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Migration et politique au Moyen-Orient

Françoise de Bel-Air

Palestinian Refugees, Citizenship and the Nation-State

Les réfugiés palestiniens, la citoyenneté et l’État-Nation

Sari Hanafi


In the Bethlehem Fatah communiqué, the authors considered the Palestinian state as a substitute for the right of return. But is there a solution that encompasses the right of return and a Palestinian state? The question is not only one of right or the number of eventual returnees or the technical economic and social capacity for absorption, but is also a question of the nature of both the Palestinian and the Israeli nation-states, the concept of state sovereignty and its inherent violence, and the inclusion/exclusion that the state exercises to determine who is a citizen. The objective of this article is to demonstrate that so far, while transnational strategies adopted by refugees/returnees/transmigrants themselves are generally flexible, the policies of the nation-states in the region are inflexible. I will demonstrate also that the current nation-state model which is based on the “trinity” of nation-state-territory is unadapted to proposing a solution for the Palestinian refugees problem and that a new model of nation state must be conceptualized, based on flexible borders, flexible citizenship and some kind of separation between the nation and state, what I will call the extra-territorial nation state.

Dans le Communiqué de Bethléem émis par le Fatah, les auteurs semblaient considérer l’avènement d’un État palestinien comme un substitut au droit au retour. Peut-on envisager une solution qui concilierait la création d’un État palestinien et le droit au retour ? La question posée ici n’est pas une question purement légale, ni une question technique, celle de la capacité sociale et économique d’absorption des réfugiés palestiniens de la diaspora. Cette question porte sur la nature des États-nations en présence, tant dans le projet palestinien que dans le cas israélien ; elle touche au concept de souveraineté de l’État et à sa violence propre, à l’inclusion/ exclusion pratiquée par celui-ci afin de désigner ses citoyens. L’objet de cet article est donc de démontrer que, si les stratégies transnationales adoptées par les réfugiés et les migrants montrent une grande flexibilité, les politiques menées par les États de la région sont, pour leur part, caractérisées par leur inflexibilité. Je démontre également que le modèle actuel de l’État-nation, reposant sur la « trinité » nation-État-territoire, est inadapté à la conception d’une solution au problème des réfugiés palestiniens : il s’agit donc d’imaginer un nouveau modèle d’État-nation, caractérisé par des frontières flexibles, une citoyenneté flexible et une forme de séparation entre la nation et l’État, que j’appellerai « État-nation extra-territorial ».

Texte intégral

1In the Bethlehem Fatah communiqué of December 2003, the authors refused to consider the Palestinian State as a substitute for the right of return: “If we must choose between the Palestinian State and the right of return, we will choose the latter.” But is there a solution that encompasses the right of return and a Palestinian State? There is no simple solution to the Palestinian refugees’ problem, only a creative one. The question is not only one of right or the number of eventual returnees or the technical economic and social capacity for absorption. It is also one of the nature of both the Palestinian and the Israeli Nation-States, the concept of state sovereignty and its inherent violence and the inclusion/exclusion that the state exercises to determine who is a citizen. The objective of this article is to discuss the return of Palestinian refugees in the current context and to envision a solution based on the right of return that better fits the situation of refugees. First, I will demonstrate that so far, while transnational strategies adopted by refugees/current returnees/transmigrants themselves are generally flexible, the policies of the Nation-States in the region are inflexible. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA), for example, seems to react negatively to the transnational practices of Palestinians rather than facilitate them and this will have implications for the solution of the refugees’ problem. In this regard, arguably the most instructive discourse is that of Palestine’s draft Constitution, which highlights important contradictions between the national Palestinian discourse and practice on the issues of extraterritoriality.

2Secondly, I will thus demonstrate that the current Nation-State model which is based on the “trinity” of nation-state-territory is unadapted to proposing a solution for the Palestinian refugees problem and that a new model of Nation-State must be conceptualized, based on flexible borders, flexible citizenship and some kind of separation between the Nation and State, what I will call the extra-territorial Nation State. This model of Nation-State is structural and marks a transition between a territorially based Nation-State and a “de-territorialized” one. A rethinking of all traditional political-legal categories in the Middle East is necessary to resolve the problem of refugees in countries where they constitute sometimes one third of the population. It is also important for tackling the question of the identity and the mobility of a whole population.


  • 1 PSR's survey was conducted between January 16 and February 5, 2003 targeting 1,498 Palestinian ref (...)

3Based on one country, one nation and one allegiance, Palestinian negotiators, as for example in the case of the Geneva initiative, propose a solution based on a head-count of refugees in a given place, offering them a few months to decide their fate. However, individuals prefer to maintain flexible citizenship and multiple passports, even if they choose to settle in one place. According to a 2003 Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research survey (PSR),1 some 60 % of Palestinians willing to return to Israel want to hold the nationality of the Palestinian State. Only 2 % want Israeli nationality and one fourth of the entire sample prefers to hold both.

  • 2 A sociological and anthropological survey conducted by the Palestinian Diaspora and Refugee Centre (...)
  • 3 In fact, repatriation takes different forms including an ephemeral form like that of many African (...)

