Israeli Arab Groups Slam Geneva Accords on Refugees' Rights

Most of the Israeli Arab political movements have rejected the Geneva Accords, because it includes an agreement to waive the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Moreover, Israeli Arabs are disappointed - as they have been in the aftermath of previous diplomatic agreements - by the negligible weight their voice was given, by both sides, in the draft itself and during negotiations.

But the founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Abdallah Darwish, revealed yesterday that he "and a group of Muslim leaders" from Israel had participated in meetings, and that he had held dozens of meetings with Israel and Palestinian negotiators, including Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Darwish told Haaretz that he had taken "a very active role," in the talks in Israel and the territories, but not in Europe, and that he and his colleagues "helped create some flexibility on both sides" on various issues, including sovereignty over holy places in Jerusalem. He added that several rabbis "aware of the importance" of inter-faith dialogue were also involved in the contacts.

Darwish expressed some reticence regarding the "overly awkward" phrasing used in the accord when dealing with the problem of refugees, but rejected the sweeping criticism of the accord within much of Arab society.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which acts as an umbrella organization for all the Israeli Arab political movements, issued a laconic statement, in which it "welcomed any dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians." That said, there was a Hadash delegation, made up of Knesset members Mohammed Barakeh and Issam Makhoul, at the launching ceremony in Geneva yesterday. MK Talab al-Sana of the United Arab List was also in attendance.

In a telephone interview before leaving Israel, Barakeh told Haaretz that his participation in the ceremony was an act of support for the hope that the accord engenders, despite questions on the refugee issue. "The most problematic clause of the accord relates to refugees," he said. "For me, someone who comes from a family of refugees, the wound is still bleeding. But it is important to express support for the accord, which is not an agreement but an attempt to create some hope."

Aida Tuma Suleiman, a Hadash member and head of Women against Violence, an Israeli Arab advocacy group, said that the accord "left a lot of room for improvement. Looking at it from our political standpoint, we will push any agreement, but the Geneva Accords do not answer all the expectations of the Palestinian or Israeli people." Another Israeli Arab figure, who supports the accord, attacked the group of Arabs who, he said, were nothing more than "decorations on the stage," since none of them was involved in drafting the accord.

Among those Israeli Arab figures who did not attend yesterday's ceremony, there was harsh criticism for the contents of the accord. Azmi Bishara's National Democratic Alliance (Balad) described the accord as "a virtual agreement," while MK Jamal Zahalka said that the party objected to the clauses dealing with the rights of Palestinian refugees, border revisions in the Jerusalem area, and the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, which, he claimed "will undermine the campaign to have Israel declared a country of all its citizens."

"An agreement of this type is fundamentally flawed," argues attorney Wakim Wakim, head of the Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel. "Nobody - not the PLO or the Palestinian Authority - has the right to waive the basic individual and collective rights of Palestinian refugees. These accords ignore most of the Palestinian people, and, above all, they ignore the problem of the displaced people within Israel, as if that were an internal Israeli issue."

In an editorial in the Arabic weekly Kul El-Arab, editor Zoheir Andreus wrote that the Palestinian negotiators had waived "the holy right" of refugees to return to their homes. "By waiving the right of return," he wrote, "the Palestinian negotiators have indirectly accepted Israel as the Jewish state. The accords block once and for all the right of return."