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Return, Resettlement, Repatriation:
The Future of Palestinian Refugees in the Peace Negotiations

Source: FOFOGNET Digest, 22 April 1996

by Salim Tamari, Institute of Jerusalem Studies

Final Status Strategic Studies
Institute for Palestine Studies
Beirut, Washington, and Jerusalem

February 1996

IX.Strategic Options in Negotiations over Refugees
Of the three final status issues slated for bilateral negotiations in May 1996, the question of refugees has received the least attention in terms of strategic vision. In many ways it is also one of the hardest to resolve given Israeli intransigence on this issue, and Palestinian inability to impose any conditions on their protagonists. By contrast the issues of Jerusalem and Settlements have had a considerable number of futurist scenarios and even the modicum of agreement. No such debate has surrounded the issue of refugees, and yet the legitimacy of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement in the eyes of the Palestinian diaspora rests to a large extent on the ability of the PNA to ensure the return of expatriate Palestinians to their country.

As final status negotiations come closer the following issues are likely to dominate the debate over the future of refugees:

1. Refugees and Displaced Persons: Linkages between Bilateral and Multilateral issues:
More accurately this linkage is related to the manner in which agreements made in the current negotiations over the fate of 1967 displaced persons are likely to affect final status negotiations over 1948 refugees. There are currently over one million displaced persons, if we count those who lost their residencies as a result of Israeli administrative measures among them. 1948 refugees and their descendants constitute over 2.5 million. But there is a great degree of overlap here since at least 30% of displaced persons are second time refugees from the 1948 war.

Obviously not all of these refugees will relocate to Palestine even if the opportunity was available. A number of factors will determine this likelihood, including quotas of return agreed upon,the absorptive capacity of the Palestinian economy, and the attractiveness of the new regime in comparison to the relative security or insecurity of Palestinians in the host countries.

In the transitional period (lasting five years from the signing of the DOP), it would be to the advantage of the Palestinians to separate the issue of Displaced Persons from that of '48 refugees.I would argue for this separation on the following grounds:

**To preempt claims that the settlement of displaced persons in the West Bank and Gaza is part of a final package that precludes their further claims on rights inside Israel. This is particularly relevant to the status of Dps who are also '48 refugees.

**Since the issue of Dps is discussed in the context of the Quadripartite Committee, which is a purely Arab-Israeli committee,Palestinians would benefit greatly from the participation of the international community (in particular UN organizations) if the multilaterals continue to debate the status of '48 refugees.

**The committee on displaced persons have been discussing the status of people who lost their residency but who are technically neither refugees nor 'displaced persons'. Those include deportees and citizens who lost their permanent IDs. It would overload the work of the final status negotiations if these categories of people are transferred to their committee.

Nevertheless there is a certain degree of linkage that is bound to merge the work of the two sets of negotiations. Those include, the manner in which the earlier returnees are absorbed; procedures for applications for return; and claims for compensation made by '67 and '48 refugees.

2. Final Status Claims: Compensation or Return?
This is a false dichotomy which is often raised in the course of negotiations. It is clear from the protocols of the Conciliation Commission Report that two modes of compensation are proposed, one for returning refugees, and one for non-returning refugees. The Palestinians have taken a principled, but static position on the question of return. In the multi-lateral negotiations the Palestinian delegation have always reiterated General Assembly Resolution 194 as the basis for all political solutions to the Refugee Problem. The Israelis have in their turn been systematic in their rejection of any inclusion in the summing statements for any mention of 194 or any other specific resolution. In 1995 the United States, for the first time since its adoption, has withheld its annual commitment to this resolution. What does this mean?

As final status negotiations loom on the horizon (in May 1996)immense diplomatic pressure will start building on the Palestinians to give up their insistence on the right of return. The Israelis in their turn have made it clear that they will not support any categorical 'right of return' for the Palestinians--either to Israel itself or to the West Bank and Gaza. It is inconceivable that any Palestinian authority can yield to such pressure and retain its legitimacy in the eyes of its constituents, or--significantly, by exiled Palestinians in the diaspora. On the other hand it is clear that the Palestinian negotiators cannot simply go to the final status talks armed only with an abstract UN resolutions. Concessions at the practical level are bound to happen if at least some justice is to be realized for 1948 refugees.

One of the most succinct proposals for a final status positions in this regard was made by Rashid Khalidi, in his essay "Toward a Solution". Khalidi suggests a negotiated solution for resolving the claims of refugees based on five conditions:

**That Israel acknowledges its moral accountability for the creation of the Palestine refugee problem, including the means of socializing this recognition to the younger generation of Israelis.

