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True Palestinian reconciliation must include refugees

By ensuring that the diaspora’s rights are fully represented in the Palestinian liberation struggle, Palestinians can draw upon the combined financial and human resources of that worldwide community to finally shed the manacles of Oslo.

By Samer Badawi

Last week’s unexpected détente between the would-be “governments” of Fatah and Hamas raises more questions than it answers. What exactly is a government of technocrats, and who best to christen their political agnosticism? And so what if Hamas has accepted the terms of the Oslo accords? Can common cause lead to a unified command structure, encompassing, for example, Gaza’s Izz a-Din al-Qassam brigades?

The questions are as numerous as the pundits attempting to answer them. But beyond the din of discourse, every Palestinian must reckon with the reality that nothing about these questions is ultimately impersonal. Unlike John Kerry, Palestinians can no sooner enjoy a “holding period” than wish away the daily violence visited upon the innocents of their outsized struggle.

For those of us who are the children of Palestinian refugees, our yearning for a just peace grows each day our parents are denied the right to access their homeland. With more years lived than left, they are the true gauge of progress toward reconciliation — or its absence. That, I think, is why last week’s news immediately prompted in me a memory of my father.

It was the first time I had seen him cry. We were sitting over a brass-rimmed tasse of sage-infused tea, darkly steeped and steaming still. This was September 1993, and my father’s voice — once so resonant to my siblings and me — was chafed by a specific sorrow. This was not the melancholy I had come to know in him, the daily sparring of the middle-aged man, jabbing at the penumbra of what might have been.

No, something all-too-real was gnawing at him, and as an eldest Arab son, I braced myself for the worst. When he finally spoke, he seemed husked of that toughness fathers so often feign for their sons.

“I still remember their eyes,” he said, tea now tepid. “I remember how young they were, how naïve.”

These, it turned out, were comrades from the early days of the Palestine Liberation Organization, men and women whose nationalist struggle inspired — and drew inspiration from — similar movements from Latin America to East Asia.

My father, himself a nonviolent man, was mourning what many viewed as their bartered sacrifice at the hands of Yasser Arafat, whose deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, had just signed the Oslo accords.

He was right to mourn. Two decades on, the piecemeal process they set in motion — a process the late Edward Said called the Palestinians’ Versailles — has carved the land my father still remembers into islets of dependence.

In the West Bank, Abbas — now saddled and tilting atop the Palestinian Authority — has assembled a massive public sector wholly reliant upon foreign aid while enabling a private sector dominated by oligarchs. Their combined wealth, though not publicly disclosed, could easily outstrip that of the more than 4 million Palestinians in the occupied territories.

And in Gaza, of course, 1.7 million of that population — the majority of whom are still counted refugees from Israel’s creation — are trapped within a strip of land 25 miles long and eight miles at its girth. Overseeing this penury is another “authority” — this  one run by Hamas — complete with ministries and a “border control” reception area.

That the self-proclaimed leaders of these territories have reportedly reconciled means as little to the millions of their people who remain occupied as it does to my father, a Palestinian refugee recently forced into yet another exile — this time from Damascus.

Like the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees scattered throughout the Arab world — and the hundreds of thousands more who reside throughout the globe — my father represents the critical mass of Palestine’s diaspora. Without it, the present reconciliation is merely a factional one, not a Palestinian one.

Indeed, just as no sustainable peace was possible without the people of Gaza, who represent one-third of the occupied territories’ population, lasting reconciliation cannot be forged without the support of Palestine’s refugees and their descendants.

This is not obstinate sloganeering. Neither is it a hindrance to negotiated peace. Instead, by ensuring that the diaspora’s rights are fully represented in the Palestinian liberation struggle — one outcome, presumably, of planned PLO elections under the Abbas-Hamas deal — Palestinians can draw upon the combined financial and human resources of that worldwide community to finally shed the manacles of Oslo.

What Palestinians need most now is a leadership that can articulate a unified vision for achieving freedom and justice — not stopgap measures that maintain the status quo. Getting there will take an institutional framework that can accommodate all voices, including those in the diaspora.

