According the draft accord, published on Monday in the Arab and Israeli press, Palestinians would give up the right of return for refugees in exchange for a semblance of sovereignty over al-Haram al-Sharif compound, including al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites.

The agreement also stipulates that all Jewish settlements built in East Jerusalem would remain under Israeli rule, while the Arab neighbourhoods of the city would come under Palestinian sovereignty.

Israel would also annex most of the largest settlements in the West Bank.

Rejected

“This agreement represents the views of those who signed it, it doesn’t represent the views of the Palestinian people,” said Jamil Majdalawi, a prominent leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Speaking to Aljazeera.net on Monday, Majdalawi accused the Palestinian co-signatories of the agreement of being “no more than publicity hounds”.

Reasserting the paramount importance of the right of return, Majdalawi said that neither the Palestinian Authority nor the PLO had any right to concede or sell out the right of return for the Palestinian refugees.

“This is both a personal and collective right, nobody, no matter what position he occupies, has any right to give up a right that does not belong to him.”

"This agreement is a scandalous corruption of the Oslo Agreement''

Jamil Majdalawi,
PFLP

Majdalawi called the accord “a scandalous corruption of the Oslo Agreement.”

“As the Oslo Agreement was a corruption of the UN Security Council resolution 242, this agreement is a scandalous corruption of the Oslo Agreement.”

Not negotiable

A harsher criticism of the agreement came from Abd Allah al-Hourani, Head of the PLO Refugee Department.

“I want to remind you that the right of return is at the heart of the Palestinian question. Without realising that right, any Palestinian political entity would be meaningless.”

Al-Hourani, who lives in Gaza, told Aljazeera.net that no peace agreement excluding the right of return would survive long.

“I am talking about five million refugees, or 60% of the Palestinian people. Who could possibly give up these people’s right to return to their native hometowns and villages from which they were expelled at gunpoint?”

Palestinian refugees carry food
distributed by the United Nations
in Al-Amari camp, Ram Allah

Al-Hourani accused the Palestinian leadership of seeking to “sacrifice the right of return for a deformed state,” adding that “the right of return is more paramount that Palestinian statehood.”

He further warned that the PLO would lose its status as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people once it chose to scrap the right of return.”

“Realising the right of return for the refugees was the raison d’etre of the PLO. If the PLO agreed to give up that right, it would lose its raison d’etre.”

PR bubbles

For their part, Palestinian Authority leaders refused to comment on the draft.

Instead, some junior officials sought to downplay its significance on the ground that the Palestinian and Israeli figures who signed it represented neither the Palestinian leadership nor the Israeli government.

However, Yaqub Shahin, a high-ranking official in the PA information ministry, described the agreement as “public relations bubbles”.

“This so-called agreement is just another public relations bubble to be added to the previous numerous bubbles. It shouldn’t be given more attention than it deserves.”

Shahin denied that the agreement was signed with the knowledge and coordination of the Palestinian leadership.

“I want to remind you that the Camp David talks at the end of (former US President Bill) Clinton’s term collapsed because of the issue of the refugees, because Yasir Arafat refused to give up that right in return for statehood.”

Arafat 'accepts' agreement

However, one of the main Palestinian co-signatories to the Geneva accord, former Information Minister Yasir Abd Rabbu, has been quoted as saying that PA leader Yasir Arafat gave his consent to the accord.

“President Arafat, Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya and former Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas have all congratulated me on reaching this historical document,” Abd Rabbu was quoted as saying.

“There is nothing in the agreement indicating that we have conceded the right of return”

Hisham Abd al-Razzaq,
Palestinian Legislative Council member

Another Palestinian co-signatory, legislative council member  Hisham Abd al-Razzaq, denied that the agreement involved giving up the right of return.

He told the Jerusalem-based Arabic daily, al-Quds, on Monday  that “we didn’t give up the right of return.”

“There is nothing in the agreement indicating that we have conceded the right of return.”

However, Abd al-Razzaq did not say whether he was alluding to the right of return to the would-be Palestinian state or to Israel proper.

Israeli critics

The Israeli government of Ariel Sharon has rejected the agreement, saying it “reeked of bad odour”.

Israeli Prime Minister, Sharon, said his government would not be bound by the agreement, saying it was incompatible with the American-backed "road map" for peace in the Middle East.

Other Israeli officials accused Labour Party leaders who formulated the agreement of “playing into the hands of the enemy.”

However, Amram Mitzna, former leader of the Labour Party and co-signatory to the Geneva agreement, rejected Sharon’s criticisms.

“We are giving the nation a hope for the future. Sharon has destroyed everything; and we are trying to give the people of Israel a hope.”

PM stays on, barely

Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmad Quraya, chaired a meeting of his emergency cabinet on Monday for the first time after reluctantly agreeing to stay on as premier until the end of the month.

Quraya reached a deal with Arafat to lead the emergency cabinet for now, but cast doubt he would continue until the end the month.

Arafat and Quraya have been struggling over the post of interior minister.  

A senior official said that Arafat had named a close ally, Hakam Balaawi, as interim interior minister even though Quraya had been continuing to push for Nasir Yusuf to be given the job.