palestinians in Israel were 138,000 and now above a million. That homeland is your homeland. You must remain there and this does not detract whatsoever from the fact that you are Arabs and Palestinians. We do not want you to participate in any intifadas though. Raise two banners. Equality and an independent state for your brothers in the occupied territory.


2 June 2009: Meeting Minutes, Saeb Erekat and NSU staff

Among other issues, Erekat briefly discusses aspects of previous discussions with the Olmert government. He suggests that Abbas would like to be able to put forward a credible number on possible refugee returns to Israel (“AM said we need a credible number, not 5 million but not 1,000”), echoing the point that Abbas himself made to NSU staff in March.

Asked by NSU to staff to clarify the numbers that Olmert had suggested in 2008, he replies “Olmert said 1,000 refugees over 10 years. Abu Mazen said ‘are you joking.'” (I strongly suspect the minutes are incorrect here and that he actually said, or meant to say, 1,000 refugees per year over 10 years, which appears to have been the last offer Olmert made before losing office.)

Erekat is then asked whether Olmert offered this under the symbolic umbrella of the right of return or the less meaningful rubric of “family reunification.” He replies, “I don’t know. But, if that is being reported, it’s good to say that Olmert agreed to the principle of Right of Return.” It is a rather important difference from the Palestinian side, and Erekat ought to have been more clear on this, and the NSU ought to have already known. On the other hand, he is dealing with a relatively new NSU staffers on the refugee issue, one of whom just joined the unit in May.

The NSU staff also express concern that Abbas’ offhand reference to 5 million refugees doesn’t exactly fit with the somewhat larger numbers they use, and express some concern that Palestinian officials are speaking on the issue without appropriate guidance.


16 June 2009: Meeting Minutes, Saeb Erekat and NSU staff

In a wide-ranging discussion of the peace process, one participant asks Saeb Erekat how a recent speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s on the peace process differs from that of previous israeli governments. Erekat replies that there are indeed differences:

Olmert accepted 1000 refugees annually for the next 10 years; ‘67 borders and 100% of the WB and Gaza; East Jerusalem as our capital – what is Arab is Arab, what is Jewish is Jewish – the Jordan Valley; the Dead Sea.

This is being spun by the Guardian as the PLO having accepted the number of 10,000. However, such a reading is not only inconsistent with the rest of the papers (which repeatedly note Palestinian rejection of Olmert’s offer on refugees), but also fails to recognize that Erekat is simply highlighting where Olmert’s position was more flexible than Netanyahu’s. There is no evidence at all that the Palestinian side ever accepted only 10,000 returns.

On the contrary, press reporting suggests that in other documents, Erekat proposed 10,000 refugee returns per year for 10 years—a total of 100,000 returns. Oddly, this document (possibly from the 21 October 2009 meeting between Erekat and David Hale) isn’t currently on either the Guardian or al-Jazeera website. The number of 100,000 would be similar to the “six figures” that some Palestinian negotiators were given as their internal guideline during the Taba negotiations in 2001.

* * *

There’s sure to be more to come as more papers become available, and we’ll try to keep on top of analyzing them.

  1. Mike Molloy says:

    Rex: I was planning to do this myself to day so thanks for all the most useful work.


  2. Mike Molloy says:

    Rex: I keep comng accross sections which sound like you commenting on the dialogue but I’m not always sure. It is usefu but it labeling it as a comment would be helpful if that is what it is.

    Going back to the original documents have you been able to figure out what the yellow colored zones in the “Napkin Map” of Jerusalem are?


  3. Rex Brynen says:

    All the original text is blockquoted (light grey, indented, and with those giant quote marks), or otherwise in quotation marks.

    My comments aren’t blockquoted and/or in quote marks.

    There are some in-text comments by the original notetakers [usually in square brackets like this], which may be confusing you. If in doubt, click the link to the original document to be sure.

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