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Palestinian Refugees and the Middle East Peace Process

Source: Presented on October 23, 1998 at a Conference Organized by the University of Quebec in Montreal The Middle East Peace Process: Costs of Instability and Outlook for Insecurity October 22-23, 1998. Not to be quoted or cited without the explicit permission of the author.

by Elia Zureik

So far, the Middle East peace process, which began in October 1991 in Madrid, has yielded four major agreements between the PLO and Israel: the Declaration of Principles, also known as Oslo I, signed in Washington in September 1993; the Gaza-Jericho Agreement, signed in Cairo in May 1994; and an interim agreement, known as Oslo II, concluded in Washington in September 1995. A fourth agreement, known as the Hebron accord, which modified the implementation of the Oslo framework regarding the redeployment of Israeli troops, was signed in January 1997. The pace of translating these agreements into concrete results has been disappointing, to say the least. Although Israeli forces have been redeployed from major Palestinian towns (Hebron being the exception here, where Israel continues to control 20 per cent of the city on account of the 450 Jewish settlers in a city which has more than 100,000 Palestinian residents), Israel continues to control 72 per cent of the West Bank (so-called Area C); except for civil matters pertaining to the Palestinian population, Israel remains effectively in charge of an additional 26 percent of the West Bank (so-called area B) - officially under joint administration; thus leaving the Palestinian Authority in control of area A which comprises 2 per cent of the West Bank. Moreover, Israel controls nearly 40 per cent of the Gaza Strip, as well as the main roads and points of access to Palestinian towns and villages. This gives Israel the power to impose at will internal closures (in addition, of course to its control of the border check points) as it has done on many occasions since the signing of the Oslo accords.

Even before the ascendancy of the Likud-led right wing coalition to power in June 1996, developments on the ground, between 1993 and 1996, when the Labour-led coalition was in charge, first under Rabin and later under Peres, exposed the inherent weaknesses and the asymmetry of power embedded in the Oslo agreements. In the face of mounting opposition to Israeli occupation, resulting from the expansion of Jewish settlements, extensive land confiscation, house demolition, curfews, collective punishment and imprisonment, and sheer economic desperation, cyclical violence and suicide bombings ensued. Rabin used these to justify closures as early as March 1993 and vow publicly that they would stayin effect for the interim period. The catalyst in the cycle of violence six months after the signing of the Oslo agreements in Washington was the mass murder by a settler of 29 Palestinian Moslem wo rshipers in Hebron. The policy of closures, both internally and at the border checkpoints, remains in place to this day, five years after the signing of the Oslo agreements. In its Spring 1998 quarterly report, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the occupied territories noted that while there were fewer total closures in 1997 compared to1996 (20.5:29 per cent of potential work days), internal closure days rose by 40 per cent in the West Bank, from 27 to 40 days. The implications of closures and control of borders is that Israel has total monopoly over the movement of people, goods, and labour, in addition to its taken-for-granted co ntrol of land and water, not to mention the use of sophisticated means of organized state violence in the shape of the army, border police, and covert security services of various kinds, including the notorious special assassination units (the so-called mist'arivim ) whose members masquerade as Arab civilians during their assassination missions. In the eyes of Palestinians, these and other developments rendered the agreements between them and Israel meaningless. However, the final blow to an immediate resumption of the final status talks, which had opened on 5 May 1996 during Labour's tenure in office and suspended immed iately thereafter, was the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel's prime minister and the formation ofa Likud-led government. By rejecting publicly the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the creation of a Palestinian state, withdrawal from the occupied territories, and any change in the status of the illegally and unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem, Netanyahu's Likud had for all intents and purposes rejected the Oslo agreements, which, based on UN S ecurity Council Resolutions 242 and 338, called for the exchange of conquered Arab land for peace. Under further pressure from the United States, and after modifying the terms of agreement stipulated in the original accords, the Palestinians agreed to a new redeployment formula involving the handing over of additional 13 per cent of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority. Yet, Netanyahu's government balked at implementing the redeployment agreement brokered by the United States, arguing that it threatens its security. At maximum, Israel promised to redeploy its troops from no more than 9-10 per cent of the West Bank, suggesting that the remaining 3-4 per cent would be earmarked for a nature reserve, thus de priving the Palestinians from developing the land. It remains to be seen whether or not anything will come out of this final push by the United States to resuscitate the Middle East peace process through a meeting this month in Washington. On the surface, the appointment of Ariel Sharon, the tormentor of the Palestinians and the architect of the massacres at Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps in Lebanon, as Israel's foreign minister cannot be perceived as a sign of good omen - even though the pundits are quick to point out that Sharon's appointment is intended to placate the e xtreme right in Israel.