4If the accumulation of foreign passports for some globe trotting business people is “a matter of convenience and confidence” in uncertain political times, for almost all Palestinians who reside abroad, it is a matter of survival. For those who have never possessed a passport, having been forced to cope with travel documents, the passport signifies and allows basic connectivity with family and labor markets. As such, while the classic model of return migration studies mainly envisions a definitive return, the concept of return can be amplified to include a form of being “in between”. Transnational studies provide an excellent conceptual framework for analyzing the experiences of migrants, those who choose to live between worlds. This emerging new form of refugee hood and migration is marked by active participation in the cultural, social, economic and political lives of both the country of origin and the host country, and provides new boundaries for solving the Palestinian problem. A survey conducted by Shaml in 20002 confirmed that a certain degree of transnationality exists among Palestinians (especially among those in the Palestinian Territories, as compared to those in Israel proper). This suggests that there will be a transnational pattern of return migration in the future, much more than a definitive return, and that the kinship network can be used to facilitate this movement.3

  • 4 This section is based on fieldwork conducted between 1998 and 2001 in three phases. First, I inter (...)

5In this section I will examine some transnational practices of Palestinian transmigrants/returnees. While the returnees concern those who are closer to a model of definitive return, the term transmigrants concerns those who return or are in-between while keeping strong ties with the previous country. We will study three elements: the experience of border crossing and the weak transnational networks in certain geographical areas of the diaspora and finally the difficult political involvement in the host countries, especially in the Arab world. These three elements will demonstrate flexible, albeit problematic, transnational practices.4

Palestinian Business People and their Families: the Experience of Border Crossing and Being in-Between

6The most important feature of the group studied in the Palestinian Territories, composed of business people, entrepreneurs, and professionals (whether or not they are affiliated with TOKTEN) is that the majority has more than one residency; those who have come to live physically in Palestinian territories have kept their previous residence abroad. Only 42 % of those interviewed (or whose data was analyzed) possessed a Palestinian identity card (which confers national status on the bearer but also presents a host of mobility and legal problems in dealing with the Israeli government for those who hold another nationality). 12 % have a one-year residency permit and the majority, 46 %, possesses only an Israeli-issued three-month tourist visa. Despite their precarious legal and political situation in the Palestinian Territories, 62 % of those interviewed declared that they had resided in Palestine for over six months, while only 38 % spent more than six months abroad. The majority of interviewees (67 %) had spent at least four months (not necessarily consecutive) abroad, which demonstrates a high degree of transnational mobility.

  • 5 This means an increase in the annual migration rates that prevailed under the Israeli occupation f (...)

7Recently, the events of the new Intifada seem to have forced many business people and professionals to shift their center of life abroad. This high tendency to migrate seems to have increased during the second Intifada, with some leaving the territories because of the security and economic situation. As many as 100,000 Palestinians are thought to have left the West Bank for Jordan and the West since late 2000 (Sletten and Pederson, 2003: 31).5 According to some interviews I conducted, those who left had been suffering from a protracted, low-intensity conflict and departed because of proximate causes, rather than as a consequence of the conflict itself. All this illustrates an eventual easiness on the part of the Palestinian refugees in the future, either to emigrate abroad or to return home.

  • 6 This pattern is also found in other diaspora groups. Aihwa Ong (1999: 20) found that cultural norm (...)

8Beyond the somehow specific case of Palestinian business people, Palestinian families themselves display the same characteristic of being “in-between”. Recent field research presents a profile of fractured networks inside the nuclear family in the Palestinian territories, but not in Israel (Hanafi, 2001; Isotalo, 2002). Mothers and children may reside in one country, husbands and fathers live and work in another, grandparents and more distant relatives may live elsewhere. The fractured family experience could indicate that return will not necessarily involve the whole family, especially in the first years.6

Weak Transnational Networks

9I will now analyze the transnational networks that exist among the countries of the Palestinian Diaspora and in the Palestinian territories, in order to better understand the transnational experience shared by Palestinian returnees. The dispersion of a people, due to forced emigration, has traditionally been analyzed as a contributing factor in the creation of transnational networks. In this view, the initiation of a peace process should foster the re-establishment of local and international economic links following a protracted period of conflict. Using existing ties to the native community, Diasporas are also seen as significant influences on the reshaping and emergence of new economic networks. In this respect, however, the prevalent discourse about diasporic networks has tended towards overstatement, often to mythic proportions. Little attention has been paid to network absence or to networks ruptured as a consequence of structural constraints caused by various factors (such as the impermeability of inter-state borders, the absence of relationships following prolonged separation, etc.). Existing between two worlds, indeed, does not necessarily indicate a transnational life style; transnationalism is also rooted in extensive exchanges, new modes of transacting, and the multiplication of activities beyond the national borders (Grillo, Riccio and Salih, 2000: 6).

10Analysis of the networks of Palestinian communities in Diaspora demonstrates many forms of networking with varying degrees of institutionalization: familial networks often managed by family councils, “village” clubs (which continue to play an important role in United States) and national and nationalistic-religious networks based usually on affiliation with various popular organizations connected to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) or Hamas and its periphery. In Europe and in North America, however, we find highly active supra-national networks based on Arab or religious affiliation, which embrace diverse Arab groups of various national origins.