**That Israel accepts in principle, the right of Palestinians and their descendants to return to their homes. The Palestinians--in return--will recognize that this right cannot be literally exercised inside 1948 Israel, and will have to exercise it in the state of Palestine. However as part of this conception, Israel should take into its domain several tens of thousands of refugees.Particularly those that have family members living inside Israel.

**A distinction should be made between reparations (for those who will not be allowed to return), and compensation (for those who lost property in 1948. Khalidi suggests the figure of $92-147 billion for property loss (1984 figures, based on Kubursi and Hadawi's assessment); and $40 billion in reparations, based on an estimate of $20,000 per person for 2 million people.

**Palestinian exiles should have the right to return to the future Palestinian state, or (implicitly) to the areas under the control of the Palestinian national authority.

**Palestinians who chose to remain in Jordan should would be offered the choice of having full citizenship rights, or "limited rights" as citizens of the Palestinian component of the Jordanian Palestinian confederation.

**Palestinians in Lebanon would be offered a choice: repatriation to the Palestinian state, return to the Galilee and acquisition of Palestinian citizenship, or the granting of permanent residency in Lebanon.

It is obvious that Khalidi is proposing here a package deal which will have to be negotiated simultaneously with the governments of Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan. While Khalidi's proposal is both original and practical (in the operational sense), I would differ with him on two crucial points: (1) Right of return to the areas of the Palestinian National Authority should not be conditional, or even linked, on the realization of claims to compensation or repatriation. It should be a separate act of sovereignty. In particular Palestinians should not enter into negotiations with Israel were the right of return to a mini-Palestine should be bartered off with the right of return to Israel itself. (2)Reparations to Jews who lost their homes in their original Arab countries should be a bilateral issue between Israel and the respective Arab states, and not one in which Palestinian would be embroiled as a party.

I would further add , given the complexity of assessing individual claims for lost properties, for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, that two separate forms of reparations be made. The first would be collective compensation, to be negotiated by the Palestinian state on behalf of Palestinian refugees in general, the results of which will be used to rebuild the infrastructure of the Palestinian state--which will be, in part the 'state of the returnees'. The second would be based on individual claims which will be negotiated between the state of Israel and representatives of the refugees. Since many of these refugees are not the subjects(or even future citizens) of the Palestinian State, the PNA wouldn't be a direct party to this second set of negotiations. The Conciliation Commission Report (1950) discusses precedents of such modalities applied in WWI and WWII, and to the Indo-Pakistani conflict in 1947.

3. Jerusalem and the Refugee Negotiations:
The Status of Jerusalem was inadvertently linked to the refugee issue as a result of several moves on the part the Israeli Government and the [Olmert] Jerusalem Municipal Council that were seen as preempting final status negotiations.

First was the attempt to restrict the conditions of residency of Jerusalem Palestinians who lived outside municipal zones (June 1995) by withdrawing access to health and national insurance services for Jerusalemites who cannot establish actual residence within the city boundaries. Family reunification schemes which are available to West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, limited as they are,are virtually denied to Jerusalem Arabs. A Jerusalem census planned for October 1995 was seen as a prelude to get rid of those Jerusalemite Arab driven out of the city by building restrictions and local taxes to the northern suburbs.

This was followed by a campaign to close down Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem that were described as affiliated with the PNA. In August 1995 the Health Council, the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, and the National Broadcasting Authority (TV and Radio) were closed down by police order. Proceedings started against the Orient House, centre for the Palestinian Negotiating Team. These attempts were later rescinded under the condition that Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem publicly dissociate their connections with the PNA.

In reaction to this campaign to shut Palestinian institutions, Faisal Husseini reminded an Israeli audience on May 25th, 1995 that 70% of West Jerusalem property belonged to Palestinian Arab refugees from Talbieh, Lifta, Qatamoun, Baq'a, and other suburbs and villages that later formed the bulk of Israeli West Jerusalem.Meron Benvenisti, former deputy Mayor of Jerusalem confirmed that the much of the property in which West Jerusalemites live belonged to Arabs before 1948. In the 1967 census it was found that about 10,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem (16% of the population then) were born in the Western part of the city. With their descendants they constitute today over a quarter of the population of Arab Jerusalem. Today Palestinian Jerusalemites are treated as absentees as far as their West Jerusalem property is concerned,while Jews who have had property in the Eastern part are allowed to, and often establish their rights, to their pre-1948 property.