Making Sense
Let us attempt to make sense of what is being talked about here. The area of the West Bank and Gaza constitutes around 25 per cent of the total area of historical Palestine (around 26 million dunums; a dunum is equal to .25 acres). There are close to 2.5 million Palestinians living in the territories. With one million people in it, Gaza exhibits the highest population density anywhere in the world (at a time when the Israelis control 40 per cent of the area of Gaza where 6000 Jewish settlers live). The West Bank has 161,000 Jewish settlers who e njoy all the amenities of modern living including clean water, housing, roads and land, and around the clock supply of electricity and telecommunications services, not to mention the right to carry weapons, and the protection of the Israeli occupation forces. The Palestinian population, on the other hand,numbering ten times that of the settler population would have to be squeezed into the 2 per cent area controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the existing 26 per cent over which the Palestinian Authority has administrative control, and a probable additional 9 per cent of the area to be vacated by Israel - if and when this happens. Altogether this will give the Palestinians a maximum of 40 per cent direct and indirect control of the West Bank.

Numbers and Categories
It is against this background that the Palestinian refugee problem and its possible resolution must be examined. The creation of the Palestinian refugee problem on a large scale, first in 1948 and again in 1967, must be one of the many horrific human tragedies of the twentieth century, a century which saw (and continues to see) the mass exodus of millions of people worldwide from their countries of origin. Fifty years after their dispe rsion, the Palestinians continue to seek redress to their plight in various international fora with little success. Around 800,000 refugees were expelled, driven out, traumatized, or simply fled their homes in 1948. The majority, but not all, of these refugees and their descendants now number around 3.5 million persons, and appear on the registry of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). As we will see below, this figure is by no means exhaustive of the refugees, either in terms of their numbers or categories. A second wave of refugees was created in 1967, and they consist of first-time refugees (referred to as 'displaced persons' in the lingo of the quadripartite committee of the Middle East peace process consisting of Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians), and some of the 1948 refugees who became refugees for the second time during the 1967 war. Those who were displaced for the first time in 1967 are not registered with UNRWA, and technically are not entitled to its services. As well, the category of Palestinian refugees in general includes those middle-class Palestinians who did not register with the UNRWA in 1948, those who became permanent, internal refugees in the newly established state of Israel in 1948 (numbering 20 per cent of the one million Palestinian citizens of Israel), those who were outside Palestine when the 1948 War broke out andwere also prevented by Israel from returning to their homes, those who were expelled by Israel for 'security' reasons, and the so-called ' late-comers' who, according to Israeli bureaucratic criteria, lost their residency status as a result of being outsidethe territories when the 1967 war broke out, or extended their absence from their homeland (for the purpose of visits, work, marriage, study, etc.) and were not allowed to return by Israel. The structure of the refugee population was also affected by the 300,000-350,000 Palestinian refugees who were expelled from the Gulf in the aftermath of the Gulf war, and reverted back to their refugee living conditions in the camps, primarily in Jordan. Finally, a mention must be made of the newest category of East Jerusalem refugees. These are residents of Jerusalem who Israel has succeeded, through gerrymandering of the boundaries of Jerusalem and by im posing an arbitrary, draconian definition of residency, to confiscate their Jerusalem identity papers and render them stateless. Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations estimate that between the beginning of 1994 and March 1998 a total of 1,200 such individuals have been made refugees, with an additional 500 family cases are under consideration and await a similar fate. Taking the entire list of categories of refugees into account, it is estimated that, in addition to the 3.5 million registered refugees, there are close to 1.5 million Palestinian refugees who are not registered with the UNRWA.

The fate of Palestinian refugees in the context of the Oslo agreements is subject to the following: the 1948 refugees will be dealt with during final status talks; those displaced in 1967 are supposed to be discussed by a quadripartite committee consisting of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians. The so-called late-comers are handled on a bilateral basis by the Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and Jordan. Under protest from various quarters, Israel has promised to allow the return of 6,000 individuals annually to the West Bank under the family reunification scheme. Because of the lack of transparency and accountability by Israel, it is difficult to verify how many have been allowed back. However, by its own admission, Israel concedes that the number of those returning annually for humanitarian reasons is not, and never was, near the 6,000 figure. As a matter of fact in the first quarter of 1998, Israel admitted to returning back not more than 200-300 individuals. If the past is any indication, it is doubtful that Israel would alter its course of action on this matter. It did however, when it suits its policy purposes after Oslo, allow the return of 50,000-60,000 members of the Palestinian police force and their families.

