Archive for the ‘Palestine papers’ Category

“Palestine Papers” leaker

Posted: May 15, 2011 by Rex Brynen in Palestine papers

No surprises here (indeed, we hinted at it months ago on the blog): ex-NSU staffer Ziyad Clot has outed himself in The Guardian as one of the persons who leaked Palestinian negotiating documents to al-Jazeera:

My name has been circulated as one of the possible sources of these leaks. I would like to clarify here the extent of my involvement in these revelations and explain my motives. I have always acted in the best interest of the Palestinian people, in its entirety, and to the full extent of my capacity.

My own experience with the “peace process” started in Ramallah, in January 2008, after I was recruited as an adviser for the negotiation support unit (NSU) of the PLO, specifically in charge of the Palestinian refugee file. That was a few weeks after a goal had been set at theAnnapolis conference: the creation of the Palestinian state by the end of 2008. Only 11 months into my job, in November of that year, I resigned. By December 2008, instead of the establishment of a state in Palestine, I witnessed on TV the killing of more than 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli army.

My strong motives for leaving my position with the NSU and my assessment of the “peace process” were clearly detailed to Palestinian negotiators in my resignation letter dated of 9th November 2008.

The “peace negotiations” were a deceptive farce whereby biased terms were unilaterally imposed by Israel and systematically endorsed by the US and EU. Far from enabling a negotiated and fair end to the conflict, the pursuit of the Oslo process deepened Israeli segregationist policies and justified the tightening of the security control imposed on the Palestinian population, as well as its geographical fragmentation. Far from preserving the land on which to build a state, it has tolerated the intensification of the colonisation of the Palestinian territory. Far from maintaining a national cohesion, the process I participated in, albeit briefly, was instrumental in creating and aggravating divisions among Palestinians. In its most recent developments, it became a cruel enterprise from which the Palestinians of Gaza have suffered the most. Last but not least, these negotiations excluded for the most part the great majority of the Palestinian people: the seven million Palestinian refugees. My experience over those 11 months in Ramallah confirmed that the PLO, given its structure, was not in a position to represent all Palestinian rights and interests.

In full conscience, and acting independently, I later agreed to share some information with al-Jazeera specifically with regard to the fate of Palestinian refugee rights in the 2008 talks. Other sources did the same, although I am unaware of their identity. Taking these tragic developments of the “peace process” to a wider Arab and western audience was justified because it was in the public interest of the Palestinian people. I had – and still have – no doubt that I had a moral, legal and political obligation to proceed accordingly.

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research has just released the results of its latest public opinion survey, conducted 17-19 March. Among the questions are several that examine the effect of al-Jazeera’s “Palestine papers” leak of NSU negotiating documents:

  • 78% say they have seen or heard, on al Jazeera or other media outlets, about leaked documents published by al Jazeera news TV channel.
  • 79% believe in the truthfulness of all or some of what has been published by al Jazeera regarding concessions made by Palestinian negotiators and 19% do not believe any of it.
  • About half (49%) believes that the Palestinian negotiating position, as revealed by al Jazeera, was not committed to vital Palestinian goals and interests and 44% believe it has been committed to vital goals and interests.
  • A majority of 59% believes that the goal of al Jazeera in publishing the leaked documents was to uncover the truth, but 36% believe the aim was to conspire against the Palestinian leadership.
  • A majority of 62% believes that the PA response to al Jazeera leaks of the negotiations’ documents was not convincing and 33% believe it was convincing.

PSR suggests that this has negatively affected the popularity of Fateh and the PA:

…the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leadership were negatively affected by al Jazeera leaks as findings show a decrease in support for Fateh and a similar decrease in the level of satisfaction with the performance of president Mahmud Abbas. Several factors led to this outcome: al Jazeera remains the most watched TV news station in the Palestinian areas and the most credible one. While the PA leadership in the West Bank defended itself by accusing al Jazeera of conspiring against it, a large majority of Palestinians believed that al Jazeera goal was to seek the truth and not to conspire against the PA. Moreover, in responding to the leaks, the PA’s case remained unconvincing in the eyes of a large majority of Palestinians. Above all else, and based on the leaks, half of the public concluded that the PA’s negotiating position was not committed to the vital goals and interests of the Palestinian people.

By contrast, the events in the Arab World and particularly the youth demonstrations seem to pose a threat to Hamas in the Gaza Strip rather than to Fateh in the West Bank. For example, findings show that two thirds of Gazans believe that there is a need for demonstrations in the Gaza Strip demanding regime change in the Strip. More seriously for Hamas, half of Gazans indicate that they might participate in such demonstrations. In the West Bank, the picture is different: only one third believes there is a need to demonstrate and demand West Bank regime change and only one quarter indicate willingness to participate in such demonstrations.

PSR hasn’t yet published the full data for the survey (#39)—I’ll update this blog post when they do. However, data elsewhere in their press release suggests that the political impact of the “Palestine papers” is actually quite small: a 4% drop in Fateh popularity (with no corresponding increase in Hamas support), and virtually no effect at all on Abbas’ share of the vote in hypothetical presidential elections.

The PSR findings differ somewhat from data presented by Near East Consulting back in January, which suggested that 68% of Palestinians didn’t believe the al-Jazeera leaks. It isn’t clear whether the variation is due to differences in sampling time (January versus March) or quality, but I’m inclined to put greater weight on the PSR results.