11In a previous work (Hanafi, 2001), I have demonstrated that the value of network analysis lies in its capacity to recognize formal and informal networks while maintaining the distinction between institutional affiliation and network affiliation. Being a member of an institution such as the General Union of Palestine Students in France, for example, does not automatically imply informal social or other ties with fellow members that extend beyond the duration of a political meeting. The epicenters of the national and nationalistic mobilizations in many western countries, in fact, are more a product of infra-national and supra-national networks, such as village clubs, like the Bethlehem and Birzeit Clubs, as well as Islamic mosque based networks. If the Internet, indeed, constitutes a major new environment based on virtual reality, it has yet to have a noticeable impact in the activation of these networks according to my empirical studies.

12The weakness of Palestinian transnational networks can be explained by problems of international mobility (the Palestinian experience at border crossings) and the legacy of refugee status in the Palestinian dispersion which continues to be a source of fragile legal status in the host countries, as demonstrated below, even if a more fundamental problem, however, is related to the Palestinian Diaspora’s weak center of gravity.

Weak Involvement in the Political Process of the Host Countries

13Palestinian transmigrants have encountered difficulties of political integration in host countries, especially those in the Arab world. Ironically, the Palestinian Diaspora has demonstrated a greater involvement in the political environment and process of Western states. This is indicative of a generally fragile legal status in Arab host states. In Jordan, Syria and Egypt, Palestinians experience numerous difficulties when attempting to exercise political activities and are widely considered to be interfering in internal and local affairs. Mourid Barghouthi noted in his biography, for example, that “the stranger is the person who renews his Resident Permit. He fills out forms and buys the stamps for them. He has come up with evidence and proofs. […]. He does not care for the details that concern the people of the country where he finds himself or for their ‘domestic’ policy. But he is the first to feel its consequences. He may not rejoice in what makes them happy but he is always afraid when they are afraid. He is always ‘infiltrating element’ in demonstrations, even if he never left his house that day” (1998: 3). However, in Syria and Jordan, the second Intifada was the occasion for some Palestinian organizations to mobilize the Palestinian population in those countries.

14Though the waters may be muddy, Palestinians have nevertheless found methods of participating in the political affairs of their host countries, often using “soft politics” to indirectly involve themselves in political actions, even if it cannot be communitarian in nature. Among Arab states, it has been easier to exercise non-communitarian activities in Jordan and Egypt. Conversely, in Syria and in Lebanon where refugee camps operate as a kind of autonomous area, Palestinians have had some success in exercising Palestinian national politics. Egypt and Jordan have long deprived Palestinians of the possibility of political organizing based on national origin. In Jordan, for example, the only organizing possible has been along the lines of the “village club” as it follows the same logic of tribal associations which are accepted there. In Jordan, many of the leaders of professional organizations, of engineers’, medical doctors’ and lawyers’ unions are of Palestinian origin. In Lebanon and Syria, however, Palestinians have been prohibited de jure or de facto from participating in Syrian and Lebanese affairs. In the Gulf petro-monarchies, where migrants are not allowed to exercise any political communitarian or non-communitarian activities, Palestinian communities hold a very low position.

15The reason for their weak involvement in the political life of the Arab host countries is the incapacity of many Nation-States in the region to accept political action from non-citizen residents in their territories and their inflexibility in tackling transnational subjects. While political action is still highly controlled by the states, the economic sphere is much less under scrutiny.

The Spatial Configuration of Palestine and the Diaspora: a Weak Center of Gravity

16The weakness of the center of gravity in the Palestinian case also plays a great role in an eventual fading of connectivity between the various Palestinian communities around the world. A classic diaspora model possesses a center of gravity which serves two functions: 1) to direct the flow of communication between diaspora members in different peripheries and 2) a physical location where diaspora members (especially family) can meet. While the first function does not necessarily require a physical location since it could easily be provided by a server or institution whose location is of little importance (such as the National Jewish fund for the Jews, the PLO in Tunisia in the Palestinian case, the PKK-Germany for Kurds, etc.), the second function by its nature necessitates a geographical location.

17The geographical localization of the center assumes great importance in terms of communitarian economic transactions. The studies I conducted with Palestinian entrepreneurs demonstrate the importance of the physical meeting-place. A Palestinian originally from Nazareth, for example, can maintain a very active economic network facilitated by meetings in Nazareth for those Palestinians residing abroad and those Palestinians remaining in the city. In contrast, Palestinians originating from Haifa are not likely to be able to make use of such a network, as a result of the quasi-total deportation of Palestinians from this city by Israelis following 1948. The inaccessibility to a territorial reference point hinders tremendously the possibility of Palestinians from such regions as Haifa to meet. A family whose members are dispersed between Damascus, Montreal, Amman, Abu Dhabi would find little interest in meeting in Syria where there is only one member, while those originating from an Arab country may find the cost of traveling to such a remote location as Canada prohibitive, even before the question of acquiring a visa emerges as a problem.

