The Palestine Papers
Palestinian Talking Points Re: Refugees since Nakba

These are talking points recognizing the 60 years after the Nakba and ensuing refugee issues. Reiterated were the necessary conditions for the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a fair settlement of the refugee issue.

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Talking Points –  REFUGEES

MAY 2008

 

 

Introduction:

 

  • 60 years after the Nakba, no real peace is possible without a just settlement of the refugee issue. A just resolution of this matter is a necessary condition for the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. 

 

  • Only a settlement that affirms all refugees’ individual rights and provide the framework for their implementation, including the right of return, in accordance with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 (“UNGAR”), would constitute a just resolution of the refugee issue.

 

  • The Arab Peace Initiative calling for a just solution to the refugee issue “to be agreed upon” in accordance with UNGAR 194 provides a historic opportunity to end this 6-decades conflict in a just manner.

 

  • This is a unique occasion to put an end to 60 years of suffering, dispossession and displacement. The Palestinian position, which is in line with this initiative, combines in fact the recognition of all refugees’ rights with their implementation which will have to respect refugee choice, but also adapt to the legitimate interests and concerns of Israel, the Palestinian State and Arab host states.

 

Statistics:

 

·         During the war of 1948, more than 726,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homes within what was to become the State of Israel to seek refuge in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and neighboring Arab states (Jordan, Syria and Lebanon in particular).

 

·         The refugee problem was caused by attacks by Jewish forces on Arab villages and towns and by the inhabitants’ fears of such attacks, compounded by expulsions, atrocities and intentionally disseminated rumors of atrocities.

 

·         After 1948, the State of Israel began massive expropriation of Palestinian land, essentially by declaring the land abandoned and placing it under Jewish control. The vast majority of this land has been designated for Jewish-only use and became the “Lands of Israel”. 

 

·         During the 1967 war, another 400,000 persons were displaced from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

 

·         Dispossession and displacement have been ongoing since that date because of the continued creation of illegal settlements, home demolitions and confiscation of lands in the occupied Palestinian territory, as well as frequent deportations and revocation of residency rights. Recently, the construction of the Wall inside the West Bank in order to accommodate the settlement enterprise has triggered further forced displacements and a situation of “silent transfer” of the Palestinian population. 

 

·         Since 1948, the Israeli authorities have firmly refused to allow the refugees to return to their homes.

 

·         Today, 3/4 of the Palestinian people are refugees. The overall population of Palestinian refugees is now over 7 million. More than 1.3 million of these refugees still live in refugee camps and, to date, most of them remain stateless.

 

How to solve the Refugee issue:

 

  • While complex, the Palestinian refugee issue can be resolved. A successful resolution will have to be based on two pillars:
    • The recognition of refugee rights and their implementation in accordance with the respect of refugees’ individual choices (these rights are refugees’ own individual rights).
    • The conciliation of the implementation of these rights with the relevant States’ rights and legitimate interests.

                      

  • The Arab Peace Initiative, launched by the Arab League in Beirut in March 2002, and reaffirmed at the Riyadh Summit in April 2007, remains the best framework for solving the issue.
    • It provides a proposal embodied by the formula “a just solution to the refugee issue to be agreed upon in accordance with UN Resolution 194”.

 

In practice, this would mean the following:

 

  • The recognition of Israel’s responsibility for the creation and continuation of the refugee issue.
    • The displacement of the civilian population in time of war is an illegal act in contravention of international law and human rights.  Israel was responsible for the displacement and dispossession of the refugees in the first place and then for the subsequent prevention of their return to their homes.
    • Israel will have to recognize formally its primary responsibility for the Palestinian displacement and dispossession. This formal apology is a right according to international law and is essential for the satisfaction of Palestinian refugees.

 

  • The recognition that Palestinian refugees and their descendants have the right to return to their homes in principle.
    • United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 is unequivocal in mandating that “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors should be allowed to do so” [1].
    • The continuing relevance of resolution 194 has been repeatedly reaffirmed in countless UN Resolutions.
    • In recent years, the right of refugees to return to their homes has been recognized by the international community and put into practice in numerous instances, some of the most notable being in Bosnia and Kosovo. 

 

  • The modalities of the implementation of this right will be worked out in negotiations.
    • It is crucial to respect the choice of Palestinian refugees as to their return/resettlement destination. This must be a meaningful choice and refugees themselves must be involved in determining their own future (imposed solutions will not work).

 

  • The recognition of the right for the restitution of the properties lost by Palestinians.
    • According to international law, restitution is the primary remedy to repair a loss. It is only if restitution is practically impossible (or if the victim of the loss prefers compensation to restitution) that compensation should be made available.

 

  • Compensation should be provided in full:
    • for material damages (Real Estate properties as well as movable assets), and
    • non-material damages: compensation as a result of the longstanding displacement and suffering.

 

Conclusion

 

The API is a historic opportunity for Israel.

 

57 Arab and Muslim countries announced their eagerness to normalize relationships with Israel if the latter ends its occupation of the Arab lands and the issue of refugees is solved in a just manner as agreed upon between both parties.

 

Unfortunately, until this day Israel has not endorsed the API.



[1] To be precise, Resolution 194 did not create the refugees’ right of return.  It merely restated and reaffirmed a well-established norm in international customary law.  UN Resolution194 sets forth three distinct rights: return to their homes, restitution of their property and/or compensation. (for externally and internally displaced)  Refugees have the choice whether to return or resettle in another location.