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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

X. Highlights of a Strategy on Refugees: Difficult Choices for the Palestinian Negotiator
Here we will the issues raised in section VIII above will be recast as negotiating strategies. As final status negotiations draw closer one should expect a hardening of position on both sides,dictated on the Israeli side by electoral considerations, and by wide scale resistance against the notion of 'return'; and on the Palestinian side by the attempt to buttress its legitimacy in the eyes of diaspora Palestinians that the refugees have not been forgotten.

It might be mentioned here that although UN resolution on Palestinian refugees, particularly GA Res 194 and SC Res 237, are the proper international legal framework to address these issues,it is futile to reiterate these documents as magical refrains,hoping that they will have the desired effect. The consensual nature of the multilateral negotiations, as well as final status talks require that these resolutions be reexamined and operationalized into manageable categories.

Furthermore concern over the attitudes and reactions of diaspora Palestinians, is not only a question of political expediency, beta deeply rooted matter in public consciousness and in the yearning for uniting dispersed families across the regions of Palestine.Palestinian negotiators on the other hand are bound by constrains which dictate that issues of principle and ideological predisposition have be tempered by what is realizable and obtainable. The main constraints are:

(1) Since the borders between Israel and Palestine are more likely to be 'porous' than hermetically sealed (especially since the Rabin assassination) the Israeli negotiators are likely to slow down the return of large numbers of Palestinians to PNA areas on the grounds that either it might destablize the Palestinian authority (for economic reasons), or create a large pool of illegal labourers infiltrating to Israel.

(2) The possible return of large number of refugees within the next three years is going to create major pressure on the existing[underdeveloped] infrastructure of the Palestinian economy. One of the major challenges for the PNA is to create the necessary institutional structures (ministries and agencies of absorption),as well as to generate sufficient economic growth to absorb large number of returning Palestinians.

(3) Relations with Arab host countries, and the status of Palestinians in these countries are likely to be deeply affected by rising expectations among Palestinians to return. Among possible responses are:

***pressure on Palestinian refugees to 'go home' (Libya, Lebanon)before the conditions of return have matured;

***compelling Palestinians to make a decisive choice between resettlement and naturalization in the host country, or return to Palestine, before the conditions for such a choice have matured;

***refusal of Arab host countries to accept dual 'nationality' for Palestinians who chose to remain in the host countries while acquiring Palestinian permanent residency.

The Palestinian negotiator must therefore take into account both Arab and Israeli constraints, while attempting to respond to rising expectations for return on the part of tens of thousands of refugees in the diaspora. A public campaign should be launched,based on clearly delineated policy which would assure the Israelis that the return of Palestinian refugees, according to a phased plan, is in their ultimate interest since it would stabilize the Palestinian National Authority, and defuse the volatile political conditions of Palestinians in diaspora camps.

On the basis of the analysis made in section VIII above I would propose the following themes as constituting a viable Palestinian strategy towards the refugee negotiations:

1. Residency and Returning Palestinians:
The modalities of Oslo 2 on residency and the realities created by the election of the Palestinian legislative council have created anew situation pertaining to Palestinian residency/citizenship requirements. The Palestinian National Authority should now begin negotiations for granting residency to all returning Palestinians who chose Palestinian citizenship. Priority should be given to displaced persons. Israeli rights to interfere with the granting of Palestinian citizenship should only involve the strictest definition of security. The use of demographic arguments for security should not be acceptable. To facilitate the absorption of returning Palestinians, and insure their proper economic and social integration in society, a Ministry of Absorption for Returnees should be established. Transitional arrangements should be negotiated with host countries for the protection of those Palestinians who chose to acquire Palestinian nationality but who opt to stay in their host country. In general the right of return to Palestine should be a collective right, though its exercise should be voluntary and based on individual choice.

2. Separation of the two tracks:
Until the status of displaced persons is resolved in a satisfactory manner the track dealing with the future of DPs (the QuadripartiteCommittee) should be kept separate from both the Refugee Working Group (in the multilaterals) and from bilateral negotiating teams dealing with 1948 refugees.

3. The Status of Refugees in Arab Countries:
The PLO should push for the granting of full residency rights (but not citizenship) for all Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon and Syria, as well as in other host Arab countries. This includes the right to receive employment, legal protection from harassment,and the freedom of physical mobility--including travel outside the country, and return to it. Individual naturalization should be by choice, but collective naturalization should be subject to final status agreements, which includes the right of return or compensation. Palestinians should strive to abolish Arab League statues which prevent Arab citizens to hold dual [Arab citizenship].

4. The Right of Return to Israel and Compensation:
In return for Arab and Palestinian acceptance to absorb the bulk of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, and the host Arab countries, Israel should absorb a limited number of refugees inside its own territories. Proper compensation should be paid for all refugees who chose to return, and for those who chose to be naturalized in the host countries. Donna Arzt has made the cogent suggestion that it would be in Israel's basic interest to admit a modest number of Palestinians inside the Green Line since then it can make stronger claims for similar adsorptions on the part of host Arab countries and the Palestinian authority.

A fund for compensating Palestinian refugees should be established to which the world community will be requested to subscribe. Israel should be a major contributor to this fund. Israeli claims for compensating, or repatriating, Jewish refugees from the Arab countries should be negotiated bilaterally with the respective Arab states concerned. The Palestinian negotiators should not get involved in a package deal based on the notion of 'exchanged population'.

Compensation should be paid at two levels: a. through a collective fund to be vested with the Palestinian National Authority in order to develop its own infrastructure and facilities destined to aid the absorption of returning refugees, and b. a family fund which will pay restitution to refugees on the basis of individual claims.

5. UNRWA and Refugee Camps:
UNRWA should continue to administer refugee camps in the Arab host countries as well as in PNA areas. UNRWA operations will reliquidated gradually after the status of Palestinian camp residents are resolved through exercising their right to return or compensation. UNRWA operations in the West Bank and Gaza will be then gradually transferred to the PNA. A special committee should be established to assess the rights and claims of owners of properties on whose land camps were established. A special fund will be established to aid the public sector in host countries to integrate UNRWA staff in the respective service sectors where they were employed. The PNA should negotiate the transfer of UNRWA archives in Vienna and Amman to a newly established state archive administration.

6. Bilateralism and Final Status:
Who will represent Palestinian refugees resident in the Arab host countries? It is quite likely that Israel will attempt to negotiate the future status of these refugees bilaterally with the respective Arab countries. The Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty already contains clauses concerning the bilateral resolution of refugee problems. The Palestinians, on the other hand, will make claims for representation of refugees in the Arab host countries, and not only in PNA areas. It will be more appropriate for the PLO, and not the PNA to make these representations, since the PLO is the appropriate body acting on behalf diaspora Palestinians.

7. Jerusalem Refugees and Displaced Persons:
The status of Jerusalem refugees require a special attention because it will be negotiated separately in final status talks.Displaced persons who decide to return to their homes should be given Jerusalem residency if their families originated from Jerusalem before the war of 1967. Compensation for lost properties in West Jerusalem should be subject to the same procedures that apply to other 1948 refugees. If Israeli negotiators insist on special privileges for Jewish residents in East Jerusalem colonies(e.g. Ramot, Gilo, etc.) then Palestinian negotiators should insist on the unhampered return to previously Arab neighbourhoods in West Jerusalem (e.g. Katamon, Talbieh, Lifta, etc.)

One alternative vision is to make the whole of Jerusalem open to both Israeli and Palestinian residency, subject obviously to certain administrative and zoning requirements, but those should not be based on differential discrimination according to nationality.

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