18The Palestinian Territories then might seem to constitute a “natural” center of gravity for the Palestinian Diaspora. Yet several factors converge to prevent the Palestinian Territories from assuming this role. While the territories remain inaccessible to the majority of Palestinians abroad, many in the Palestinian Diaspora have lost confidence in the Palestinian National Authority during the process of State-building. While the diaspora has played a major role in the context of the national issue and through its support of the PLO during the 50 years of resistance, it consciously refuses to transform its role to the one Baron Rothschild played in the Zionist settlement of Mandatory Palestine – i.e, that of a disinterested financial patron. Diaspora Palestinians may be willing to support their homeland economically and financially but still insist on playing a role in the decision making processes regarding the procedures of institution building. There are ambivalent feelings and paradoxical tensions at work in the construction of the diaspora: a positive appreciation of its responsiveness is necessary; nevertheless, its national commitments usually spark a deleterious suspicion. As an illustration of this ambiguous situation, Palestinian business people originating from North and Latin America were recently confronted with an unfavorable atmosphere in Palestine and subsequently transferred their business to the two countries which are the closest to Palestine, that is, to Jordan and Egypt. While Egypt retains a negative policy to the presence of Palestinians in its territory, Jordan, the only Arab State which provides citizenship to Palestinians and subsequently possesses a vibrant Palestinian community and extensive Palestinian social and economic networks, is a likely candidate to play a role as a central node of Palestinian networks. Jordan’s potential as a center of gravity, however, remains weaker than that of the Palestinian Territories and both centers have become increasingly fragile due to rivalry between the PNA and the Jordanian government.

  • 7 In relation to Eastern Europe, Morawska (1998: 8) also argues that “we are far from a civic-univer (...)

19Moreover, I want to insist here on the following fact: while many Palestinian scholars are used to dealing with identity in the strict terms of its juridical-legal status, the disciplinary norms of colonialism, capitalism and culture should also be seen as constraining and shaping strategies for this identity and for flexible subject making. Although the construction of Palestinian identity began after the establishment of the British Mandate in Palestine, the crystallization of this identity – which occurred within a multilayered context of space and time – is a relatively recent phenomenon (Khalidi, 1997). The same can be said for the Arab and Israeli identities that emerged during the same period. Because of the relative tenuousness of this process of crystallization, the state in the Arab world became a nationalizing state (État nationalisant). I.e., “after making Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, […] it must make the Syrians, the Lebanese, the Jordanians […]” (Kodmani, 1997: 217). The same things could be said of Israel and the Israelis.7 Generally speaking, migrants are not encouraged (and are sometimes hindered) from declaring allegiance to either their countries of origin or their host countries (Hanafi, 1997: 13; 2001). This fact explains the manner in which some Palestinians are assimilated to their host societies, while others retain a sense of unstated double identity, with less of a feeling of alienation. The weakness of the center of gravity of the Palestinian Diaspora, along with the newly established Palestinian national identity, thus raises many complex questions about Palestinian State formation and the ability of the Palestinian National Authority to challenge the classic pattern of citizenship and nation-States.


Transnationalism and the Building of a “Flexible Citizenship”

20Indeed, while Palestinian populations (whether refugees or not) are used to adopting flexible survival strategies in both their host countries and the Palestinian territories, these states do not facilitate such flexibility. Political environments that frame Palestinian refugees/transmigrants are hostile to transnational practices, or at least, do not facilitate them. Broadly, there appear to be two asynchronous dynamics at work: one that accelerates the presence of transnational actors in the territories, and another one that is bound up with the identity and political closeness of the decision makers within the PNA, as we will see below. The tension between these two is quite normal. As Ong argues (1999: 6), one should see transnationalism not in terms of unstructured flows, but in terms of tensions between movements and social orders. Transmigrants develop a flexible notion of citizenship in order to accumulate capital and power. According to Ong, flexible citizenship refers to the cultural logics of capitalist accumulation, travel, and displacement that induce subjects to respond fluidly and opportunistically to changing political and economic conditions. Meanwhile, however, the state seeks to preserve its inflexible sovereignty. Thus flexible citizenship is constituted within mutually reinforcing dynamics of discipline and escape (1999: 19).

Refugees and the Nation-State

21Generally speaking, the crisis of the modern Nation-State, as pertaining to the incorporation of refugees, is apparent on many different levels. For the purpose of this paper, it is important to highlight three of these levels. On the level of legislation which governs the relationship between citizenship and State, the sovereign, according to Carl Schmitt and to Giorgio Agamben (1997), has the capacity of proclaiming a state of exception. In such instances he is no longer submitted to the provisions instituted by the constitution, which can be undermined or suspended. This temporary suspension becomes a new and stable spatial arrangement. The exception is thus becoming the rule and, consequently, the populations’ ontological status of legal subjects is suspended. The sovereign has the capacity to transform-naturalize whole chunks of the population, turning them into stateless refugees. The Israeli policies of exception in Jerusalem makes the entire Palestinian population there temporary residents, who must prove at all times that their center of life is the city; the massive expulsion of Palestinian refugees from Libya and the absence of civil and socio-economic rights of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, are both examples of the use of exception by a sovereign to suspend the status of the specific undesirable populace.

22The second level concerns the question of who is the beneficiary of rights in the Nation-State. The classical order of Nation-State has developed rights for citizens but not for human beings. Hannah Arendt extraordinarily noted as early as the beginning of the 1950s that there is no place for the human being outside the Nation-State (Arendt, 1985). There are citizens’ rights but not human rights. To have rights, you must be a citizen. The refugees and the stateless do not have rights but “benefits” and their ontological status is dependent on the disciplinary apparatuses of the police and security forces. This issue is not confined to the Middle East: more and more refugees are excepted from legal norms in European countries. There, refugees retain the vulnerability of their status even after acquiring nationality. Any criminal or other questionable activities put them at risk of denaturalization.

