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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

VI. Oslo 2 and Changes in the Status of Returning Palestinians
The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (known as Oslo 2) signed in Washington on September 28th 1995, contains several new items on the status of residency and family reunification that is likely to lead, once Palestinian authority is established in the rest of the West Bank to important modifications in the status and scope of returning Palestinians.

The new agreement establishes guidelines for establishing residency for a number of categories of returning Palestinians who have so far been denied entry. It also has new provisions for work, study and the registration of children. The details of these new guidelines are discussed in Appendix II.

Among the highlights of the new provisions are:

1. Gaining residency for expatriates through the electoral law:
Those Palestinians who currently live in the Occupied territories but who do not have residency there. If they can prove that they have lived in the Palestine in the last three or four years (depending on age) will be given residency papers in conjunction with voter registration (Elections Protocol, Annex 2).

2. Family Reunification:
The guidelines give priority for investors and spouses of residents, as well as to an undefined category of 'humanitarian cases'. Little progress has been accomplished here over the previous guidelines under the Israeli military government (Protocol on Civil Affairs, Annex III, Appendix 1, Article 28).

3. Children under 16:
Children who live abroad (or in Palestine) who are under 16 years old and who have at least one parent who is a resident are now given residency, without the need for prior Israeli approval. These terms conflict with the guidelines of the current Israeli Civil Administration which--since 1994--have defined children as those under 18 years. (Ibid.: Items 12 and 13).

4. Displaced Persons who are have lost residencies:
Perhaps the most important guideline in the new agreement refers to the establishment of a joint committee to solve the issue of expired residencies (Annex III, Article 28). No procedures are stipulated for the mandate of this joint committee yet.

To the extent that the interim agreement addresses the situation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, it seems that Jerusalem Arabs will continue to exit in a grey area. However since some of these clauses (e.g. on 'latecomers' and electoral registers) involve Jerusalem residents, it is expected that Jerusalemites will also benefit from the procedural changes.

The clauses in the agreement contain several improvements for the current status of residency that have been so far denied to Palestinian applicants, particularly for spouses and children. It has given important avenues for the regularization of residency for those who have been living 'illegally' with their families--mostly as over extended visitors--through the voter registration procedures.

The agreement also empowers the Palestinian Authority to grant work, study and visitors' permits, and to extend these permits, up to the status of residency.

But the bulk of these improvements, particularly those pertaining to family reunification, are still dependent on prior clearance with the Israeli authority. And as long as Israel maintain a restricted quota on these permits (currently 2,000 cases a year), much of these improvements will be severely qualified.

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