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Return, Resettlement, Repatriation:
The Future of Palestinian Refugees in the Peace Negotiations

Source: FOFOGNET Digest, 22 April 1996

by Salim Tamari, Institute of Jerusalem Studies

Final Status Strategic Studies
Institute for Palestine Studies
Beirut, Washington, and Jerusalem

February 1996

III. Family Reunification: Problems and Prospects
In the course of six rounds of Refugee Working Group meetings and two Intersessionals on Family Reunification (Tunis and Paris) some limited progress was achieved and a number of problems remain outstanding. The main progress had to do with agreement by all parties on the need to adopt clear criteria, definitions, and procedures for processing family reunification applications in accordance with the recommendations made by the report of the French 'shepherd' on the status of broken families, which became known after its author, the head of the French delegation, as the Bajolet Report. The Israeli Government also agreed to raise the ceiling of the annual quota from 1,000 cases to 2,000 cases for family reunification applications. This number should be seen in perspective. In twenty seven years of military control the Israeli civil administration in the occupied territories approved less than one-fifth of the total applications, which--in turn--have been vetted for approved and non-approved categories.

Behind these limited agreements remained the spectre of Family Reunification seen (falsely I believe) by many Israeli as the 'right of return from the back door', as the right-wing press alluded to periodically.

The main problems has to do with the actual implementation on the ground of principles agreed upon, and on continuing the momentum of progress which began in the Oslo and Tunis RWG. The Palestinians among others took the position that the quota announced in Oslo (two thousand annual cases) was far below the expectation raised by the Oslo Accords and the Palestinian-Israeli Agreement of May 4th, 1994 in Cairo.

Problems Facing Family Reunification Applicants
Despite the agreement achieved in talks with the Israelis to admit 2000 cases of family reunification annually (or 6,000 persons-- whichever is higher) in the third round of negotiations, much of the procedures involving who is eligible, application procedures, and the application of this 'quota' remain outstanding. In February 1994 representatives of a coalition of eight human rights organizations on family reunification met with the International Law Department of the Israeli army (the IDF) and other officials which resulted in an additional agreement which arranged vital procedures concerning family reunification requests. The agreement extended the High Court arrangement to include all those spouses and children who entered during the 1993 summer visitation period.

The main procedural items that were addressed in this additional agreement were:

  • Retroactive payments for periods lived "illegally" in the were in the West Bank and Gaza no longer to be demanded.

  • A reason for refusal of a family reunification request must be provided in writing.

  • Visitors included in the High Court Agreement who first enter Israel and then the territories will receive the same entitlement as those who directly enter the territories: six-month renewable visitor permits and benefits.

  • When a request for permanent residency or visitor permit extension is submitted from among the group approved by the High Court, the entitlement will be determined by documentation presented by the applicant attesting to date of entry into the territories, and in the absence of such, by the information found in the computer of the Israeli Civil Administration.

  • A person will be considered married from the day of the signing of the marriage contract (as under Islamic law). (Thus, the date of the marriage ceremony which is a social and not a legal aspect of Islamic marriage is irrelevant in determining entitlement under family reunification agreements.)

  • Under the High Court Agreement all visitors with six-month permits are allowed to leave and return to the territories without having to pay a fee when reentering the territories.

  • If a request for family reunification was not reviewed, the applicant will no longer have to pay another fee for the subsequent year of review. This applies to those requests not reviewed due to the filling of the quota.

  • The Israeli Civil Administration committed itself to publish the procedures and guidelines concerning family reunification requests.

Hundreds of violations of the main points of this agreement by the civil administration were reported to Palestinian and Israeli civil rights and lawyer during 1994 and 1995. Most of the violations fall into the two categories: refusal to extend visitor permits or grant entry permits guaranteed under the agreements; and lack of response to family reunification requests within three months, with delays of a year or more in some cases. Civil rights groups have also received numerous cases of refusal by the Civil Administration to accept applications from the High Court population when they have attempted to submit them. Other categories of violations include the demand for retroactive fees to be paid in order to arrange residency status; refusal to provide a written reason when family reunification requests have been rejected; refusal to provide medical services to minor children covered under the agreement; refusal to return money deposited as a guarantee; and bureaucratic problems in receiving final approval for family reunification at the end of the year-long trial period. In addition, the Civil Administration has yet to publish the procedures for family reunification requests as they promised.