The table below presents a breakdown of the officially registered Palestinian refugees plus those who have a refugee status but do not appear in the official records of the UNRWA. Thus, the figures in thetable show that Palestinian refugees comprise close to two-thirds of the global figure of the Palestinian people. Of an estimated 2,328,308 Palestinians in Jordan, the refugees amount to 1,741,796; of the 430,183 Palestinians in Lebanon, 408,008 are refugees; in Syria out of 465,662 Palestinians, the refugees are estimated at 444,921; Egypt's Palestinian refugee community consists of 40,468 of an estimated total of 48,784 Palestinians; except for few thousands, the Gulf countries as a whole boast of 414,710 Palestinian refugees; the Palestinian population of 74,284 in Libya and Iraq consists primarily of refugees; North and South America have a Palestinian refugee population of close to 400,000; and of the close to half million Palestinians living in the rest of the world, 220,00 are refugees. Added to these figures, are close to 200,000 internal Palestinian refugees inside Israel. As noted above, these are individuals whose villages were destroyed, their land was confiscated by Israel, and to this day are prevented from returning to their homes.

Global Distribution of Palestinian Population Refugee and Non-Refugee, 1998

Place of Refuge


Of Which Refugee



200,000 (internal refugees)

Gaza Strip



West Bank















Saudi Arabia






Other Gulf Countries



Iraq, Libya



Other Arab Countries



The Americas



Other Countries






Source: Salman Abu-Sitta, Palestine 1948: 50 Years After Al Nakba , Map distributed by PRC Crown House, North Circular Rd., London, England, 1998.

Oslo, Before and After
There is ample evidence to show that on almost all the major socio-economic indicators the situation of the Palestinians, refugees and non-refuges alike, has worsened after 1993. This is true in terms of economic activity, standard of living, number of Palestinian houses destroyed by Israel, closures, and human rights violations. This applies in the West Bank and Gaza, but certain dimensions of the deterioration apply also in places like Lebanon and Jordan. The human rights and economic situation have worsened substantially for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, while those in Jordan are suffering from the consequences of the Gulf War and the general economic deterioration in Jordan. As well, there seems to be a general recognition that the Oslo agreements didnot deliver either the security or economic prosperity promised to the region as a whole, thus creating a widespread sense of disillusionment among both Arabs and Jews.

With regard to the West Bank and Gaza, between 1993 and 1996, in the aftermath of the Oslo agreements, Israel imposed a total of 342 closure days on the West Bank and 291 in Gaza. Thus on the average Palestinians were prevented from leaving their areas of residence for almost one-third of the time. Closure further crippled the already weak Palestinian economy by sending the unemployment rate in the West Bank soaring to above 50 per cent, and in Gaza it exceeded 70 per cent. From the beginning of 1992 to the end of 1996, the GNP in Gaza and the West Bank declined by 18 per cent. Compare the GNP on a per capita basis in the occupied territories to that of Israel, and you can see the magnitude of the economic disaster. The International Labour Organization reports that the West Bank and Gaza per capita income for 1996 stood at $1,333 (US), almost 20 per cent below the 1993 level in real terms. Israel's GNP on a per capita basis is around $15,000, which puts it in the company of other advanced Western countries, such as Canada. With the poverty line put at $650 per person annually, it is estimated that by early 1997, more than one-third of Gaza and 11 per cent of West Bank residents were living below the poverty line.

Had it not been for the financial assistance pledged and given by donor countries in the aftermath of the Oslo agreements, the economicsituation would have been much worse. Whether the donor countries, under the guidance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the ideologues of the free market, have set their priorities right is another matter. Commentators who have observed the channeling of financial assistance at close range argue that assistance should be geared primarily to alleviate poverty, create jobs, and improve health conditions and education, rather than build a bloated state apparatus in the Palestinian areas, which, as the Palestinian Legislative Council documented last year, wreaks of corruption.