23The third level concerns the willingness of the sovereign to identify the state with a nation or with a religion: “Israel is a Jewish State”, “Jordan First”, etc. raise the problem of that critical segment of the population which, through (forced or voluntary) migration, acquires another nationality, another allegiance, another home, and another homeland.

Palestinian Draft Constitution: Negotiating Extra-Territoriality?

24However, the PNA has tried theoretically to resolve the problem of its de-territorialized Palestinian population. In this regard, arguably the most instructive discourse is that of Palestine’s draft Constitution. The document is the work of a Palestinian Constitutional Committee, established by Yasser Arafat in November 1999. The Committee’s mandate and efforts were endorsed by the Central Council of the PLO at various meetings in 2000. The latest version (third draft) that appeared in June 2003 will be discussed here. Interestingly, the draft Constitution highlights important contradictions between the national Palestinian discourse and practice on the issues of extraterritoriality.

25The draft provides a basic and broad definition of Palestinian citizenship. According to Article 12, “Palestinian nationality shall be regulated by law, without prejudice to the rights of those who legally acquired it prior to May 15, 1948, or the rights of Palestinians residing in Palestine prior to that date, and were forced into exile or departed from there or were denied return thereto. This right passes on from fathers or mothers to their progenitor. It neither disappears nor elapses unless voluntarily relinquished as provided by law. No Palestinian shall be deprived of his nationality. The acquisition and renouncement of Palestinian nationality shall be regulated by law. The rights and duties of citizens with multiple nationalities shall be governed by law”. Thus Palestinian nationality includes Palestinians who have not been able to reside in the Palestinian territories. These people have, according to Article 13 from the same section, the right of return to the Palestinian State. However, it makes a light statement regarding their right to return to their homes inside Israel, by using the following term: “the Palestinian State will deploy all its effort to insure the possibility of the return to Israel.”

26On the participation of Palestinians abroad in governance and national affairs, it is significant that the PLO and the Palestinian National Council have all but disappeared from the Constitution, with their only role being to approve of it. Instead, Palestinians in diaspora will participate only in the so-called Advisory Council, which, according to Article 109, will be “composed of one hundred and fifty members”, and “shall be established according to this Constitution. In its formation due consideration shall be given to the ratio of distribution of the Palestinian population in Palestine and abroad. The law shall regulate election or appointment of its members according to their countries of residence”. This council has much less power than the Palestinian National Council, and it is clear that the PNA is seeking to minimize the importance of the diaspora over time.

27Indeed, if we compare this third version from June 2003 with previous drafts from 2001, we can see to what extent the importance given to the participation of the diaspora in the emerging state has been diminished. According to the first draft of July 2001, Article 67 (from Chapter 2: Branches of Government), considers the Arab Palestinian people as “the source of authority” and asserts that “They shall exercise them through the PLO and branches of government in the State of Palestine as defined in the Constitution, guaranteeing the participation of the Palestinian refugees living abroad in designing national public policies”. To that end, Article 70 (From Chapter 2, Section 1: The Legislative Branch) stipulates that the legislative authority of the Palestinian people be vested in two councils, the first of which will be a “legislative council, composed of 150 representatives of the Palestinian people in the State of Palestine”, and specifying that “it alone shall be entrusted with the legislative and oversight role in the state. It shall be elected in accordance with the provisions of the Palestinian elections law”. The second council specified by the Article is “the National Council, composed of 150 representatives of Palestinian refugees abroad. It shall be formed to protect and guarantee a just representation within the Legislative Council to determine laws connected with general national rights. The members of the National Council shall be chosen according to the election system of the National Council until it is amended”. The comparison between 2001’s and 2003’s versions of the draft Constitution starkly illustrates the discrepancy between the apparent willingness of the PNA to accommodate transnational practices within the Palestinian Diaspora, and the rhetorical and proto-juridical position to which the PNA is bound. While its policies tend de facto to be inflexible, the constitutional discourse clearly envisages formal structures that can accommodate hybridity. Notably, beyond the Constitution, the current discourse also indicates that the Palestinian liberation movement has envisaged a structure that apportions shared responsibility for Palestinians abroad between the PLO and the PNA. However, until now, the post-Oslo era has evidenced a marginalization of the PLO and increased competition between the PNA and PLO, rather than an effort towards sharing the responsibility and burden of governance.


Grades of Sovereignty and Inflexibility

28From then on, one can imagine two adaptive forms that would allow a Nation-State to deal with people outside of its territories: a de-territorialized Nation-State or an extra-territorialized Nation-State. The literature on transnationalism could be considered a good framework for thinking about the former type. For instance, Basch et al. (1994) consider origin countries as “de-territorialized Nation-States” in the sense that this state “…[s]tretches beyond its geographic boundaries” so that “the nation’s people may live anywhere in the world and still not live outside the state. By this logic, there is no longer a diaspora because wherever its people go, their state goes too” (1994: 269).

