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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- '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.
- 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