My father may be too old to participate in that conversation. But righting the wrongs endured by his generation, including the displacement of more than three-quarters of Palestine’s population in 1948, must remain central to any attempt at reconciliation — both among Palestinians and between the peoples of the Holy Land.

Samer Badawi is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC. He is the former DC correspondent for Middle East International.

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    1. Rab

      You are not a refugee.

      You have no say in anything relating to the people who live Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

      Your father was a refugee in a war launched by his fellow Arabs, a war intended to cleanse the land of Jews. Your father’s side lost. He has some say, unlike you.

      Because of your father and his generation’s war, many Jewish families lost loved ones, and not just in Mandatory Palestine/Israel, but also in numerous Arab and Muslim states who were his allies in that war.

      A significant portion of those Jewish families had to leave these countries and over 75% found refuge in Israel where they and their descendants now live.

      Just as you don’t consider them refugees with rights to determine what happens in their old countries from which they were driven out, you are also not a refugee. Just as they can never reclaim their old communities, homes or property, you have to re-establish your life elsewhere. Fortunately for you, unlike the Arab states, as part of its peace offers, Israel has offered Palestinian reparations over lost land.

      I realize the guilt of having launched this foolish war which led to so much pain and anguish on both sides is destroying you and your co-nationalists inside and making you wish for atonement…oh, never mind, strike that, you actually feel perfectly justified in your desire to undermine Israel, want to continue the war launched by your father’s generation and maintain the posture of destroying Israel and cause further harm to Jews.

      By all means, keep dreaming about ways you might be able to do it. And watch as another generation of Palestinians waste their energy on the dream of destruction instead of pressing for integration and forward movement in their lives and rights within the countries where their descendants live – just like EVERY other refugee group in the world, including over 50% of Israel’s population that was forced to do this by your hatred.

      Reply to Comment
      • un2here

        Your self righteous wordiness does not explain away the fact that Palestine did not invade the Jews. The Jews invaded Palestine.

        Reply to Comment
        • Rab

          Look, aside from the fact that there have always been Jews in this territory, and aside from the fact that many Arabs moved into this territory over the past 200 years, and aside from the fact that this territory barely had 1/15 of today’s population in 1900 and barely 1/6 of today’s population in 1948 (which tells you there was plenty of space for everyone), the fact remains that the Jews have always agreed to share the land and the Arabs have consistently refused.

          Except, it wasn’t the Arabs’ land and therefore they could not make such a refusal. They lived there, just as Jews lived there. They had a history there, just as Jews had a history there.

          The land could have been divided. Jews were given lousy land (over half of the land they were offered was Negev desert) while Arabs were given all of Jordan and most of fertile agricultural land in the rest of Mandatory Palestine (west of the River). Jews were even excluded from controlling any part of Jerusalem.

          Not only that, the numbers would have been 55%-45% Jews to Arabs in the Jewish areas, presumably predicting that Arabs could take over the Jewish state in a matter of a couple of decades as well.

          The Arabs refused. The Arabs attacked. The Arabs lost. In reality, the Arabs still won because they gained 80% of Mandatory Palestine, but nobody, including the Israelis, dares to open that Pandora’s Box, so here we are arguing over whether the Arabs deserve to do what they failed to do in 1920, 1921, 1929, 1936-1939, 1947, 1948, 1950-1956, 1967, 1973 and since then in any deal that offers UNGAR 194 as its basis, and take over the little that has been left to the Jewish people to guard and defend with their sons’ lives.

          Here is how offensive the demand is:


          Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            Well said Rab. But it is worth putting additional perspective on your below statement:

            “Jews were even excluded from controlling any part of Jerusalem.”

            So were the Arabs. Resolution 181 intended Jerusalem to be an international city. Yet the Arabs now pretend that East Jerusalem is theirs and theirs only. They claim that any Jewish Israeli living in East Jerusalem is nothing but a coloniser and a settler. And that East Jerusalem should become the EXCLUSIVE capital of the proposed Palestinian state. They will never be granted such a preposterous claim.

