I have just returned from a brilliant lecture by Salman Abu Sitta, the Palestinian researcher and writer, entitled “Palestinians:Reversing Ethnic Cleansing”.
Sitta’s argument is simple, loud and clear: the right of return is a fundamental right that is not up for negotiation and the return of Palestinians to Palestine is inevitable. Further to this, the right of return is enshrined in international law through UN Resolution 194 that he rejects was a recommendation: “…the UN has affirmed resolution 194 about 135 times, a case unprecedented in UN history.”
Sitta comes out with some devastating facts that we have all heard before but to me at least still causes disbelief. “UNRWA has a budget that allocates $76 per Palestinian refugee per year, while the US in military and aid give a total of $1000 per Israeli per year.”
Sitta produced some wonderful and painstakingly detailed maps and graph (compiled into his book the Atlas of Palestine 1948). He details how now after ejecting the Palestinians from the land 27% of the this so sacred land is made up of military zones. Sitta describes how Gaza that represents 1% of the total surface area of Palestine now roughly contains the same number of people as Palestine as a whole did in 1948. Of course you have heard all this before….
The interesting part of the Sitta’s argument that I have not heard is his take on UN Resolution 194 that calls for the right of return. Sitta focuses on a third element of resolution 194 that he argues is all too often ignored. This is the creation of a mechanism to implement the right of return: the UN Conciliation Committee for Palestine (UNCCP). The UNCCP ceased functioning in 1966 and Sitta calls for the UNCCP to be reactivated for the return and rehabilitation of refugees.
Sitta is a Palestinian that really believes in the international system. Despite being denied the right to return for all these decades he still believes that by shouting and screaming Palestinians will achieve their right of return. He argues that in Europe esepcially attitudes are changing. When challenged by a German lady in the audience who did not believe this to be the case, Sitta replied that Germany is different but in Scandinavia and in Britain (the people but not the government) there has been a remarkable change in opinion. “In the 1960s in Britain I could not even say Palestine now the public are very supportive.” But of course the way British power is used is very different which Sitta stating that Blair always has a “ever ready present of cash” to block the right of return. So for the UK he may have a point that public opinion may have changed but it is no where near enough.
Salman Abu Sitta is a man that feels he can wait this one out…that return is inevitable. I can’t help feel that is wishful thinking in a hopeless situation….the reality is that return is not inevitable and the balance of power as it is and with things getting worse rather than better this long conflict is only going to get longer. But I hope I am wrong. And as I was reading just the other day South African activists never thought the day would come when in 1990 de Klerk announced the release of Mandela. I am sure this can be applied to many other major historical triumphs but….
In relation to this ever going conflict…many analysts over on Qifa Nabki are predicting that 2010 is going to be the year of a new war between Hezbollah and Israel. The environment in Lebanon seems so far from that atmosphere at the moment. And I really really hope that I am right on that one!