Another casualty of the Oslo agreements has been a continued Israeli violations of human rights, with the Palestinian Authority perpetrating its share of such violations. Equally relevant from the point of view of this conference is the creation of a new type of refugee, something to which I alluded earlier. The Israeli press and human rights organizations note the drastic increase in the number of Palestinians from East Jerusalem whose residency cards have been confiscated by the Israeli government. Between 1996 and March 1998, 1471 families, or close to 6,000 individuals, have been evicted from their homes and expelled from East Jerusalem. Altogether from 1994 to 1998, 1,642 families have been deprived from their residency right in East Jerusalem. What is the Oslo agreement doing about this? Not much. Even putting the topic on the table for discussion in a refugee forum such as the Refugee Working Group, triggered a threat from the Israelis to walk out under the disingenuous excuse that Jerusalem is not under discussion, and by extension neither is its exiled population.

Of course, one has to acknowledge the increase in Jewish settlers in the occupied territories since the Oslo agreements. The Israeli press reported recently that the number of Jewish settlers has reached close to 161,000, excluding the Jerusalem environs. This is in addition to around 180,000 settlers who live in the East Jerusalem area. It is estimated that in 1997 the settler population grew at the rate of 9 per cent, not far off from the 1996 rate of 9.4 per cent increase. This, of course, is notthe outcome of natural increase, which is usually less than 2 per cent for Israeli Jews, but is the outcome of a deliberate expansion of settlements. All of this is taking place, I may add, under the watchful eyes of the architects of the Oslo agreements.

Contrasting Views on Solutions
Three main issues are addressed in the legal and academic literature on Palestinian refugees: the right of return, resettlement, and compensation. But solutions, in their various modalities, cannot be addressed without reference to origins of the refugee problem. Many writers have linked solutions to their version of the way the problem was created in the first place. Reference to the origins of the problem is also important for other reasons, for it is here where the debate over numbers takes place, which in turn has implications for return, resettlement and compensation. We therefore propose to deal in a summary fashion with the contrasting versions of the origins of the problem very briefly, so as to contextualize the various solutions proposed.

While more ink was spilled in discussing the origins of the refugee problem during the last half century than any other aspect of the conflict, with each side presenting its version of history, the last few years have seen the issue crystallize around the following positions. First, Israeli and Palestinian official versions still present a diametrically opposing views of what happened in 1948. The Palestinian position puts the blame on Israel for creating the refugee problem, and the Israeli position attributes the creation of the problem to the Palestinians themselves and to Arab governments. Palestinian and Israeli versions differ with regard to the number of refugees created in 1948. The Israeli go vernment puts the figure at a maximum of 400,000, while the Palestinians cite a figure twice as large, between 800,000 and 900,000. The United Nations estimate is around 850,000, while Palestinian private sources cite a figure of between 750,000 and 800,000. Private Israeli sources estimate the number of Palestinian refugees around 600,000.

Second, a more nuanced, private Israeli view of the 1948 events, which is at variance with the official Israeli view, is presented by revisionist Israeli historians, who e xplain the Palestinian exodus in 1948 on the basis of a combination of factors having to do primarily with fear of the consequences of war, coupled with localized attempts to drive the Palestinians out from certain selected areas. Even this Israeli charitable view, which in the words of Israelihistorian Benny Morris shows that the refugee problem "was born of war, not by design, Jewish or Arab," downplays the extent of the calculated plans which drove Palestinian refugees out of their homeland.

In proposing solutions to the problem, no less than 12 such plans were put forward by various Israeli governments starting in the early 1950s and up to the present. Prior to 1967 these plans focused on resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Arab countries. The only exception was a brief offer made in the1950s, under pressure put on Israel by the United States, to take back 100,000 Palestinian refugees. The offer was rejected by the Arab side and subsequently withdrawn by Israel. After 1967, while Israel continued to speak of resettlement of refugees in the Arab countries, it shifted its attention to the occupied territories, and prepared several plans to resettle Palestinian refugees in places outside the camps in the West Bank and Gaza. Very little came out of these plans, even though the Likud government appointed in the early 1980s a high powered ministerial committee to come up with blue prints to resettle refugees in the West Bank and Gaza by dismantling the camps and building housing units in their place.