“Palestine Papers”: the casualties

Posted: February 17, 2011 by Rex Brynen in Palestine papers, peace process

As many PRRN blog readers will know by now, the leak of the so-called “Palestine Papers” to al-Jazeera claimed a couple of major casualties this past week.

The first was chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who resigned from his position on February 12. It isn’t entirely clear the extent to which he was pushed, fed up, weakened to the point of ineffectiveness, or simply trying to put the best face on a difficult situation. It must be said, however, that his stated justification for resigning was quite classy. According to the Washington Post:

Erekat, whom al-Jazeera commentators accused of selling out to Israel and who is battling to preserve his reputation at home, said in an interview in his Jericho office that by stepping down, he wanted to set an example of accountability.

“When the most complicated, deep breach that ever happened in Palestinian national security history happened in my office, people expect me to go on with business as usual?” he said. “I’m making myself pay the price for the mistake I committed, my negligence. These are the ethics and the standards. Palestinian officials need to start putting them in their minds.”

Erekat said the documents had been unlawfully obtained from the laptop computer of an employee in the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Affairs Department, which Erekat led. After a Palestinian investigative committee determined that the material was stolen from his office, Erekat said, he promptly stepped down. He said he was pressing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has still not responded, to accept the resignation.

Of course, in Palestinian politics it ain’t over til it’s over (and even then, it sometimes still isn’t over), so Erekat may well resurface in future negotiations.

The second casualty of the affair was the Negotiations Support Unit of the PLO, which Mahmoud Abbas has decided to disband:

The NSU was set up in 1999 to give legal, communications and policy advice to Palestinian negotiators, and was partially funded by a number of European countries.

It has a 25-strong staff and came under scrutiny following al Jazeera’s publication of the so-called Palestine Papers. Palestinian intelligence staff questioned the employees and determined that three of them had been behind the leak.

The trio were believed to have left the West Bank.

Since established in 1999, the NSU has played an important role in providing Palestinian negotiators with analytical and other support during the various rounds of peace negotiations. It has featured some very impressive staff too, both Palestinian and non-Palestinian.

Interestingly, however, the Palestine Papers also suggest the degree to which the NSU’s work was often framed in terms of optimal outcomes, rather than practical advice on negotiation approaches and possible trade-offs. On the refugee issue, for example, much of the leaked NSU analytical work was intended to underpin Palestinian claims for such things as refugee compensation (to the tune of $263 billion) or for refugee return (suggesting that Israel could absorb 2 million refugees). It included very little detailed analysis of alternative fall-back or compromise positions, or of the flexibility, vulnerabilities, or optimal mechanisms for changing the Israeli position. Similarly, the leaked work that the NSU did on refugee implementation mechanisms appears to have presented a single desired Palestinian model, rather than a detailed menu of options.

This is not to say that the work that was done is unimportant. It is certainly useful in helping to define Palestinian demands, and can play some role in buttressing those demands in negotiations by demonstrating (to Israel and the US) that they rest of a real factual and analytical base. On the other hand, showing that Palestinian refugee losses total $263 billion (depending in large part how you convert them to contemporary value) may get you precisely nowhere at the negotiating table with Israelis. What is needed is a clearly articulated set of strategic options, complete with possible advantages and disadvantages, for getting from the $3 billion or so that Israel has been willing to consider in the past to a much larger number. It may also require some analysis of internal negotiating dynamics, political constraints, and other factors shaping the positions of Israeli negotiators. There seems to have been little or no formal “red teaming” of Israeli negotiating tactics and positions by the NSU, although that can be a very useful mechanism anticipating and countering an opponent’s approaches and posture.

Of course, some of this may well be in the 90% or so of the NSU and other negotiator documents that weren’t leaked to al-Jazeera. It is also the case that even well-established states didn’t necessarily undertake such work in an effective and systematic manner. Certainly, the preparation work on the refugee issue undertaken by Israel, the US, the EU, or Jordan on the refugee issue has always seemed much less detailed and sophisticated than anything undertaken on this issue by the Palestinian side.

For now it doesn’t really matter—given the remarkable events currently underway elsewhere in the Arab world, and the hardline position of the Netanyahu government, it is hard to imagine that we’ll get to serious Israeli-Palestinian permanent status negotiations any time soon. If and when we do, however, it might well be that more systematic strategic and tactical negotiations planning would be of use.

The disbanding of the NSU, combined with what may be a long hiatus in serious negotiations, also raises another issue: institutional memory. Simply put, governments and organizations have a quite remarkable tendency to sometimes forget what they once knew. Staff rotate or leave. Documents get lost in files. Issues have to be relearned all over again. The existence of the NSU provided a greater degree of Palestinian institutional memory (especially on detailed, technical issues) than would have otherwise been the case. Will that now gradually degrade?

As to the broader significance of the Palestine Papers, I’ve previously suggested that they largely confirmed what was generally understood by most observers of the peace process. As (former NSU staffer) Khaled Elgindy put it:

As someone who was involved in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations for many years, including in the development of many of the documents now in question, I have been particularly struck by the extent and tone of the outrage surrounding the leaked documents. For those Palestinians and other Arabs who actively oppose a two-state solution, I can understand and appreciate their outrage over some of the “unprecedented concessions” contained in these documents.

