|Executive Summary: From Refugees to Citizens
Source: The book is distributed by the Brookings
by Donna Arzt
This chapter is excerpted
from Donna Arzt, Refugees Into Citizens: Palestinians
and the End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Council
on Foreign Relations Press, 1996).
Although the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations
appear to be floundering, many efforts are being made
behind the scenes to get them back on track, as all
involved realize that only through the Oslo process
can a comprehensive peace ever be achieved. The "permanent
status" talks, which have been suspended since
their official opening in May 1996, cover the topics
of permanent borders, settlements, security, regional
cooperation, Jerusalem and refugees.
This new book by Syracuse University international
law professor Donna E. Arzt represents the first comprehensive
effort to place the inclusion and dignity of Palestinian
refugees at the core of creating a viable and lasting
peace in the Middle East. Blending historical, demographic
and legal scholarship with practical policy prescriptions
accessible to specialists and lay readers alike, Arzt
offers a blueprint for what is often called the "last
taboo" in the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations:
a just and permanent solution to the problem of over
three million Palestinians refugees.
Avoiding the acrimonious language that has almost
always attended this issue, Arzt begins her analysis
with a number of premises and principles:
- Estimated at over three million people descended
from those who fled the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, plus
approximately one-half million who were displaced
by the 1967 war, Palestinian refugees constitute both
the largest concentration of stateless persons and
the oldest refugee community in the world. Because
70% of all Palestinians, including non-refugees, now
live outside of the West Bank and Gaza, the peace
process must address their needs and concerns in order
to achieve a mutually satisfactory conclusion.
- A permanent and viable solution to the Arab-Israeli
conflict must include the granting of citizenship
to Palestinians throughout the region of the Middle
East. Only with citizenship, which represents identity,
dignity, rights, obligations and participation, will
the refugees no longer serve as pawns and bargaining
chips for the other parties to the conflict.
In order to achieve a practical yet equitable settlement
of the refugee question, four basic principles must
be adopted by negotiators:
- Discussion of the issue must be forward, not backward-looking,
so that age-old battles over fault and causes of dislocation
of the Palestinians will not be relitigated.
- Wherever possible, obligations of the parties to the
negotiations must be made reciprocal and regionally
- International normalcy, that is, how responsible,
peaceful states and their citizens are expected to
behave and interact, should be the standard.
- The parties must recognize that each people, both
Palestinians and Israelis, has equal rights to land,
statehood, security and survival.
The centerpiece of Refugees into Citizens
is Chapter Four's blueprint for permanent absorption
of Palestinians refugees, offered as a catalyst for
jump-starting discussions about their future. While
she does not formally take a position on whether there
should be an independent Palestinian state, Arzt notes
that Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip is more likely than semi-autonomy to generate
widespread Palestinian approval for compromises short
of full repatriation of the refugees to the pre-1967
borders of Israel.
Because international law requires that population
transfers be effectuated on an orderly, humane and
-- most importantly -- a voluntary basis, Refugees
into Citizens offers a plan with the following structural
Each of the Middle Eastern parties participating in
the final peace treaty negotiations -- which will
include Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan,
Egypt and hopefully, Syria, Lebanon and other Arab
states -- as well as any Western states which offer
to participate, will absorb an optimal ("target")
number of refugee families which will neither be demographically,
politically nor economically disruptive to it or to
neighboring states. This caveat is particularly important
in the West Bank and Gaza, the stability of which
would be undermined by an overly rapid flood of immigrants.
During a necessary transitional period, in which the
refugees will move in gradual waves rather than in
one large-scale rush, housing, jobs and infrastructure
can be readied and disorder avoided.
AND PASSPORTS: All refugees will be
offered a fully informed, written choice of available
residential and compensation options, including absorption
in a state in the region, return to the Palestinian
territory in the West Bank and Gaza, or, if qualified
(according to criteria such as family reunification
and a commitment to live in peace with their Jewish
neighbors), return to their ancestral home in Israel.
Each family will, in writing, rank its residential
preferences, which will then be accommodated according
to available spots within the regional absorption
Compensation (either in the form of a "reintegration
allowance" or real property) for those who are
eligible but who do not return to Israel, will be
awarded out of a fund contributed to jointly, and
without acknowledgement of fault, by Israel, Arab
states, and other countries, including those in the
West which are unable to absorb significant numbers
of refugees. In addition, all Palestinians, no matter
where they reside, will be offered a Palestinian passport
which will declare their Palestinian nationality and
enable them to visit and/or work in the West Bank
and Gaza if they choose. Such a national passport
"would express for every holder the emotional
and symbolic bond that unites the Palestinian people."
CITIZENSHIP AND REHABILITATION:.
In addition to Palestinian passports, the refugees
will be offered citizenship and full protection of
their human rights in each of the absorption states,
including Israel, to which they go. Thus, anyone who
does not become absorbed in the West Bank or Gaza
will be eligible for dual nationality (or dual citizenship,
if the territories become an independent sovereign
state) both as Palestinians and as citizens of their
country of residence.
The resettled refugees will also receive rehabilitative
services, including, health care, education and job
training, in order to encourage their full social,
political and economic integration. These services
will be supported by development funds awarded to
the countries on the basis of their willingness to
absorb optimal target populations and administered
with the assistance of U.N. agencies and relevant
non-governmental relief organizations.
A number of regionally balanced tribunals and commissions
will be created to implement this program, hearing
claims and appeals. After an agreed period of time,
all additional claims will be extinguished.
Refugees into Citizens also contains a foreword
by Palestinian-Jordanian journalist Rami Khouri, extensive
endnotes, a bibliographical essay, comparative references
to resettlement experiences involving refugees and
human rights standards from other regions of the world,
and an appendix containing the most relevant documents
from the Middle East peace process and international
Donna E. Arzt is professor
of law at Syracuse University and Associate Director
of the school's Center for Global Law and Practice.
She was the Project Director of the Council on Foreign
Relations study group, "The Arab-Israeli Conflict:
Demographic and Humanitarian Issues," and has
published extensively in the area of human rights.