The refugee right of return remains the cornerstone of Palestinian and Arab approaches to the refugee issue. The Palestinian delegation to the RWG has consistently referred to resolution 194 (III) as the basis for its stand on the 1948 refugees. However, other writings on the subject show a noticeable shift in the articulation of the non-official Palestinian position, from rejection of anything short of application of Resolution 194 (III) to acceptance of other modalities. Some writers attribute the current predicament in which the refugee issue finds itself to the weakness of the Arab state system and acceptance of Resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis for the Middle East peace talks. However, others have tried to move the debate over the issue of the right of return not to a debate over whether the refugees should return to their 1948 homes, but to secure unhampered right of return for all refugees and displaced Palestinians to an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, to compensate the refugees and normalize the civil and human rights of non-returnees in neighboring countries, grant all refugees Palestinian passports, demand that Israel allow a symbolic return of some refugees from the 1948 war, and recognize that a historical injustice was done to the Palestinian people. It remains to be seen whether this view will sway the official Palestinian position, and with it that of the refugees themselves

There is a debate about the legal standing of Resolution 194 (III). On the Israeli side, there is a unanimous rejection of the applicability of Resolution 194 (III). This argument rests on the notion that the right of return in international law is reserved for individuals who are or have been members of a nation state. Since the Palestinian refugees now (and before they became refugees) are not and havenot been citizens of the state of Israel, the right of return has no legal force. Equally important according to this point of view is the claim that international law does not sanction the application of law when it is seen to be prejudicial to the interests of the state. This is particularly true of United Nations General Assembly resolutions which are not accompanied by effective sanctions and implementation mechanism, as is the case with Security Council resolutions. In the case of General Assembly Resolution 194 (III), supporters of Israel reiterate the Israeli position that its application implies the return of millions of refugees, who will drastically alter the Jewish character of the state. Yet, another group of Israeli writers further points out that since the agreements between Israelis and Palestinians are premised on United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338, "the Israeli-Palestinian accords imply a territorial compromise in Palestine/Eretz Yisrael, and rejection of a general right to return or repossess property in Israel."

It is important to stress that the Israeli rejectionist position concerning the Palestinian right of return stretches to those who support the peace process as well. Their a rgument has several components to it. First, they claim that under no circumstances should the Palestinians have a say in deciding who should return, if any, of the refugees to Israel proper. This is Israel's prerogative, and it may want to exercise it on a very limited, humanitarian basis. Second, according to this view, any right of return should be implemented in the West Bank and Gaza, and once the territories assume independent status, Israel has no right to prevent the Palestinians from having their own law of return. However, such a return, which should first be directed towards those displaced by the 1967 war, should be carried out by keeping Israel's security paramount, taking the absorptive capacity of the territories into account, so as not to create a destabilizing effect as a result of uncontrolled mass return of refugees, that building new settlements for the refugees must not infringe upon Jewish settlements, Israel's security needs, and must not be close to the Green Line. Overall, the Palestinian entity must coordinate with Israel the modalities of return of refugees and displaced people to the West Bank and Gaza.

A slightly different tack to the right of return is taken by international jurists who argue that the crucial development in favor of Palestinian rights came with the passage of General Assembly Resolution 3236 (XXIX) in 1974. Here the right of return was linked to the right of self-determination. The case is strengthened since the Resolution does not distinguish between the 1948 and 1967 refugees, so the argument goes. It addresses the Palestinian refugees as one group. For some, this Resolution is crucial because it moved the debate from the "individual's 'right of return' to the Palestinian people's right for self-determination." However, the upshot of this circuitous route is that this proposal is unworkable, unless it becomes part of a "package deal" between the Palestinians and Israelis in the context of the current peace talks.

The issue of compensation is dealt with by several writers, Palestinian, Israeli, and others. Essentially, the debate revolves around the following elements. How many should receive compensation, how to calculate the size of the compensation, how to administer it, and from where should the money come? Compensation is of three types, indemnification, i.e., payment for suffering of non-material loses, restitution, which is the compensation for material losses, and reparation, which is payment between states as a result of damage incurred during the war. The Arab side presents the case for compensation by stressing that it should be based on calculation of individual losses, that each refugee claimant is entitled to receive the true values of losses incurred, and that these losses should reflect both material and non-material aspects. On the basisof this approach Arab economists working in the mid-1980s calculate the value of Palestinian lost property, movable and immovable, plus the cost of lost career opportunities and psychological damage incurred, to be around $147 billion in 1984 prices, and if it is confined to property losses only, to $92 billion in 1984 prices.

