In “Politics and International Law: Whence the Palestinian Right of Return?”, Dr. Naseer Aruri spoke on 22 November in a briefing at the Washington DC chapter or Al-Awda. In his paper entitled, The Marginalization of Palestinian Rights Dr. Aruri stated: “The primacy assigned to geo-politics over international law in the so-called peace process has resulted in the marginalization of Palestinian rights, particularly refugee rights. International law does provide a principled framework for a durable resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict, however the peace process did not. Instead, the issue must be placed within the larger context of old-fashioned imperialism and settler colonialism.
Aruri explained that from the 1969 Rogers plan to the 2003 Geneva Initiative, the diplomatic emphasis has always been on what is “possible” and “practical” — that is, what Israel will accept — rather than on what is just and legal by international standards. Putting geo-politics over international law is the name of the game, which has eroded the earlier consensus built around Article III of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (11 December 1948), plus numerous resolutions affirming the rights of the Palestinian people to sovereignty, international protection, and the freedom to struggle for independence by all necessary means, including armed struggle as was seen during the 1960s and 70s.
Aruri contended that the peace process has not only undermined and distorted international law in the Occupied Territories, but it has pressured Palestinian officials to concede aspects of Palestinians collective and individual rights which they do not have right to concede. The late Yasser Arafat and Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), for example, then number one and two respectively in the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA), stripped the right of return and restitution of all meaning by publicly recognizing Israel’s demographic “concerns.” Arafat wrote the following in a New York Times Op-Ed (3 February 2002):
“We seek a fair and just solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees who for 54 years have not been permitted to return to their homes. We understand Israel’s demographic concerns and understand that the right of return of Palestinian refugees, a right guaranteed under international law and United Nations Resolution 194, must be implemented in a way that takes into account such concerns.”
The secret agreement negotiated by Abu-Mazen and Israeli Labor minister Yossi Beilin on 13 October 1995 not only nullified ipso facto U.N. Resolution 194 but also all other key international instruments and provisions of refugee law, human rights law, and humanitarian law in which refugee rights are enshrined. For example, Section I of Article VII of the Beilin-Abu-Mazen agreement, also known as the Framework, requires the Palestinian side to reconsider its refugees’ rights under international law in light of the changing realities on the ground since 1948:
“…the realities that have been created on the ground since 1948 have rendered the implementation of this right (ROR) impracticable. The Palestinian side, thus, declares its readiness to accept and implement policies and measures that will ensure, insofar as this is possible, the welfare and well being of these refugees.”