Family Reunification in the Palestinian Self-Governed Areas
Since the establishment of Palestinian National Authority (PNA) inGaza and Jericho after May 17th, 1994 a committee was established to coordinate work on family reunification between the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

On the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip it transpired that the Israeli Civil Administration in the area had destroyed all the FR application files that had been submitted in recent years. When this act was protested by the committee it was told that since authority now lies with the Palestinian side in these matters there was no need to go over the old applications.

Since then the PNA has invited the public to submit applications for FR in the local press. Cases submitted by Palestinian residents to the PNA be are transferred to the Israeli side after processing by the Palestinian side as per the Cairo Agreement (Annex 2, para. L:15-16). It is not yet clear how these clauses will be implemented on the ground, but they will be a major test of the Palestinian- Israeli Agreement.

In the West Bank (including Jericho) the Palestinian Negotiating Team surveyed 820 cases of FR applications through a public survey conducted in October 1994. Of those it was found that:

  • 48% of the cases in the survey were rejected. Those were mostly male spouses who submitted their applications between the year 1992-1994.

  • A large number of applications were not accepted by the Israeli side, presumably because they do not fulfil the criteria for applications.

  • There was a considerable number of foreign (i.e. non-Palestinian) female spouses among the rejections.

  • 32% of the applications (302 cases) have not received answers as of writing. Most of those were spouses whose applications were submitted in the period 1992-1993.

  • 118 cases (about 14% of the total) received approval for their applications. Most of these cases have not received their actual identity cards yet, many of them having received their approval since early 1993.

However it is expected that many of these problems concerning liaison mismanagement will be superseded by the new committee established to implement the terms of the second Oslo Agreement signed in November 1995 (See Appendix 2 below).

The Unresolved Issues of Family Reunification
On the basis of this survey it is possible to raise the following issues on the status of Family Reunification:

  1. Criteria: There is still an urgent need for clarifying the procedural aspects in family reunification. These include clear guidelines as to who is entitled to apply, the method of application, and public monitoring of the fate of applications.

  2. Transparency: Much of the guidelines on transparency proposed in the Bajolet report on FR which have been adopted by the RWG has not been implemented. Partly due to the absence of clear instructions to District Offices of the Israeli Civil Administration (which still show a large variety of procedural rules), and possibly because such guidelines were not adopted in the first place.

  3. Quotas: Although there is a declared quota of 2,000 FR cases annually, the Israeli Civil Administration has not been announcing the aggregate number of acceptance and rejections on a periodic basis. Therefore, there is no direct way of realizing whether the quota has been met or not.

  4. Time Limitations: Applicants, in most cases, are not receiving responses to their applications within the three months period agreed upon in previous meetings of the RWG. In large number of cases the response period is over a year.

  5. Appeals: The procedures for appealing rejected cases are not transparent, and there is no accountability. Members of appeal boards are not known and not accessible by the applicants or their lawyers. Rejected cases in their majority usually have to resubmit a new application instead of appealing the rejected one.

  6. 'Illegal' Residents:Since the end of 1994 the Israeli Civil Administration resorted to threats of deportation against hundreds of cases of people, mostly spouses and their children, who overstayed their visiting permits. After legal intervention these threats were suspended temporarily. It is essential that the regularization agreement which covers spouses who entered the country during 1992 and 1993 be extended to the period after August 31, 1993. In general spouses and children of legal residents of the Occupied Territories should not be subject to the quota.

  7. Status of FR Applications in Areas Under Palestinian Control: Procedures for processing applications within the Gaza/Jericho Area should be clarified in light of the articles covering the status of family members applying for reunion with their kin in the Cairo Agreement of May 1994 (Annex 2 Article L:15-16).
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