29Indeed, my research (Hanafi, 2000) indicates that, in the context of the intense mobility and networked exchanges that have been fostered by both globalization and war, the state has not lost control. Rather, as Sassen argues, it has merely refashioned sovereignty in order to meet the challenges of globalization, challenges such as the movement of people and capital, and the proliferation of supranational organizations. And it doesn’t imply for instance that the Nation-State is weaker because it allows capital mobility. Rather, “the existence of a final, highest, or supreme power over a set of people, things, or places” remains central to our understanding of the shifting relations between the state, the market, and society, relations that have not ended but have been reshaped in the era of globalization. How so? Ong conceives of sovereignty as flexible since globalization “has induced a situation of graduated sovereignty, whereby even as the state maintains control over its territory, it is also willing in some cases to let corporate entities set terms for constituting and regulating some domains while weaker and less desirable groups are given over to the regulation of supranational entities. What results is a system of variegated citizenship in which populations subjected to different regimes of value enjoy different kinds of rights, discipline, caring, and security” (1999: 215). In the Palestinian case, there are different grades of sovereignty that will have many implications for the mobility of the Palestinian populations and for finding a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. The Palestinian “sovereign”, in interaction with the real Israeli occupying sovereign, is exercising the exception in order to create different categories of populations corresponding to four categories of sovereignty:

  • In the first category are Palestinian residents who can prove uni-allegiance to the Palestinian Nation-State. With such allegiance, the PNA can assert its power to construct national legitimacy. Into this category falls that part of the population that originates in the West Bank and Gaza, or those refugees who arrived with the PNA, and who mainly hold Palestinian travel documents (what has wrongly been called Palestinian passports).
  • The second category of sovereignty encompasses refugees dwelling in the camps in the West Bank and Gaza, which are ceded by the PNA to the regulatory power of a supranational agency, namely UNRWA. The PNA considers the camps as temporary structures awaiting the implementation of the right of return. Accordingly, very little infrastructure has been built in the camps. Local authorities also consider the camps as extraterritorial. In Nablus, for instance, the municipality does not want to provide electricity to the Balata refugee camp despite the fact that it is located within Nablus’ municipal boundaries. In addition, camp residents do not take part in the municipal elections in the West Bank, though they will in the Gaza Strip.

30Notably, the PNA has not only delegated its responsibilities toward Palestinian refugees to international and inter-governmental organizations, but also its responsibilities toward repatriated Palestinian professionals. According to the PNA, the repatriation of such professionals should be taken care of by international programs, eg. the UNDP’s TOKTEN program (Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals). This raises questions about the ability of the Nation-State to deal with issues relating to skilled migration and averting chances of a brain drain. In an increasingly globalized market for skilled labor, developing countries are rarely able to compete with developed countries because the latter offer far higher wages. In such cases, TOKTEN may be considered a mechanism by which recipient countries (usually western) compensate countries of origin. Such a mechanism can prove vital in the Palestinian context, characterized as it is by political and economic circumstances that do not encourage (and actually impede) the repatriation of refugees and diasporic peoples, and which instead likely encourages a continuous outflow of skilled individuals.

31The third category pertains to people who have “returned” after a long stay in the West, mainly the US, and have decided to move to the Palestinian territories as professionals or investors. The PNA’s position vis-à-vis them is ambivalent. On the one hand, the PNA offers them tax breaks for many years in order to encourage investment (up to 15 years depending on the type of investment), but on the other hand it is very suspicious of their potential dual allegiances. In other words, the eroding effectiveness of traditional Nation State-based practices of regulation, taxation and law enforcement, that are expected to enable the emergence of new patterns of cooperation among Nation-States in this region (Cooper, 1997: 3) contrasts and conflicts with the tendency of the state to close itself off vis-à-vis other regional states.

32The fourth category concerns Palestinians holding Israeli passport. The nature of their relationship with the Palestinian Nation-State is complicated; predominantly these people want to remain Israeli citizens while retaining social, economic and political relations with the Palestinian territories. However, many circles within the PNA have a difficult time coming to terms with this as it is reflected for instance in how it regulates interaction between civil societies across the Green Line. Since the promulgation, toward the end of 1999, of a PNA law regulating NGOs, the Palestinian Ministry of Interior has refused to allow Palestinian Israelis to participate in or serve on the administrative committees or boards of any Palestinian NGO. This policy of demarcation was also followed to some extent by elements within the private sector that wanted to reinforce a separation between the Palestinian territories and Israel. For instance, the Palestinian Telecommunications Company, PALTEL, tried for some time to internationalize communications between the Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem on the one hand, and West Jerusalem and the rest of Israel on the other, pricing a call across these areas as an international call, a policy which notably did not take into account how such a move might impede connectivity within family networks.

33Some incidents over the past years have richly illustrated how tricky it is to deal with the various categories of Palestinians within a classical concept of the Nation-State that grants rights and duties only to citizens. One of these incidents, the case of Palestinian-Qatari Issam Abu Issa, terminally damaged diplomatic relations between the Palestinian National Authority and the government of the Gulf Emirate of Qatar.

34Issam Abu Issa was the head of the Palestine International Bank (PIB), which was set up in 1997 by government ministers and businessmen from the Gulf, and with a majority of Qatari shareholders. In December 1999, Issa was charged by the Palestinian National Authority with embezzling $20 million dollars from the bank through unsecured loans granted during his tenure at PIB. When Abu Issa, who holds Qatari citizenship, on December 20, 1999, sought refuge in the Qatari representative office in Gaza, the mission was put under a 24-hour watch by Palestinian security forces. Following a two-week-long standoff during which the Qatari representative was recalled from Gaza, an agreement was finally reached on January 3 that allowed Issa and his two jailed brothers to leave for Qatar, while an independent task force audited the relevant accounts. Issa protested his innocence, claiming the accusations were political in nature, and accused the Authority of trying to take over the privately run bank.