On the other hand, for those who understand the basic requirements of a two state-solution-an outcome most Palestinians and other Arabs still say they favor, even as they remain highly doubtful of the other side’s intentions and the ability of their own leaders to achieve it-there hardly seems cause for surprise, at least as relates to the concessions on permanent status issues – if not on other matters.

While one may oppose specific decisions or positions adopted by the Palestinian leadership-something my former colleagues and I did often, sometimes successfully and other times less so-the sort of shock and horror now circulating throughout much of the Arabic-language media and in the blogosphere, much of it engineered by over-hyped and highly sensationalized reporting, seems largely misplaced. Indeed, the very notion of a negotiated settlement based on two states, when undertaken in seriousness and in good faith, requires that both sides make “unprecedented concessions.” What is so shocking is that the record now shows everyone that only Palestinians were willing to do so.

You’ll find further debate on the significance of all this in a very thoughtful panel discussion (featuring Elgindy, Noura Erekat, and Mark Perry) held last month at the Palestine Center.

OK, so we’ve been a bit busy at PRRN following the news from Egypt these past two weeks, and haven’t had much chance to continue our tour of refugee references in the leaked Palestine Papers. However, for those of you who have been waiting, here’s another tranche:


3 May 2008: NSU Memo Re: Two States for Two Peoples

  • A NSU memo (including edits) to Saeb Erekat highlighting problems with the formulation of “Two states for two peoples.”
  • The memo argues “reference to the right of the two peoples to self-determination in two states may have an adverse impact on refugee rights, namely the right of return, as it suggests that the Palestinian refugees will only be able to exercise their right of return in conjunction with their right to self determination. Further, a recognition of the principle of two states for two peoples as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict confirms that the PLO no longer envisages Palestinian self-determination within the territory of the state of Israel. Accordingly, the implementation of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees is likely to be realized only in the context of the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. This risk is exaggerated in light of the Israeli refusal to recognize responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem or the right of return for Palestinian refugees as an individual legal right.”


5 May 2008: Salam Fayyad Speech to Israelis on 60th Anniversary of Israel

  • Incomplete draft of speech, with most refugee references missing.


6 May 2008: NSU Email Re: Office of President Morning Meeting Summary

  • NSU staff discuss the need for President Abbas to “make something extra ordinary during that [Nakba] day, especially in form of interacting with people- refugees.”


7 May 2008: NSU E-mail Re: “Absorption Capacity” for Refugees

  • A summary of a demographic report prepared for the NSU on Israel’s ability to absorb returning Palestinian refugees. It suggests two feasible scenarios: 41,000 returnees per year (based on past rates of Jewish immigration), or an overall total of 2 million returnees.


8 May 2008: Palestinian Talking Points Re: Refugees since Nakba

  • A summary of the main Palestinian positions on various aspects of the refugee issue.


8 May 2008: Salam Fayyad Speech on Nakba 60th Anniversary

  • Text of a speech to be delivered by PM Salam Fayyad to PLO and PNC members on May 13 in Ramallah.


11 May 2008: Draft of Annapolis Joint Document on Refugees (#1)

  • Original date not clear.
  • First draft of a joint Israeli-Palestinian statement on refugees developed in preparation for the start of the Annapolis negotiations. The draft highlights Israeli [I] and Palestinian [P] positions.
  • Other later, more detailed drafts and subsequent commentary on drafts are available here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


20 May 2008: NSU Letter to Saeb Bamya of AIX Group

  • A letter from the NSU to Saeb Bamya expresses concern that a 2007 Aix Group report on the economics of the refugee issue “have the potential of undermining the PLO position and/or Palestinian interests in an agreed solution.”


22 May 2008: NSU E-mail Re: Draft Provisions

  • Internal NSU discussion of efforts to continue drafting of earlier joint language on the refugee issue developed up to February 2008.


23 May 2008: Matrix of Palestinian – Israeli Positions – May 2008

  • Summary of major positions held by each side, including on the refugee issue.


FOFOGNET makes the “Palestine Papers”

Posted: January 28, 2011 by Rex Brynen in Palestine papers

Palestine Refugee ResearchNet’s FOFOGNET email list is indeed gratified to have made al-Jazeera’s leaked “Palestine Papers.” We’re especially gratified that our role in spreading awkward information at inconvenient times was recognized by the NSU, which is quoted as commenting:

At this point, there is a growing risk that the PLO will have to face harsh criticism from refugee communities, Palestinian civil society…: the article was on the Fofognet distribution list so it is very likely that some reactions will follow soon.

The leaker is a FOFOGNET subscriber—there’s been much speculation about that—feel free to contact us for a free PRRN t-shirt as your prize!

You’ll find below the major “Palestine Papers” documents on the refugee issue from January through to April 2008. There is quite a bit of there of interest (most notably the NSU’s identification of a $300 billion claim for refugee compensation).


2 February 2008: Terms of Reference: Israel’s Ability to Compensate Palestinian Refugees

  • ToRs for an NSU consultant to examine Israel’s capacity to pay for refugee and other compensation. It indicates that a previous study estimated Palestinian property losses in 1948 at $200 billion.