Israeli writers, expressing the non-official view, follow a different approach. They stress that (1) payment should be based on need rather than the true value of property lost; (2) that it should be collective and not individual in nature; (3) that an international body should be entrusted with administering the compensation; (4) that UNRWA should be phased out with the payment of compensation; (5) that Israel should not be the main contributor to the fund, but should be part of an international effort to raise the necessary funds; and (6) that money should be channeled in such a way so as to create jobs, build houses and the needed infrastructure and revive regional economies of the Middle East. Various figures were bandied about ranging from $2.56 to 10 billion.

The issue of Jewish losses in Arab countries is raised by some Israeli writers and rejected by others. The Palestinian position on compensation of Jewish losses in Arab countries was stated by the Head of the Palestinian delegation to the second RWG meeting in Ottawa in 1992. At the time, it was pointed out that it is the relevant Arab governments who should bear responsibility for compensating Jewish immigrants from Arab countries, and not the Palestinian refugees.

With regard to Arab governments, there is no doubt that when the time comes, those countries which have hosted large numbers of refugees for nearly half century, will submit their own bills for shouldering some of the responsibility. A recent estimate put the costto Jordan for hosting the refugees at around $300 million annually.

The Lebanese reaction to the presence of Palestinian refugees in their midst has been most vocal. Practically all of the writers mentioned above singled out the Palestinians in Lebanon as the most vulnerable group of Palestinian refugees. Yet, the gist of the Lebanese position, as spelled out by top government officials, is that Palestinian refugees must be fully repatriated, if not to their original homes, then to other third countries.

This position is reflected in a survey of 1,000 Lebanese carried out in the early 1990s. Around three-quarters of those surveyed rejected resettlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon, and this was true across Lebanon's confessional lines. A moderate solution to solving the Palestinian refugee predicament in Lebanon advocates granting the Palestinians in Lebanon certain specific civil and social rights, as long as the Palestinians hold a Palestinian citizenship accorded to them by a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Under this proposal, Palestinians are not allowed to vote, run for political office, or hold public sector jobs. They are also not allowed to invest in sectors of the economy which have direct bearing upon national security or own the media of communication. They will be allowed to seek employment opportunities and enjoy freedom of movement, as long as these have reciprocal arrangements with the Palestinian state, meaning that Lebanese nationals can enjoy similar rights in areas under Palestinian jurisdiction.

Refugee Attitudes
There are no systematic studies of the refugees' views regarding possible solutions. In a series of small scale surveys, the picture which emerges reflects the regional distribution of the refugees. In Lebanon, for example, Palestinian refugees' first preference is to be allowed to go back to their homes in the Galilee. Should this not be possible, many of them would like to stay in Lebanon as long as their rights are normalized and protected through issuing them Palestinian identity cards. Fewer expressed the desire to settle in the West Bank or Gaza.

In studying the attitudes of Palestinian refuges in Jordan, it was discovered that 77 per cent expressed willingness to live in the West Bank. This desire is guided bymatters of "principle" and not by any hostility to Jordan. Only six per cent of those surveyed rated the situation in Jordan as bad enough to want to leave. This finding is confirmed in another Jordanian survey in which 95 per cent of camp refugees believed that Jordanian-Palestinian relations are good, and a similar proportion endorsed closer relations between Jordan and a future Palestinian state.

There are very few systematic studies in the West Bank and Gaza of refugee attitudes to possible solutions. A study, carried out in May 1995 by the Center for Palestine Research and Studies in Nablus, asked a randomly selected sample of 1271 respondents 18 years of age and above from the West Bank (856) and Gaza (415) their views on the future of the camps. Forty-seven per cent said that the camps should remain where they are but with an improvement in the living conditions, close to 20 per cent preferred to keep them as they are, and 25 per cent suggested moving the camp residents to other localities. Around 6 per cent had no opinion on the subject. It is significant that almost three-quarters of the sample, and this includes refugee respondents as well, preferred to keep the camps where they are, with the majority calling for improvement in their conditions.

