A Stocktaking Conference on Palestinian Refugee Research


Tuesday, 9 December 1997

Discussion Session: Linkages to Other Final Status Issues

Clearly the various "final status" issues are linked in a number of different ways. To begin with, the give-and-take of negotiation is such that concessions by one party on one issue may be traded opff by concessions by the other party on another issue. Second, the resolution of territorial issues--notably the delineation of borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, the fate of the settlements (including their possible use as housing for Palestinian returnees), and the future status of Jerusalem--all have direct bearing on the refugee issue. Similarly, the resolution of the refugee issue has important security and economic implications for both parties. Finally, the refugee issue is a regional issue, thus linking progress on the Palestinian-Israeli track to the status of other bilateral negotiations.

This session began with one (Israeli) participant warning that both Palestinians and Israelis should not expect complete success on all issues in final status negotiations. Rather, both parties should establish clear priorities. According to this participant, Israel has two main priorities. The first priority was termed "finality", which implies that final status agreements will bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second Israeli priority is the Palestinian refugee problem. This is so because unless the refugee problem is resolved, the conflict will continue, and because Israel can show little flexibility on this issue. In terms of Palestinian priorities, the same participant contended that the first Palestinian priority is self-determination/statehood. After all, unless final status negotiations lead to the creation of a Palestinian state the conflict will not be fully resolved. The second Palestinian priority was identified as the demand for Jerusalem to be named the capital of the future Palestinian state. However, in what parts of Jerusalem and in what form this would take place is still open for discussion.

Another (Palestinian) discussant noted that although priorities are essential, this does not mean that important, though difficult, issues (such as the right of return) should be ignored. He noted that the process of compromise on both sides is important and already underway. The same discussant offered an alternative list of priorities, noting that the refugee issue is at the top of the Palestinians' list . Moreover, Palestinians consider it a top priority to reconstitute the integrity and security of their own community. Another participant suggested that more honesty is required in the search for peace. The discussant continued by remarking that Israel will not allow the right of return to become a vehicle for transforming Israel into a state for two minorities, and he added that all parties should recognise that under a climate of "cold peace", Israel may be willing to engage in risk-taking, while the same is not true under a condition of "cold war". He continued by stating that the impact of the Egyptian role in the final status negotiations cannot be ignored. The quality and extent of Egyptian participation in this latter process may determine the possible outcome. It is difficult for the Palestinians to make significant concessions unless they are supported by Egypt.

Others suggested that a package-like solution which includes all the interlinked factors is preferable to separate solutions. This is especially important given the significance of timing in the whole process. The loss of precious time may close the few windows of opportunity that are available. One discussant was quick to add that the envelope of issues resolved must be practical for implementation, and that it should allow both sides to sucessfully present it to their respective constituencies. These are the two necessary conditions for a viable peace. The same participant noted that the argument in favour of the creation of a Palestinian state has already been won inside Israel. However, the crucial question pertains to what kind of viable Palestinian state will follow. The participant closed his comments by noting that under the present conditions, there are issues (such as the right of return) which Israel cannot deliver to the Palestinians, and that the present Israeli government's refusal to implement signed agreements is dangerous to the whole peace process. Other participants warned against fixating upon the security requirements of Israel, ignoring those of the Arab states.

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 15/12/97. Rex Brynen/