This past October marked the third anniversary of the establishment of the Global Network of Experts on the Question of Palestine (GNQP), part of a three-year ARDD program dedicated to the “Question of Palestine 70 Years On: Priorities for Action”. Launched in October 2018, on the sidelines of the inaugural network workshop, the program aims to strengthen dialogue on Palestine and Palestinian refugees through strategic, innovative and evidence-based advocacy.
The network brings together leading experts in various issues concerning Palestine, providing the opportunity to critically discuss relevant issues, generate new ideas and use the available knowledge to advance the cause of justice for Palestine and the Palestinian people, including Palestinian refugees. To date, the network held two in-person workshops, in October 2018 and October 2019, and produced a number of policy briefs
In view of the ongoing restrictions on international travel and in-person meetings, which will possibly be in place even in the first half of 2021, the network will hold six online roundtables, 2 hours each, with each focusing on a specific theme suggested by a network member. The events, that started taking place in November and are slated to be held during the first half of 2021, are moderated by Dr. Lex Takkenberg, a member of the network’s Steering Committee.
The first of these events, “Beyond the Covid-19 Emergency: What is Happening to Palestinian Refugees and the Question of Palestine”, took place on 3 November 2020. The session was introduced by Mouin Rabbani, a Dutch-Palestinian political analyst, who presented an analysis of developments related to the question of Palestine since the last GNQP workshop in October 2019, including the actions of the Trump administration vis-à-vis respect Palestine and Palestinian refugees, and the normalization of diplomatic relations between the Israeli occupation state and a number of Gulf countries. During subsequent discussion, participants expressed concern about the fate of Palestinian refugees after the US elections. Under Trump, the US position was clear: the administration went as far as to argue that there are no Palestinian refugees and therefore there is no need to solve this problem. Trump administration’s position was clearly different from that of previous US administrations, which at least recognized that refugees represented a core issue that would have to be addressed at some point during the process of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some attendees found even more worrisome, the way Palestinians themselves have been dealing with the issue of refugee in recent years, noting that Palestinians, refugees including, seem to gradually become disparate, politically irrelevant, communities.
On 7 December 2020, the network reconvened for a second roundtable on “The US Election Results: Impact on Palestinian Refugees and the Broader Question of Palestine”. In his introduction, presented at the roundtable, Professor Riccardo Bocco of the Graduate Institute in Geneva looked at the implications of the impending change in the US administration, saying that attention should be paid to three main issues: the incoming Biden administration, the PLO/PA and Palestinian diaspora, and the Israeli occupation state. For the US, expected to focus on forging unity after the divisive Trump years and the Covid pandemic, the focus in the Middle East will most likely be on Iran, while issues concerning the Palestinians will find themselves at the bottom of the list of priorities. Biden is expected to resume funding the PA and UNRWA, although not necessarily at the levels witnessed in the pre-Trump era, and to reengage with the PLO/Government of Palestine. With Trump out of the picture, the Palestinian leadership is bound to resume its role of subcontractor for the Israeli occupation, the prospect of Palestinian reconciliation will continue to be bleak and PLO will be faced with a leadership crisis. In the Israeli occupation state, the situation is equally fragile, with a possible fourth election looming. The recent normalization agreements with some Gulf countries offer Israeli occupation state new opportunities, but in the short term, it is increasingly unlikely that such agreement will be reached with Saudi Arabia. Subsequent discussions touched on the conditions for resuming US funding of UNRWA, Mahmoud Abbas’ initiative for a new UN peace conference, and the broader regional context, co-sponsored by Egypt and Jordan.