In June 1995, the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center polled 1397 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza on various issues pertaining to the performance of the Palestine National Authority. Included in the survey was the following question: "Do you agree giving up the 1948 lands in return for a final solution stipulating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as its capital (the 1967 borders)?" Of the whole sample, 31 per cent answered in the affirmative and 60 per cent in the negative, with the remaining 8 per cent undecided. There were hardly any differences between the West Bank and Gaza on this score, although there were age and political affiliation differences. Forty-one per cent of Fateh supporters said yes, as opposed to only 17 per cent of Hammas supporters. When broken down by age, it is significant that the younger generation reacted more negatively to the above question than the older one. Fully two-thirds of those who were born after 1967 opposed forfeiting the 1948 lands to an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital, compared to 55 per cent of those who were born before 1967. The youngest cohort in the sample, those between 18-15 years of age, expressed the greatest opposition to relinquishing claimsto the 1948 lands. Around 70 per cent opposed the proposition, 26 per cent approved it, and the remaining 4 per cent had no opinion on the subject.

It is worth pointing out that in the last three to four years, various refugee groups have begun to organize in the camps, particularly the young among them. Reading their literature and manifestos, it is clear their resentment is a function of the levelof frustration accompanied by fear that their refugee cause may be compromised in any eventual deal between Israel and the PLO. Looking at the results of a public opinion poll conducted by the Nablus center in late July and early August of this year, one finds that the highest level of support for violence against Israel is found among students and refugee groups - extending to more than fifty per cent of each group. This is not to deny the fact that a majority of the sample support the peace process, although a meager 6 per cent have any trust in the Israeli government. It is the feeling that Israel acts to frustrate their aspirations, on the one hand, and a continued support to the peace process, on the other, which leads the authors of the poll to conclude: "the Palestinian street has little confidence in the peace process despite its continued support for it,...."

Future Prospects
What does the future hold for both Palestinians and Israelis in historical Pale stine? Since the conflict was triggered more than a century ago by a dispute over land and people, I would like to end my presentation by examining the current and future population balance in historical Palestine. After all, resolving the refugee issue rests foremost on the combination of land and people. According to the Israeli census, there are roughly 5.9 million people living in Israel. The Israeli census counts Palestinians in East Jerusalem as 'citizens' of Israel, and of course it counts the settlers in the West Bank and Gaza as Israeli citizens too. Be that as it may, I am more interested in the overall population balance than in who lives where. Of the total population in Israel, 80 per cent (4.7 million) are Jewish and the remaining 20 per cent (1.2 million) are Arab. If you add to these the 2.5 million Palestinians who live in the occupied territories this yields a total of roughly 8.5 million people who live in historical Palestine. Thus, you will have by the end of this century: 4.7 million Jews, compared to a combined 3.7 million Palestinians - and this is without taking into account any of the returning refugees. Immigration played an important role in spurring population growth among Israeli Jews, while Palestinian population growth is heavily determined by natural growth rates. Bearing an unforeseen wave of Jewish immigration into Israel, and large scale Palestinian population transfer out of Palestine, an excess of 3 per cent rate of natural increase among the Arab population, and slightly less than 2 per cent increase among the Jewish population will bring a parity between the two groups by the year 2010. Should a modest number of refugees be allowed to return, say around 250,000-300,000, within the coming five years alone, the parity would be established by the year 2005. Roughly there will be around 5 million Palestinians and 5 million Jews living in historical Palestine. This is not counting the millions of Palestinian refugees who would be waiting to return to their homeland. Unless means are devised to genuinely acknowledge the fact that the current policies based on denial and exclusion of Palestinian rights are unworkable, sooner (better than later) Israel will have to face the fact that it has to share this small piece of land equitably with the original inhabitants who refuse to disappear. Instead of consuming their time with resettlement projects and devising ways to stifle Palestinian discontent, diplomats working on the issue are better off in coming up with genuine, lasting solutions which would be based on recognition of self-determination and justice for all the parties involved in the conflict. It is clear that not all the refugees would want to return. This is a phenomenon which is peculiar to all refugees, and the Palestinians are no exception. This fact, and the Israel's hard line on the issue, at times bolstered through the duplicity of the western governments, should not bean excuse to ride rough shod over the refugees, clobber them into submission, and then declare that the refugee problem has been resolved. The life-span of such a solution, I assure you, will be shorter than you imagine.

Elia Zureik is Professor of Sociology at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. He is the author of numerous studies on the Palestinians, including Palestinian Refugees and the Peace Process (1996), and The Palestinians in Israel: A Study in Internal Colonialism (1979). He is the coeditor of Sociology of the Palestin ians (1980), and Public Opinion and the Palestine Question (1987). Since 1992, Dr. Zureik has been a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Refugee Working Group of the multilateral track of the Middle East peace process.

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