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Compensation Position Paper

Compensation as Part of a Comprehensive Solution to the Palestinian Refugee Problem

By Daoud Barakat

More than 51 years have elapsed since the Nakba, which had lead to the creation of the Palestinian refugees problem with the evacuation and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland, but thus far no progress has been made regarding the implementation of UN Resolution 194.

The Declaration of Principles between the PLO and Israel has called for negotiating the issue of the Palestinian refugees within the framework of the final status negotiations that were supposed to begin in May 1996. Although final status negotiations started symbolically in May that year, absolutely no progress was made during the past three years due to the intransigence of the former Israeli government. It is believed that the outcome of the recent Israeli elections and the composition of a new Israeli government would contribute to resumption of the peace process and the final status negotiations; hence, the timing of this workshop seems to be appropriate and its deliberations may provide Palestinian and Israeli negotiators with creative ideas concerning the resolution of the complex issue of the refugees in general, and compensation in particular.

Compensation to Palestinian refugees in an integral component of the just and comprehensive solution of the Palestinian refugees issue. However, in spite of its importance, it is merely one component of the solution. The title of this workshop gives an accurate description of compensation as an element of the just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian refugees issue.

In order to do so, two very basic issues must be agreed upon before any substantial discussion of the issue of compensation. These are the issues of the Definition of the Refugee and the Right of Return. Academicians, researchers, policy makers and negotiators have been debating these two issues since the outset of the peace process, and even since the creation of the refugees problem, but there is still controversy over them. It is neither the time nor the place to reopen the debate over these two issues, but it must be emphasized that discussion of the issue of compensation is built on the assumption that these two issues has to be agreed upon first. In fact, substantive progress regarding reaching a formula in accordance with which Palestinian refugees can be compensated cannot be made without an agreement over these two issues.

Yet this must not prevent us from starting to think about the various
elements that comprise the issue of compensation and to allocate the required financial resources, which will be enormous. Among the questions to be answered: How many refugees deserve compensation? How to calculate the size of compensation? How to evaluate and value claims and losses? Where should the money come from? Etc.

In order for the calculation of compensation to be acceptable, it must be based on the calculation of individual losses because if refugees receive the true values of losses incurred they will have a feeling that justice is being served to them. Recent advances in the field of statistical economics and modeling have made it possible to obtain considerably accurate and easily calculable estimates of individual losses. Moreover, compensation must tackle the issues of lost property and the historical injustice that created the refugees issue, which also includes reparation for the delayed implementation of Resolution 194.

Another important point to affirm here is that the allocation of financial resources must be the duty of those who create this problem and those who seek to solve it permanently.

Moreover, it is important to give answers and guarantees concerning the availability of financial resources for compensating the refugees before the conclusion of any agreement. Such guarantees must be provided by Israel and the parties that supervise the peace process and the implementation of concluded agreements; otherwise, what is the use of reaching an agreement that admits that the refugees have rights but cannot guarantee if and when they will gain these rights.

To summarize:

  • Palestinian refugees are entitled to compensation in accordance with UN resolutions. However, the rights of the refugees are not restricted to the right to compensation and cannot be undermined by it.
  • Israel shoulders the core responsibility for allocating the financial resources for an international fund to be established for compensating the refugees. This fund should be administered by a UN body similar to the one that administered claims in the Gulf War.
  • Compensation to Palestinian refugees must not be linked to the issue of compensation to Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Such issues must be raised in bilateral levels with the countries concerned.
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