35What is interesting for our purposes about this story is that some of the PNA people involved (interviewed by the author) affirmed that Abu Issa, who is a Palestinian citizen and was residing on Palestinian soil, shouldn’t have been able to benefit from the fact that he also holds a Qatari passport. In this respect, it is important to pay attention to the vocabulary of the PNA officer interviewed, who in categorizing Abu Issa as a “Palestinian citizen” and a “Qatari passport holder” established a hierarchy within which the country of origin surmounts the host country. In doing so, this officer faithfully reflects the spirit of the draft constitution, which states in its third draft that, “Residents of the State of Palestine shall be subject to Palestinian jurisdiction exclusively”. Meanwhile, the Qatari representative highlighted only the fact that Abu Issa is Qatari, which rendered his seeking refuge with the Qatari representative in Gaza a normal action. In many states in the Middle East, citizenship remains linked to nationality and non-citizens are in principle denied access to the public sphere defined by the state. As argued by Grillo, Riccio and Salih (2000), this is also the case in many Western countries.

Toward the Extra-Territorial Nation-State

36In view of our research, and the tension between the transnational practices of Palestinian transmigrants/returnees/refugees and the policies of the Palestinian State, it may be that the PNA could be more reliable as an extra-territorialized nation state rather than a de-territorialized one. This kind of state is territorialized in the manner of any other state, but distinguishes between citizenship and nationality. Accordingly, the rights and the duties of those who live in the Palestinian territories would not be a function of their nationality (i.e. whether they are Palestinian or not.) At the same time, those who live abroad, who are of Palestinian origin, could also enjoy rights and duties, even though not residing permanently in the Palestinian Territories. Notably, however, such an arrangement will be possible only if the Palestinian National Authority is able to enter into special agreements with countries that host Palestinian refugees to facilitate the attainment of full dual citizenship. Accordingly, Palestinian citizenship would be available even to people residing outside of Palestine. This, particularly in light of outstanding questions regarding the absorption capacity of Palestinian refugees, could be an honorable solution for those who are not willing to return but who would, nevertheless, like to belong to a Palestinian nation and be involved in Palestinian public affairs.

37Currently we find the model of extra-territorial states in many places in the world. In Europe, for instance, any French citizen is also a European one, who can refer to the European court to sue his government or any group located in his own country. The majority of Bosnian refugees, since the Dayton Agreement in 1995, enjoy a status as resident or are even naturalized in a western European country as well as Bosnian nationality as they have the right of return there. Some might argue that this model has been applied only in developed countries where economic factors play a determining role, but I think we also find informal or formal flexibility in many developing countries in Asia and Africa.

Matrices of Refugee Solution

38It is difficult to talk about the de-territorialization of identity as disembodied from the particulars of space. In the Palestinian context in particular, identity is still highly territorialized, insofar as the contest over land and the struggle for national liberation shape every day life. In this region it is very hard to imagine such a state. Smith’s argument, that Nation-States are “territorial by definition”, bears some weight in this context (1998).

39However, the relationship between national identity and territory is fraught with considerable ambivalence and contradictory and multivalent dynamics. In understanding these, Lena Jayyusi (forthcoming) insists on the importance of national identity as collectivity. For her: “identity can be thought of as practice of presence: its ‘absence’ then can only be the experience of a condition of compulsion, not merely of lack, or of non-presence. That is to say, the ‘absence’ of identity is not merely a docile absence (…) it can be a produced absence.”

40This produced, structured and constrained identity has not hindered transmigrants from exhibiting flexible behaviors in spite of the inflexible policies of the states in the region, policies that have seen flexibility and mobility as a threat to the classical authoritarian pattern of sovereignty. In seeking a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, this paper has argued in favor of the model of two extraterritorial Nation-States (Israeli and Palestinian). This model falls somewhere between the two-states solution, which, due to power inequities, is now leading instead to an apartheid system, and the unpopular bi-national state solution. A sort of “confederation” may be a more feasible solution: two extraterritorial nation states, with Jerusalem as their shared capital, contemporaneously forming, without territorial division, two different states. This conclusion goes along with that of Eyal Weizman concerning the failure of any solution based on complete separation. He wrote:

“Against the endless search for the form and mechanisms of ‘perfect’ separation comes the realization that a viable solution does not lie within the realm of design. Instead of a further play of identity-politics in complex geometry, a non-territorial approach, based on cooperation, mutuality, and equality, must lead to the inevitability of politics of space sharing” (Weizman, 2004).

41I will propose two matrices which show the possibility for resolving the Palestinian refugee problem, one that runs along the two rigid states solution lines and the other on the model of extra-territorial nation state.

42The current matrix is based on the negotiations achieved in Taba or Geneva Initiative. It is, as will be seen, very restrictive:

43In this framework, there is no admission of responsibility on behalf of Israel for the birth and plight of Palestinian refugees but only compassion of the refugee plight as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak formulated at Camp David.