The 1995 confrontations over residency rights and uneven access to property claims have hastened the need for a clearer strategy over Jerusalem. The cornerstone of this strategy should be that the postponement of the Jerusalem issue to final status negotiations(in May 1995) should not allow Israeli to make major demographic and zoning (settlement) changes to ensure Jewish hegemony in the Arab sections of the city. In other words the status quo in Jerusalem should be preserved in such a way to ensure the survival of Palestinian institutions and the national integrity of the Arab population in the transitional period.

With the impending start of final status negotiations impending Palestinians are still caught in a situation were the repetition of an objective ('Arab Jerusalem is the capital of the future Palestinian state') has substituted the adoption of a strategy to bring about such an objective. The coming elections for the Palestinian Assembly, planned for the winter of 1995, is a good opportunity to develop such a strategy:

***In negotiating issues of residency rights and family reunification East Jerusalem should be seen as a regional extension of the West Bank.

***In negotiating the modalities of admission of displaced persons East Jerusalem should have equal status to the repatriation of its refugees from the war of 1967.

***Arab properties and material losses in West Jerusalem, part of the corpus seperatum in the partition plan, should be raised as Israeli Jews are making claims (and appropriating) properties in Silwan, Atarot [Qalandia] and the Jewish Quarter or the Old City.The Palestine Conciliation Commission has already established the aggregate inventory of these claims.

***The right of return to lost homes and properties in West Jerusalem should be raised on par with Jewish claims (and actual movement) to homes and properties in Arab Jerusalem.

***Jewish settlement in Arab Jerusalem (Ramat Eshkol, Ramot, NeveYa'cov) should be treated in the same manner as the status of Israeli colonial settlement in the West Bank and Gaza.

Finally the fact that Israelis today appear more intransigent on the issue of Jerusalem, elevating it to a non-negotiable status, is itself a strategy of psychological intimidation. The claim of non-negotiability is itself a violation of the Oslo Accords. The rights of West Jerusalem Palestinian refugees should have a high priority in the Palestinian agenda for final status negotiations since it combines two of the main postponed items in one category.

4. The Status of Refugee Camps
A distinction should be made here between refugee camps in the Arab host countries (particularly in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan), and those in Palestine. For many years a mistaken view was prevalent among Palestinians that improvements in the conditions of life among camp refugees would weaken the will of refugees to fight for their historic rights. The practical consequence of this view(particularly in Lebanon) was large-scale individual migration to the West (Canada, Scandinavia, and the US were the main recipients of migrants. Today the Palestinians have adopted the view that refugees in the camps of the host countries should be entitled to improve their standards of living, and to receive the amenities and privileges accorded to permanent residents of those countries.Jordan is a case which presents a sharp contrast with Lebanon in this regard, with refugees receiving all the legal benefits of citizens outside the camps. Syria has adopted an intermediate position, with refugees having full access to employment, health and educational opportunities, but no political rights.

Within the areas that came under the control of the PNA in 1994,particularly in Gaza, infrastructural planning has incorporated urban refugee camps within schemes that served the city as a whole(sewage systems, electricity, etc.). This is often necessitated by logistic and technical considerations but it also reflects the PNA's position not to consider the juridical status of refugee camps until final status disposition of the refugee issue is resolved. In the meantime programs for health, job-training,education and research among refugees are almost invariably extended to the non-refugee population in the area.

In general social-class mobility has been a critical factor in the restructuring of the lives of refugee camp residents in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, and Jordan (but not Lebanon) with those refugees who become successful moving outside the camps, and integrating with the lives of local communities were they live. But this has been an issue of free individual choice and not one imposed on the refugee population. By contrast Israel has made several efforts tore-locate camps from Gaza city to Rafah and Khan Yunis, as well as from the Gaza district to Jericho. More recently the Ministry of Displaced Persons in Lebanon made an unsuccessful bid to relocate refugees from Beirut to the Shuf mountains. The only scheme for housing development for Palestinian refugees approved unanimously by the RWG was a US grant to rebuild destroyed shelters in Sabra and Shatila (Beirut), but this scheme was never approved by the Lebanese government.

Within the West Bank and Gaza the dismantling of the refugee camps should be a matter subject to a mutual agreement on their status,and acceptable to the refugees themselves, rather than an imposition dictated by Israel's conditions for a quota of returning refugees. In the Arab host countries, the liquidation of the refugee camps should be subject to the regularization of their legal and civil status within the host countries, and only after they receive the options of repatriation or resettlements. In all of these cases the refugee population should be a party to these agreements.

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