11 February 2008: Blueprint For An International Mechanism to Administer the Solution for the Palestinian Refugees

  • NSU presentation on the structure and consideration for an international mechanism for implementing a refugee agreement (rehabilitation, resettlement, and claims).


14 February 2008: Palestinian Presentation to Bernard Kouchner on Refugees

  • A very brief Powerpoint prepared for French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Emphasis (among other things) “A pragmatic solution: distinguishing between the recognition and implementation of refugee rights.” The verbal script for the presentation is also available. A subsequent internal NSU member summarizes the meeting (my favourite part: “Maen suggested that the Brits have a major responsibility in the creation of the issue. The French loved it.”)

26 February 2008: Meeting Notes: NSU and Saeb Erekat

  • Only briefly mentions refugees, but comments by Saeb Erekat makes it clear that the Palestinian side was willing to consider a capped approach to refugees from the outset of the Annapolis negotiations (X refugees over Y years).


26 February 2008: Meeting Summary: NSU and Peter McRae

  • Summarizes meeting with Canadian diplomat Peter McRae regarding Canadian engagement and policy research on the issue.


12 March 2008: PLO Response to Comments by Jordan on One-Pagers

  • The Palestinian response to Jordanian comments on various Palestinian negotiating positions, including refugees. Earlier internal NSU correspondence on the issue (March 9)is also available.
  • A Jordanian reply to this (and more here) was later received on 30 March, further refining the Jordanian position.


16 March 2008: NSU Outline of Refugees Issues

NSU outline of the key elements of the refugee issue and their linkages:

Basic outline of refugee issues

[Note: The right of return is not represented as a separate decidable issue because the principle of return and its implementation is dealt with within other overarching issues.]

Sharing Data and Maps

Numbers of displaced Palestinians

Maps of 1967 border areas / final agreed border (linkage: territory)

Maps of Israel for restitution purposes

Negotiation Guidelines

Application of international laws, including UNGAR 194, to refugee talks

Comprehensive solution on refugees as basis for end of conflict (i.e., end of refugee problem) (linkage: all files: need consensus on what marks end of conflict)

Definition: which Palestinians will be covered by the agreement on refugees?

Destination Options for Refugees

List of return and resettlement locations to be offered to refugees (i.e., repatriation to Israel, return and resettlement to the Palestinian state, local integration in host states, or third country relocation per refugee choice)

Modalities of return to Israel

Annual quota and time frame for repatriation

[Status of returnees to Israel (linkage: settlements)]

Will swapped land be included in the list?

If so, how will the additional territorial swaps be determined? (linkage: territory/settlements/Jerusalem)


Acknowledgement of Israeli responsibility/apology (linkage: culture of peace)

Recognition of the right of return, the right to restitution and compensation

Modalities for implementing restitution (linkage: territory/settlements/Jerusalem)

Heads of damages for material and non-material compensation (linkage: compensation for occupation; state-to-state)

What types of property losses should be restituted and/or compensated?

What non-material damages will be compensated? (i.e., pain and suffering and loss of chances due to protracted displacement)

Compensation modalities for material and non-material claims (i.e., how will losses be calculated and distributed)

Eligibility of IDPs in Israel and OPTs for reparations and/or other victims of the occupation

Implementation Mechanism (linkage: compensation for occupation, transitional arrangements, legal)

Creation of dedicated international mechanism to implement agreement on refugees

Blueprint for mechanism, including return, resettlement and rehabilitation program and a claims program for property and non-material damages claims

Contributions to fund for the two programs

Israel’s financial contribution

Third states contributions

Depository for contributions

Schedule of payments

Substantive Assumptions


Past talks and proposals (e.g., Geneva Initiative and Clinton Parameters) will form the backdrop to the talks

Palestinian objective on refugees is to agree a comprehensive solution addressing all aspects of the refugee problem in order to reach end of conflict

Palestinian positions continue to be based on international law, including UNGAR 194


The shared interest is in resolving the refugee problem in its entirety, as Israel will insist on an end of claims clause as part of the agreement. This means that the maximum number of displaced persons should be addressed by the agreement.

UNRWA definition is not exhaustive and should not serve as the basis of the definition

The definition requires expert guidance to deal with the technical nature of the question.

Destination options

The right of return is in essence a right of choice. The Palestinian refugees expect an agreement to honor their right to choose whether to return to their original country or resettle elsewhere. The protracted nature of their exile, combined with Israel’s opposition to return, necessitates that the refugees be presented with as many options as possible.

The primary modality of return has been formulated already through the FAPS. (The underlying assumption is that the refugee issue will be resolved within the context of two separate states. If this assumption is opened up for discussion, for instance, if the issue of residency and dual citizenship options are discussed, then linkages arise with the territory/settlements and security files)

Return should be implemented with the participation of the international community through the international mechanism (linkage: transitional arrangements, state-to-state)

Host states and third countries (e.g., Canada) will be consulted and will agree to absorb refugees

Israel will allow a least some refugees to repatriate (linkage: settlements)

The Palestinian state will have the right to control movement over its borders, including total discretion over repatriating and resettling refugees. (linkage: territory/borders, security)

Compensation payments made by Israel to the Palestinian state may be used for developmental purposes, including rehabilitating refugees.(linkage: compensation for occupation – post-agreement to compensate)

The Palestinian state absorption capacity will be significantly impacted by the nature of the state. (linkage: water, environment, state-to-state, territory, compensation for occupation)


Israeli acknowledgement is a form of reparation that will be necessary to reach closure and secure by-in to an agreement. (linkage: culture of peace)

It is preferred if the acknowledgement include an explicit recognition of the right of return; the alternative will be an implicit recognition and allowing refugees to the choice where to live.

