Last month, Fateh Azzam (Director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University in Beirut, and Senior Policy Fellow at AUB’s Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy) authored a piece on the al-Shabaka Palestinian policy website proposing that the State of Palestine grant all Palestinian refugees citizenship.
What is proposed here is that the State of Palestine can begin conferring citizenship, in accordance with the Declaration of Independence, and in exercise of its sovereign right to do so as a state, albeit still under occupation and even though its citizens are unable yet to exercise their right to return to their homeland. Importantly, this would be the first act by the State of Palestine to give priority to its hitherto almost-forgotten constituency, the stateless refugees. There are of course benefits and risks….
Jadaliyya has now reproduced that piece, invited critical comments from others, and posted it all as a roundtable discussion.
In this roundtable, Al-Shabaka policy advisors debate the pros and cons of this proposal, and find more problems than solutions. Randa Farah, who has done extensive work on Palestinian refugees, warns against de-linking the law from the messy reality of power and politics and describes the ways Israel can use this proposal, including in its persistent campaign to dismantle the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Ingrid Jaradat, co-founder and former director of Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, notes that the legal tools and mechanisms already exist to give Palestinian refugees rights almost equal to those of the citizens in the countries of refuge, and argues that a citizenship law will undermine the international status of Palestinians as one people.
Amman-based international lawyer Anis Kassim, recalling the history of the Palestinians in Jordan and the problems they face today, fears that the idea may play into the hands of a government interested in divesting its Palestinian-origin citizens of their Jordanian nationality. Writer and analyst Mouin Rabbani believes that creative thinking is sorely needed to shake up the political dynamic but also notes that the narrow factional state of the Palestinian movement will preclude any action. Political commentator, author, and playwright Samah Sabawi notes that the Palestinian passport is ranked the 5th worst in the world in terms of visa restrictions and wonders what authority the ailing leadership can wield. Jaber Suleiman, the Coordinator of the Centre for Refugee Rights/Aidoun in Lebanon, points out that the Palestinians never lost their original citizenship and expresses concern that while the current proposal might not weaken the individual right to choose to return, it would weaken the collective right of return. Fateh Azzam offers a response to the points made in the discussion.
For another perspective on this issue, see also the article by Asem Khalil (Birzeit University) in Middle East Law and Governance 6 (2014), asking “Is Citizenship a Solution to the Palestinian Refugee Problem?”