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13. Practical Steps for the Return of the Refugees
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Posted by Dr. Salman Abu Sitta on August 7, 2001

It is now clear that all seized Palestinian land is leased to Jews. Its legal title is still held by the Palestinians themselves. There is no Jew who can produce a valid title to a Palestinian plot of land. Israel's legal network of Development Authority, ILA etc. is for convenience only. Israel does not, could not, have the title to Palestinian land, which is held by the individual Palestinian owners. The only pretext for Israel to continue to administer and use these lands is to prevent the return of the refugees, which it has successfully done so far .
This legal set-up happens to be very convenient for the return of the refugees. There shall be no occasion for thousands of court cases, which would have been the case had the dispute been between Jewish and Palestinian individual owners. A single agreement with the Development Authority, and its employer, the Custodian for the Absentee Property for the restoration of the property would be sufficient. The expiry date of lease terms in 1998 should be a convenient date for this agreement.
Apart from the ample documentation of Palestinian property already mentioned, ILA has a wealth of information about such property, which enables it to administer the smallest plot of land. In order to protect the refugees' rights, it is suggested to form a Palestine Land Society (Abu-Sitta 1998). The PLS functions shall be:

  • to represent property rights of the Palestinians everywhere including
    those in Israel.
  • to document, recover, protect, maintain and develop Palestinian
    land.
  • PLS acts as custodian for all Palestinian property until the individual owners are identified and handed over their property. No
    land is handed over to a non-Palestinian.
  • PLS is non-political and cooperates with PLO, PNA, UN and various governments and bodies.
  • PLS general assembly has 1,500 elected members representing about 500 depopulated villages and towns.
  • PLS term is indefinite.

Formation of the PLS is absolutely necessary. Already, the Jews have the Jewish National Fund {1906), WOJAC (1977) for Jewish property in Arab countries and WJRO {1992) which retrieved Jewish property and assets from Europe.
The return of the refugees should be collectively arranged in units of villages, much the same way as their expulsion. A typical village consists of 4-5 large families. Remarkably, they still maintain their cohesion intact. The village lands may be handed over to PLS, representing the villagers, who own shares in this society, pending the resolution of the final value of these shares, representing the individual property, which may take some time.
UNRWA shall continue to function, not to be disbanded or turned over to another party, until all refugees return, at which time, it shall turn into a development organization, under UNDP, to assist the returning refugees into sorting out their shattered lives.
The whole return operation should be conducted under the auspices of the UN Conciliation Commission of Palestine. CCP shall be the Custodian for the refugees rights and shall ensure their welfare and safety after return.
The refugees do not consider the sovereignty of the state of Israel, in itself, a problem in realizing their Right of Return. They are however entitled to retain their Palestinian Identity, regardless of any acquired citizenship, including Israeli, at present or in the future. The Palestinian Identity is their inalienable birthright, and must not be denied by Israel. In all other respects, they should have all the usual rights of a citizen in any democratic state.



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