Reparations will be made to individuals

Restitution may be pursued separate from return (linkage: territory/Jerusalem, state-to-state)

The Palestinian state may claim for reparations as a result of the loss of public property in Israel (linkage: state-to-state, other-?)

Reparations should be maximized particularly if return is to be curtailed. This entails non-material damages and the full scope of property losses:

Real Estate


Loss of Livelihood


Financial Assets

Implementation Mechanism

The mechanism, once established, may be an appropriate avenue to address claims of IDPs in Israel, the OPT, or other human rights claims stemming from the occupation (linkage: compensation for occupation)


18 March 2008: Talking Points for Conference on Palestinian Refugees in Iraq

  • Talking points for Saeb Erekat for a conference at al-Quds University.


19 March 2008: Note on Refugee Calculation

  • This appears to be an NSU note on how any framework or outline agreement might address the issue of refugee returns:

Recommendation: Only specify the formula by which an agreed solution will be achieved in the Treaty.

  • This approach is obviously the best political strategic option for the Palestinians, as it does not require relinquishing the option of return for millions of Palestinians, but it is also the most practical approach.
  • The number of returnees to Israel is a question of detail that belongs in a comprehensive peace agreement. The numbers are not a matter of principle but application of the principles.
  • Moreover, the number of returnees to Israel should only be decided in the context of a comprehensive, multi-lateral solution on refugees laying out the full menu of destination options for the refugees so as to ensure that all refugees are offered a solution to their situation (it is unreasonable to assume that all will be able to be resettled in the Palestinian state).
  • At this point, all that is required is a formulation setting out the principle of implementation that any return to Israel will be phased over time and determined in agreement with each side.

Alternative: Specify the numbers according to a methodology that better conforms to Palestinian interests and needs

  • Such an approach may be based on Israel’s actual absorption capacity. Israel’s maximum absorption capacity based on past immigrant absorption is at least 60,927 per year (average number of immigrants over 20 year period).
  • Viewed another way, Israel’s past absorption practice indicates that they have the capacity to settle 1,016,511 million persons over a 10 year period (from 1990-2000).
  • This methodology can be developed and rationalized further upon instructions.

16 March 2008: Talking Points for Meeting with Tal Becker Re: Recognition of Refugees’ Rights

  • Talking points for Saeb Erekat – Tal Becker meeting that outlines decidable issues relevant to recognition of refugees’ rights.

The relevant decidable issues are as follows:

1. Reparations

– Acknowledgment of Israel responsibility/apology

– Recognition of refugee’s rights: the right of return, the right to restitution and compensation

  • Palestinian and Israeli leaderships have a common interest in resolving the refugee issue in a just and reasonable manner because:
  • They agree that they will be no peace without a just resolution of the refugee issue which has been standing at the heart of conflict since 1948;
  • It is their common interest to reach a satisfactory closure of the matter: since individual rights are at stake (rather than the national rights of the future Palestinian State), the risk of future potential (thousands, perhaps millions) law suits filed by unsatisfied refugees against Israel and/or Palestine cannot be overlooked;
  • Both States have a right to peace and security and the satisfaction of refugees is crucial in this regard. This advocates for the establishment of a comprehensive resolution of the refugee issue which would facilitate their rehabilitation and empowerment after years of suffering.
  • Thus, a just resolution of the refugee issue can provide Israel and the future Palestinian State with a historic opportunity to achieve a “true” peace for two reasons:
  • By recognizing the injustice caused to refugees (which constitutes today the majority of the Palestinian population), Israel would be in position to ask for refugees’ forgiveness and put an end to  the corresponding Arab resentment;
  • Since the refugee issue has also become over the years a regional matter involving in particular Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, it also provides Israel with the historic chance to normalize its relations with other Arab countries (i.e. Arab peace initiative).
  • On the other hand, if refugees’ rights are not duly recognized, and if the adequate legal remedies are not provided to them, the refugee issue may lead to the failure of the whole process. Ultimately, it is the risk of destabilizing already fragile and hopeless refugee camps which is at stake (both in the West Bank and Gaza, and in the neighboring countries) which is here at stake. In fact, refugees will be the ultimate judges of the fairness of the agreement, since the options agreed upon by both parties will be submitted to their choice. Also, Arab host states will only accept to collaborate and regularize the situation of refugees currently present within their borders if Israel endorses its share of responsibility in the matter and show a sincere commitment and efforts to its just resolution.
  • Israelis and Palestinians also have respective objectives and concerns:
  • Israel is concerned with its Jewish identity and demographics. Since 60 years, it has also been pursuing a normalization of its relations with the surrounding Arab state. Israel’s recognition and acceptance as a legitimate state by Arab surrounding countries has been a continuous objective over the years.
  • The PLO will pursue the recognition of all refugees’ rights and their satisfaction with particular care, especially since these are individual rights. The Palestinian leadership is however ready to negotiate their implementation in order to accommodate to the two-state solution. The resettlement of some refugees to the Palestinian State will greatly depend on its future resources, borders etc. Such option can therefore only be considered as one amongst others.