            Reply to Comment
          • Rab

            My point was that even though Jerusalem was ostensibly going to be an international zone, it was embedded deep in Arab territory:


            Arabs had been denying Jews open access to the Western Wall under the British regime which granted them oversight over this site, so it is reasonable to assume that under partition, the Jews would have had the same outcome as they did when Jordan conquered eastern Jerusalem and prevented any Jews from entering.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Rab

      Delay in publishing the comment or were those just uncomfortable issues to post?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9

      This article is mandatory reading for anyone who thought the Palestinians would settle for any outcome other than the destruction of Israel. The desire to overturn the outcome of 1948 – the creation of Israel – is at the center of the Palestinian narrative and of their goals.

      Reply to Comment
    4. jjj

      In other words, the title says:

      “True Palestinian reconciliation must include destruction of Israel”

      Reply to Comment
    5. directrob

      Thanks Samer Badawi and 972mag.

      This article is informative, well written, touching, in line with international law, inline with UN resolutions, makes minced meat out of HAMAS and the PA and does not call for violence but just for leadership that can articulate a unified vision for achieving freedom and justice for all Palestinians.

      No clue why it should be offensive, maybe because it is so reasonable.

      Reply to Comment
      • Rab

        I know. It was so reasonable and in line with international law and UN resolutions that I couldn’t believe that not even once were Israelis mentioned. Well, other than to refer obliquely to the “people of the Holy Land.” You would think the author doesn’t think they exist.

        Anyway, the Palestinians in Jordan are Jordanians. They live under Jordanian authoritarian rule and would presumably vote according to what their government wants. The Palestinians in Syrian and Lebanon live in camps whose political discourse is dominated by thugs that are usually aligned with one political group or another.

        Aside from the fact that 90-95% of “Palestinians” today were born in other countries and therefore should have zero say in what happens in Israel, Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as the author notes, the Palestinians in these areas have no real say either since they are ruled by their own thugs.

        So along with all the wishful thinking, and claiming that he, an American, should have a say in what some Gazan Palestinian should do with his or her life while not having to deal with the consequences of seeking “justice,” there is the much greater problem of there being no mechanism to even find out what these people or groups want. After all, the Syrian Palestinian group would simply parrot whatever Assad, some rebel leader or an internal thug tells them to say.

        Reply to Comment
      • Tzutzik

        “No clue why it should be offensive, maybe because it is so reasonable.”

        I would not have used the word “offensive”. I would have used the words “selective history”.

        It omitted to mention some very pertinent things. For instance, the fact that the Jews of Palestine (the ones who are now known as Israelis) were ready to accept the two state solution. The Arabs were the ones to reject it because they did not concede that Palestinian Jews had any rights.

        It also omits to mention that even since 1947, solutions were offered to Palestinian Arabs which would have involved two states. One entirely Jewish free Arab state and one Jewish state with an Arab minority. That was/is not acceptable to the Arabs.

        Such omissions are inexcusable, Rob. Because by doing so, the author pretends that the misfortune of Arab Palestinians was/is caused by OTHERS. Whereas the truth IS that the Palestinian Arabs caused and still cause the lion share of their own misfortune.

        Reply to Comment
        • directrob

          “the author pretends that the misfortune of Arab Palestinians was/is caused by OTHERS.”

          You are creating a straw man.

          The author does not pretend or deny such thing, if anything he blames the PA, Hamas and oligarchs for ignoring the diaspora refugees.

          The Arab league alternative in 1947 was a unitary democratic state that would protect rights of all citizens equally.

          Reply to Comment
    6. Tzutzik

      “The Arab league alternative in 1947 was a unitary democratic state that would protect rights of all citizens equally.”

      That has been a nice slogan. But where have Arab societies achieved such a thing?

      To them, Islam and Arabism was always supreme to anything or anyone else.

      Ok, Jews have no problem with that. They have 22 Arab countries in which they can do whatever they want. All we want is ONE country for us, the Jewish people. Why is that too much for them? And to people like you Rob?

      Reply to Comment