44If the previous matrix was based on the assumption that the return of refugees is a matter of demographic and political stability, in the new matrix below, I argue that the debate should shift to other issues at stake like citizenship. This matrix differentiates between citizenship and residency. While all refugees should benefit from multiple nationalities, this will not necessarily translate into a mass movement of populations.

Matrix for refugees of 1948

Matrix for displaced people

45There are three conditions for a matrix based on a model of extra-territorial Nation-States: the ability to hold three nationalities, one of the current host country (or a third country), Palestine and Israel; full responsibility is taken by Israel for the creation and plight of the Palestinian refugees; and any restriction of these advantages should be subject to bilateral or multilateral agreement between concerned states. As Lex Takkenberg argues: “It is important that the international conference reaches agreement on a harmonized approach to citizenship and residency for former Palestinian refugees” (Takkenberg, 1998). The OSCE/UNHCR effort on harmonization of citizenship and residency standards in the countries of the CIS is one example that may be considered for guidance. Lack of harmonization could engender continued forced migration across the region and could lead to instability and/or conflict where one state’s citizenship or residency laws – in the context of unresolved displacement or new flows – could be regarded as a threat by another state. Any solution, in other words, must be regional, otherwise the lack of coordination between host countries and the country of origin, could end up sending refugees in a perpetual orbit between countries because they are denied residence status.

46Of course, other constitutional arrangements based on residency and not on citizenship may be feasible to allow refugees to have multiple residencies instead of multiple nationalities. However, this is likely to generate conflict rather than resolve it as traditionally the countries of the region are quick to expel non-citizens in case of social or political conflict.


47In this article, we emphasized the discrepancy between the practices of Nation-States, based on an adequacy between territory, population and citizenship and that of Palestinian refugees. Friedman (1997) argues that in the past, “diasporic identity entailed a political accusation of treachery, a fifth column aimed at penetrating and conquering the nation from within”. This perception is still prevalent in many countries in the Middle East, including the Palestinian territories, as evidenced for instance by the discourse of security officers in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere in the Arab World. This discourse projects symbolic violence against people who enjoy dual nationalities and thus dual allegiances, as was demonstrated above in the case of Issam Abu Issa. In other words, the hegemonic political system reacts violently to the fragmentation of political identity and the exercise of terrorism against the concerned people pushes them to hide their identity’s plural nature. The problem is not often noted: the Abu Issa affair was highlighted by the media only because Abu Issa is close to the Qatari government. Yet it is clear that this and other similar cases reflect the PNA’s fear of the discourse of hybridity and its preference to identify people as either fully Palestinian or not at all. In a globalised world, where transnational networks increasingly support people’s livelihoods and channel economic activities, the refugee thus becomes the vanguard of humanity because he reveals the failure of the Nation-State model that emerged after the Second World War to deal with the movement of populations and the consequences of war and conflict.



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1 PSR's survey was conducted between January 16 and February 5, 2003 targeting 1,498 Palestinian refugee households distributed among 150 localities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

2 A sociological and anthropological survey conducted by the Palestinian Diaspora and Refugee Centre (Shaml), between January and October 2000.

3 In fact, repatriation takes different forms including an ephemeral form like that of many African refugees, which was labelled “periodic repatriation”. There are many parts of Africa where refugees have crossed a border but stay close to it, in anticipation of a speedy return. In many cases, they remain in the same ethnic region or in areas into which they may have traditionally migrated on a seasonal basis (Rogge, 1994: 31). This form of repatriation could eventually be relevant to Palestinians who prefer to reside in Palestinian Territories, or close to Jordan or Egypt, rather than Israel for fear of ethnic friction with the Jewish majority. Any deadline for refugees to choose their place of permanent settlement will fail, if the peace process does not create a flexible time-space framework.

4 This section is based on fieldwork conducted between 1998 and 2001 in three phases. First, I interviewed 44 business people and then I analyzed data relating to 178 Palestinian professionals, who filled short consultancies in the Palestinian Territories (between 3 months to one year), within the framework of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTEN). Finally I interviewed 15 returnee professionals with no affiliation to the TOKTEN program. It should be noted that all the subjects, as professionals, generally belong to a specific social category, ranging from middle class to wealthy. All statistics in the following section refer to the 237 people surveyed, unless stated otherwise.

5 This means an increase in the annual migration rates that prevailed under the Israeli occupation from 1967 to 1993 (0.5-2 percent, e.g. 5,000-15,000 from the West Bank and 3,000-7,000 from the Gaza Strip) (ICBS, 1993: 760). It is very hard to find current statistics on emigration from Palestine because people feel ashamed to leave during the national struggle. People who leave are likely to be well educated middle class members and not from the working class.

6 This pattern is also found in other diaspora groups. Aihwa Ong (1999: 20) found that cultural norms dictate the formation of translocal business networks in the case of overseas Chinese living abroad: males possessed mobility while women and children remain the disciplinable subjects of familial regimes.

7 In relation to Eastern Europe, Morawska (1998: 8) also argues that “we are far from a civic-universalist type of nationalism that has relied in principle on voluntary commitment and therefore flexible criteria of membership in the national collectivity, and on the legal-democratic, consensual process in resolving inter-group tensions.”

Table des illustrations

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Légende Matrix for refugees of 1948
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Légende Matrix for displaced people
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