Following the discussion held by the Plenary Committee on Tuesday, 24 March, and in consideration of past talks on the issue, it appears that two obstacles may have to be overcome at this early stage:

  • Practically, if Israel only accept a limited number of returns, this is very likely to cause profound dissatisfaction/resentment amongst refugee communities. It is therefore crucial that this number remain substantial in order to respect the choice of the {limited number of} refugees who may want to come back to Israel. Additionally, in order to secure the success of the process, the negotiators should ensure that all other options are appealing to refugees and that the recognition of Israel’s responsibility/right of return is strongly affirmed to convince refugees of Israel’s sincerity in the acknowledgement of their rights, history and suffering.
  • At first sight, Israel’s narrative of 1947-1948 seems difficult to reconcile with the Palestinian “Nakba”:
    • Apparently, there is a perception among Israelis that acknowledging the truth regarding events which took place in 1947-48 and the Palestinian right of return will de-legitimize their state.
      • The Palestinian leadership believes the opposite since it is convinced that recognizing its own mistakes will help Israel become a State amongst others in the international community, integrated in the region, and willing to comply with international standards. Examples of (major) countries which recognized that they committed legal wrongs in the past -without jeopardizing their own existence/identity- are numerous and should be an encouragement for Israel (US, France, Germany, Australia…).
  • However, the Palestinian leadership wishes to offer a solution that would also accommodate to this Israeli concern, recognizing that discussions on 1947-48 events may be counter-productive (see Camp David). Therefore, the main guidelines of the Palestinian proposal are the following:
  • Israel’s acknowledgement of responsibility/apology
  • We can submit to the Israelis the following :
    • Option 1: re-initiate the discussions on the basis of the document presented by the Israeli delegation at Taba on 23rd January 2001 (see Israeli-Palestinian joint statement of 27 January 2001). While this document is not, as such, acceptable by the Palestinians, it has the merit to insist on the centrality of the refugee issue and specify that “a comprehensive and just solution is essential to creating a durable and morally scrupulous peace”. It incorporates only limited historical references, in order to be acceptable by both parties. It also distinguishes between the principles and the implementation of the solution, and addresses in a subtle way the question of the responsibilities for the creation of the issue. If we want real peace to be achieved, this document can be used as a framework for discussion.
    • Option 2 (only if the Israeli counterpart refuses option 1): if Israel is not ready to recognize its moral responsibility in the creation of the issue and its inability to resolve it (with the international community), we can rather suggest to have their legal responsibility recognized as a result of the various statutes passed by the Knesset since the late 1940s-early 1950s by which the Palestinians were legally disposed from their lands and prevented from returning to their homes. This option will enable to avoid any discussion over the 1947-1948 period. Legally, it should be emphasized that the original cause of the Palestinians’ displacement is irrelevant. It should therefore not blur the discussion between both parties. Anyone who leaves his home/country is entitled by law to return to it, irrespective of the purpose of his absence (forced displacement, holiday etc.).
  • In addition to the recognition of the moral/legal responsibility, Israel should officially apologize directly to the refugees since:
    • refugees have endured extraordinary suffering because of their losses, longstanding displacement and miserable conditions of living.
    • for Israel, the resolution of the issue aims at getting refugees’ forgiveness which is a central condition for the establishment of a durable peace in the region:
    • Israel refuses to enable the implementation of their right of return, in violation of international law and most recent practice (Bosnia, Kosovo, South Africa).
    • the right for an apology is an element of refugees’ rights for reparation (satisfaction) according to international standards.

[NSU can provide with different proposals of formulation for both Israel’s recognition of responsibility and apology, upon instructions.]

  • Recognition of refugees’ rights: the right of return, the right to restitution and compensation
  • A clear distinction has to be set here:
    • the recognition of refugees’ rights which are in fact non-negotiable since they are individual rights of each refugees.
    • the implementation of these rights (essentially the right of return, and to some extent, the right to restitution) which has to be adapted to the parameters of the two-state solution; Israel, homeland of the Jewish people, Palestine, homeland of the Palestinian people.
  • This distinction is the main guarantee for the success of the process. Thus, Israel must first acknowledge the existence and validity of each of refugees’ individual rights.

The right of return

  • Option 1: we recommend an explicit reference to the principle of the recognition of the right of return to ensure that the refugees “buy into” the agreement. However, the provision referring to this right would also stress that the desire for return will have to be adapted to current realities and the objective of the two-state solution. In practice, returns would be limited to Israel’s absorption capacity.
  • Option 2: if Israelis oppose an explicit reference to the right of return in the peace agreement, reference to UN GA Resolution 194 could be used as an indirect mention of the right of return. This resolution is in fact an affirmation of Palestinian refugees’ right of return, and reparation as found im international law.

[NSU can provide with different proposals of for the drafting of such a provision.]

