Stocktaking Conference on Palestinian Refugee
Tuesday, 9 December 1997
Although a few participants opposed detailed discussion of
compensation--fearing that it might be used to supplant the
legitimate rights of refugees, or somehow weaken the
Palestinian bargaining position--most disagreed. Academic
discussion of compensation, it was asserted, in no way constrained
negotiators. On the contrary, it served a useful function by
identifying the advantages and disadvantages of different
compensation systems, thus providing information that was
likely to be of value to all sides in negotiations.
Three important themes emerged in the session.
Participants highlighted the need to put the issue of
compensation in a broader context notably emphasizing the
need to start from a common middle ground. They attempted
to operationalize compensation, break it into a number of
smaller more manageable sub-issues, and explore the
implications of each of these. Finally, the potential
challenges of resource mobilization were highlighted.
The context of compensation
Two kinds of contexts were addressed during the session.
Participants situated the issue amidst larger concerns for
the right of return, moral responsibility, and
accountability. They also attempted to place it in the
framework of the current regional socio-political and
- Participants noted that the issue of compensation has
often been used as a substitute for the discussion of
other more difficult issues such as moral responsibility.
A clear distinction was drawn between the "Israeli" and
"Palestinian" positions on the matter. Noting the two
options provided by UN General
Assembly Resolution 194--return and
compensation--one participant noted that Israel thus far
accepted neither, while Palestinians insisted on both.
The participant echoed another speaker in emphasizing the
need to start from a middle ground. In this respect, it
was felt that the most important requisite was the will
to come to an agreement. Some, however, differed with
this view. One Israeli wondered about the extent of
Israel's moral and/or legal responsibility to provide
compensation to the refugees, and noted that Israeli
public opinion might be reluctant to accept such
- Participants raised concerns about the need to
situate compensation in the context of the peace process.
Specifically, one speaker highlighted the need to think about the
potential impact of a Palestinian-Israeli final status
agreement including modalities for compensation of the
refugee populations of Syria and Lebanon. Questions were
raised about the degree to which the Palestinian
Authority could reach an agreement that would be binding
on other Palestinians.
- It was also suggested that the voices of refugees
needed to be heard in this matter and that a substantial
number would prefer the right of return over
compensation. A differing opinion however stated that
compensation would be part of a broader final status
agreement among leaders who already accept the principle
Participants noted that the issue of compensation is
highly complex, and suggested a number of ways to
operationalize the concept and break it into more specific
and manageable components.
- What is the international experience on compensation
and does it help us disentangle the Palestinian
- How might claims be made? Should they be based on
losses suffered in 1948? What are the drawbacks of such
a proposition? Is there sufficient documentation on the
matter? Would this reproduce the social inequalities of
the time? Are per-capita claims a better alternative?
- To whom should payments be made? To individuals,
families, or groups? Is it better to use the payments for
Those in favor of individual compensation schemes felt
that the main unanswered questions lay in this area.
Specifically, they suggested the need for further
research into the evaluation of losses, the
operationalization of suffering, and the determination of
likely claimants. One participant maintained that the
time span between the actual loss and the claim might
cause problems for any individual, claims-based system.
Another noted that an individual, claims-based system
would tend to recreate the inequalities of pre-1948
Palestine, and suggested that some system of per capita
payments might be more equitable and simpler to
Concerning collective compensation--paid to the
Palestine Authority and host governments--both advantages
and disadvantages were identified. The international
community might be more likely to support such a scheme,
particularly if it could do so under the rubric of
regional economic development (rather than payments to
individual claimants). It was also suggested that
existing infrastructure in the West Bank/Gaza (including
any settlements that might be evacuated) could be
factored into a collective compensation package.
Questions were, howeve, raised as to whether government
bureaucracies were indeed the best recipients for
- Should payments be made in a lumpsum or should
they be spread over an extended period of time?
Should the payments be made in cash or in loans?
- What are the economic implications of this sudden
inflow of capital for individuals and countries?
- What about the claims put forward by host
governments? It was suggested that this question will
gain critical importance following a refugee
agreement, as UNRWA activities are wound down
--especially if substantial Palestinian populations
choose to remain in the host countries.
- Who is responsible for the administration of the
compensation regimes? How long should these
regimes be in place?
- How do we secure the mobilization of required
resources? Who should pay? Who is required
to contribute? What compensation schemes are more
likely to galvanize donors?
In general, it was felt that a compensation element
was necessary to deal with property issues as well as
with issues of responsibility and culpability. Two
concerns were raised in this respect: the resistance
that this would generate inside Israel and the potential
tensions that individual compensation schemes might
trigger among various Palestinian constituencies.
The last issue raised during the discussion was the
need for resource mobilization and the constraints
associated with this process. One participant expressed
grave concern regarding the gap between estimates of
Palestinian losses and the amounts of compensation
funding that would likely be forthcoming from the
international community. In this regard he noted that
estimates of Palestinian losses can run from $40 billion
to as much as $200 billion in current dollars, whereas
total international aid to the Oslo process is
approximately $700 million per year.
Israel was identified as the likely primary source of
compensation funds. Participants suggested that one of
the downfalls of peace would be to redirect US aid money
from the Israeli military and/or economy to compensation.
Others, however, thought this was not feasible in the near future.
Participants also identified the Western countries as
potential donors. However, it was suggested that donors
usually provide funding only out of a national interest.
Moral and humanitarian issues thus need to be couched in
different terms such as sustainability, accountability,
security, and stability, if they are to stand a chance of
garnering resources. It was agreed by most participants
that any compensation scheme had to be designed so as to
facilitate resource mobilization.
Overall, most participants identified compensation as
an area that deserved further study and analysis.
The PRRN/IDRC compensation workshop was funded
by IDRC and the Canadian
International Development Agency thrrough the
Expert and Advisory Services Fund. PRRN is a project of the Interuniversity
Consortium for Arab Studies (Montréal).
Last modified 23/12/97. Rex Brynenfirstname.lastname@example.org