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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Has Mahmoud Abbas Really Accepted the Clinton Parameters on the Refugee Problem?

Filed under: Israeli Security, Palestinians, Peace Process, The Middle East

An analysis of Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the Fatah Revolutionary Council before he met with President Barack Obama in Washington on March 17 reveals that his claim to have accepted the Clinton Parameters on the refugee issue is not consistent with his demand for recognition of the personal right of return of each individual refugee.

In his speech to the Revolutionary Council on March 12, 2014, Abbas, who carries the titles of “president of the state of Palestine,” head of the PLO, and leader of Fatah, set forth the basic tenets of the Palestinian stance on the negotiations with Israel for a permanent settlement. On the refugee issue, Abbas said the following (translated from Arabic):1

The second point: the refugee issue. You know that [UN] Resolution 194 speaks of providing compensation to whoever does not desire to return. President [Bill] Clinton presented ideas [on this issue] that we accepted as a single package, and we find that they include four principles [for solving the refugee problem].

The first principle – a Palestinian who wants to remain where he is living will be able to do so and will receive compensation.

[The second principle] – a Palestinian who wants to move to another country must obtain the agreement of the two countries and will receive compensation.

The third principle – a Palestinian who wants [to live] in the state of Palestine will be able to return to it.

The fourth principle – a Palestinian who wants [to live] in the state of Israel will be able to return to it in keeping with the right of return.

Everyone must receive compensation, and the countries that have hosted [the refugees], Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, must also receive compensation. These countries took in the Palestinians in 1948 and have a right to compensation for the burden they have borne and for their efforts during this period, which now comes to sixty-six years.

The Clinton Parameters for a permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, which were presented on December 23, 2000, state that:2

The solution [to the refugee problem] will have to be consistent with the two-state approach…the state of Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

Under the two-state solution, the guiding principle should be that the Palestinian state would be the focal point for Palestinians who choose to return to the area without ruling out that Israel will accept some of these refugees.

I believe that we need to adopt a formulation on the right of return that will make clear that there is no specific right of return to Israel itself but that does not negate the aspiration of the Palestinian people to return to the area.

In light of the above, I propose two alternatives:

1. Both sides recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return to historic Palestine, or,
2. Both sides recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.

The agreement will define the implementation of this general right in a way that is consistent with the two-state solution. It would list the five possible homes for the refugees:

1. The state of Palestine.
2. Areas in Israel being transferred to Palestine in the land swap.
3. Rehabilitation in host country.
4. Resettlement in third country.
5. Admission to Israel.

In listing these options, the agreement will make clear that the return to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and areas acquired in the land swap would be the right of all Palestinian refugees, while rehabilitation in host countries, resettlement in third countries and absorption into Israel will depend upon the policies of those countries.

Israel could indicate in the agreement that it intends to establish a policy so that some of the refugees would be absorbed into Israel consistent with Israel’s sovereign decision.

I believe that priority should be given to the refugee population in Lebanon.

The parties would agree that this implements Resolution 194.

Abbas’ position on the refugee issue is not consistent with the Clinton Parameters. Abbas in no way restricts the “right of return” to the state of Israel for the refugees and their descendants (now numbering five to seven million people according to the Palestinians), except according to the choice of the refugees themselves.

The Clinton Parameters, in contrast, explicitly state that the Palestinian refugees’ settlement in Israel would require a sovereign Israeli decision, and must accord with the principle that Palestine is the Palestinian homeland and Israel is the Jewish homeland.

Abbas’ claim that the Palestinians have accepted the Clinton Parameters contradicts the position he presented on the implementation of the “right of return,” which shows that he and the Palestinian leadership adhere to the view that this “right” is personal and inalienable. In other words, it is a means to destroy Israel by altering the demographic balance and forcing the evacuation of millions of Jews so that Palestinians can be settled in their place.

Abbas’ position does accord with the “Right of Return Law” that he signed in 2008, which states:3

The right of return is a natural, personal, collective, civil, political right passed on from father to son and is not annulled by the passage of time or by the signing of any agreement, and it cannot be abolished or waived in any way….

The Palestinians have the right to sue the Zionist occupation and all who inflicted suffering on the Palestinian people and to demand compensation for the physical and emotional damages that were caused to them.

The Palestinian refugees shall not be resettled or displaced as an alternative to the right of return.

Anyone who violates the provisions of this Act will be considered guilty of the crime of treason and will be subject to all criminal and civil penalties prescribed for this crime.

Abbas’ real attitude is evident from one of the concluding sentences of his speech to the Revolutionary Council:

I swear to Allah, if you knew what pressures I have endured for the past three or four years you would take pity on me. I strive for the good of my homeland and I want nothing for myself. I am seventy-nine years old and I am not about to end my life with an act of treason.

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