The right to restitution

  • According to international law, all Palestinians who lost properties have a right to their restitution, unless such restitution is practically impossible. This right should also be recognized.
  • Its implementation should be discussed in the scope of these negotiations with the view notably to define when restitution is indeed impossible (in which case, full compensation for the loss will have to be allocated to the individual)

The right for compensation

  • Refugees have a right to full compensation for their losses. This means that each refugee has an individual right to obtain the indemnification corresponding to:
  • his lost properties, including immovable and movable assets (if restitution is impossible), but also
    • non-material damages relating to the extended displacement, moral suffering etc.

[NSU has accomplished a comprehensive work on this to assess the value of refugees’ different categories of losses.]


25 March 2008: NSU Draft Outline of Refugee Issues

  • A later and much briefer outline of key elements of a refugee agreement.


1 April 2008: Terms of Reference: Research in Israeli Law

  • NSU ToR for a consultant study on “Israeli law toward enabling Palestinian officials to advance claims for material and non-material damages for Palestinian refugees in permanent status negotiations with Israel.”


2 April 2008: Terms of Reference: Israel’s Capacity to Absorb Palestinian Refugees

  • NSU ToR for a consultant study on Israel’s ability to absorb Palestinian refugees.


4 April 2008: Negotiating Refugees: Principles, Issues, and Approaches

  • Short NSU Powerpoint presentation on key issues.


6 April 2008: NSU Email Re: Israeli Refugee Proposal

  • Internal NSU email on Palestinian response to Israeli proposals cites Erekat as saying “Key is to specify the number over X years.  No one will discuss return to Palestinians except Palestinians.  Compensation for host countries.  194/242 as the reference point.”


6 April 2008: Negotiating Refugees: A Strategic Approach Based on International Law

  • An NSU Powerpoint presentation on the legal underpinnings of the palestinian position on refugees. Cites compensation claims of up to $300 billion.


8 April 2008: Israel and Palestine Refugee Proposal

  • Extensive NSU commentary on Israeli proposal, including suggested alternatives. See also a similar document dated April 8, suggested revised language.


8 April 2008: Non-Paper on Palestinian Refugees

  • NSU non-paper on refugee component of agreement.


13 April 2008: The Palestinian Proposal For Resolving the Palestinian Refugee Issue: The International Mechanism

  • NSU Powerpoint presentation on an international mechanism. This is also accompanied by talking points:

Talking Points

Implementation Mechanism

Purpose, mandate and structure of mechanism

  • Purpose and mandate: we agree that there should be a comprehensive international mechanism, covering both return/resettlement/rehabilitation and reparation claims.
  • This includes returns to Israel as well as restitution. Return and restitution are the principle rights contained in UNGAR 194 and relevant international laws. Compensation for individuals should also be made available to individual refugees.
  • The purpose of the mechanism is to implement the terms of CAPS – so it is essential that we settle the principles and remedies of the solution on refugees before finalizing any agreement on the details of the mechanism. Toward that end, we present our non-paper.
  • Structure: In addition, we have a blueprint of a mechanism that we are prepared to handover as a basis for discussing the mechanism.

Exclusive forum for claims

  • Our agreement to any clause limiting the mechanism as a forum for Palestinian claims is contingent on the eventual agreement. It is something to table for future discussion.

Termination of UNRWA

  • UNRWA has an important role to play in assisting the international mechanism in implementing the agreed solution. To terminate it prematurely would be inefficient.
  • We propose working on the future role of UNRWA in a peace agreement and phasing its transition within the implementation context.

Israel’s contribution to fund

  • It is important symbolically to the Palestinian people that Israel be the primary contributor to the reparation program.
    • We ask that Israel cover all property claims, including loss of livelihood, businesses, movable assets and land.
    • Non-material damages can be supplemented by the international community, who can also cover the return/resettlement and rehabilitation program.
    • But Israel should pay for property losses because it is responsible for those losses and directly benefiting from the properties. We are prepared to present our claims on property/material and non-material damages in more detail, along with an argument as to how Israel can cover the full scope of claims.


14 April 2008: Review of the Analysis on Refugees Provided in the Aix Group Report

  • Critical commentary on the refugee component of a recent Aix Group report, expressing concern that “The numbers that the Aix study proposes will get significant attention in terms of setting benchmarks for evaluating the reasonableness of Palestinian estimates put forward in the negotiations with Israel. Thus, NSU’s concern is that Aix group’s work may preempt more just or full numbers, included those being assessed by us.”


18 April 2008: Palestinian Losses in 1948, Compensation Valuations, and Israel’s Ability to Pay

  • Study by Atif Kubursi on Palestinian property losses and Israel’s ability to pay, based on a total of $300 billion in palestinian property losses from 1948 (in 2007 dollars).


30 April 2008: Talking Points for Hind Khoury – UN Conference on Refugees

  • Talking points that were prepared for Hind Khoury’s speech at the UN Conference on Refugees

al-Jazeera has just uploaded a large batch of additional material from the leaked “Palestine papers,” and here is a quick PRRN read of what is of significance on the refugee issue. I’ve only had a chance to review the new papers up until the end of 2007 so far—I’ll have a look at the others soon. Nothing in the batch below is particularly interesting at all, and a few items were already in the public domain.

1 May 2000: Framework Agreement on Permanent Status: Pre-Camp David Draft

  • A pre-Camp David “Is and Ps” discussion draft of Israeli and Palestinian positions, although the text also notes that it doesn’t fully reflect the Palestinian position.

25 October 2000: NSU Draft Memo Re: FAPS

  • A post-Camp daft outline by the NSU of elements that should be contained within a Framework Agreement on Permanent Status, including the refugee issue

23 December 2000: Clinton Parameters

  • Summary of the meeting where President Clinton presented the two sides with the so-called “Clinton Parameters.” This material has already been widely published.

2 January 2001: NSU Memo Re: President Clinton’s Proposals

  • NSU analysis of the Clinton Parameters, very negative on the refugee component for avoiding the “right of return” and gutting UNGAR 194 of its meaning.

21 January 2001: Handwritten notes from Taba negotiations

  • Some discussion of refugee issue in plenary session.

23 January 2001: Non-Paper: Palestinian Refugee Problem

  • al-Jazeera has wrongly dated this as 21 December 2001–it is actually a draft of the Israeli non-paper from the Taba negotiations, which is already been published.

23 January 2001: Meeting Minutes: Taba Summit – Plenary Session

  • Summary of where negotiations stand, including summary of the work of the refugee committee by Yossi Beilin and Nabil Shaath.

13 June 2001: Refugees, Refugee Compensation and Compensation for the Occupation

  • An internal NSU ideas paper on international involvement with compensation issues.

post-March, 2002: FAPS based on API

  • This appears to be an effort to draw up a Framework Agreement on Permanent Status based on the 2001 Arab Peace Initiative. The authorship is unclear.

12 June 2002: Non-Paper: Palestinian Vision of Camp David Based on Arab Peace Plan

  • Authorship not clear—a very vague and general statement of basic principles for an agreement, based on the API.

14 April 2004: Text of Bush Letter to Sharon

  • Already in the public domain, this letter includes Bush’s assurance that Palestinian refugees would be resettled in a future Palestinian state, not Israel.

17 January 2007: NSU Talking Points for Meeting between Abbas and MacKay

  • Palestinian side expresses concern at pro-Israeli shift in some Canadian policies to Canadian Foreign Minister, and briefly addresses possible Canadian role on refugee issue.

28 January 2007: Letter from Erekat to MacKay Re: Refugees Position

  • Palestinians express concern at recent Canadian statements on the refugee issue.

5 September 2007: NSU Memo on Aix Papers

  • NSU commentary on draft Aix group papers on Palestinian economy and refugees. It notes that the NSU’s current working figure for Palestinian refugee reparations is $150 billion.

16 September 2007: Proposed Permanent Status Parameters

  • Brief NSU paper on the main parameters for a permanent status agreement, including refugees.

23 September 2007: NSU Memo Re: Palestinian Refugees Absorbed into Israel Since 1948

  • NSU paper highlighting Palestinian refugees previously absorbed into Israel.

27 September 2007: PLO Draft Declaration of Principles – September 2007

  • Draft PLO position on a statement of principles for the Annapolis negotiations, including refugees.

15 October 2007: Minutes from 2nd Negotiation Team Meeting (pre-Annapolis)

  • Brief discussion of refugee issue.

12 November 2007: Minutes from 7th Negotiation Team Meeting (pre-Annapolis)

  • Brief discussion of refugee issue.

13 November 2007: Minutes from 8th Negotiation Team Meeting (pre-Annapolis)

  • Brief discussion of refugee issue.

13 November 2007: NSU Memo Re: Precondition of Recognizing Israel as a “Jewish State”

  • NSU memo recommending against recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” but offering a number of alternative formulations that might be acceptable.

18 November 2007: NSU Draft Language on Core Issues

  • Includes brief discussion of key refugee phraseology.

Amira Hass on the “Palestine papers”

Posted: January 26, 2011 by Rex Brynen in Palestine papers, peace process

Amid all the ongoing media coverage of the leaked “Palestine Papers,” Amira Haas of Haaretz offers some of the most insightful commentary yet:

Indeed, the “Palestine Papers” confirm an open secret: Contrary to the declarations recited in public, the leadership of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority is prepared for far-reaching concessions on the holy grail of the traditional Palestinian position: the right of return of refugees from the Palestinian “nakba” of 1948.

“When we demand a two-state solution, we do not mean two Palestinian states,” a senior Fatah official told me with regard to the question of the return of the refugees to pre-1967 Israel. Had the PLO leadership respected its people, it would not be speaking out of both sides of its mouth, but conducting an open debate about this demand. It would have shared its conclusions with its public (at home and in exile ): The dreamed-of right of return is not attainable, at least not at this stage in history, and that it is not fair to continue to keep four million people hostage under the boot of the occupation for its sake. Others would have replied that under cover of the negotiations, and despite the Palestinian concessions, Israel simply expanded its settlements anyway.

It is not technical problems that are preventing such a democratic debate, but the failure to see the people as an agent of change.

The PLO depends on the largess and diplomacy of Western nations who cooperate with the occupation policy. Hamas, addicted to the armed struggle and its purported achievements, is dependent on donations from its own sources, and is waiting for the toppling of the pro-western Arab regimes by radical Islamic movements.

Both Palestinian rivals know how to use the resilience and creativity of their people in the face of the daily torture that is foreign rule. But they do not help translate this personal and collective stamina into a strategy of unarmed popular struggle….

“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.