The Israeli "Refugee Solution" Will Escalate the Conflict in the Middle East

Comments issued by BADIL Resource Center

In a recent article entitled "Refugee Solution" (Jerusalem Post, 9-11-99), Shlomo Gazit, the former head of Israeli military intelligence and frequent commentator on the Palestinian refugee issue, outlined six Israeli conditions to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: 

a) "A public announcement by Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat in which he addresses the Palestinian people and declares that this is a historic agreement that will put an end to the 100-year old conflict.
b) A public announcement in which Arafat explains to his people the clauses in the agreement that resolve the refugee problem, and makes clear that under the agreement refugees would not be returning to Israel proper.
c) A Palestinian "law of return," passed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which will permit any Palestinian living anywhere to settle in the new Palestinian state.
d) An unequivocal announcement on the cessation of UNRWA's activities, and the transfer of all authority for refugee services to the states in which the refugees live. The status of "refugee" will be eliminated immediately upon the signing of the agreement and the start of its implementation.
e) Initiation of a naturalization process for the refugees, their relocation to new neighborhoods and the setting up of training programs and employment centers for them.
f) Lastly and perhaps most important, the establishment of an authority and international bureaucracy to deal with paying compensation to refugees for property they left behind in Israel 51 years ago."

Aware of the problems that these Israeli conditions will create for the PA/PLO, Gazit offers operational suggestions:

"Now, there's little doubt that Arafat will claim - and justifiably so - that he has no way to implement such an agreement with regard to refugees located in other countries, or even any way to influence those other states in these matters. But [...] Arafat now has under his aegis some 50% of all the Palestinian refugees - those now living in Gaza and the West Bank. THERE IS NOTHING STOPPING HIM FROM IMPLEMENTING SUCH AN AGREEMENT IN THE AREAS HE WILL CONTROL. I would hope and presume that Israel will stand firm and not sign a final-
status agreement unless the PA commits itself to uphold the clauses relating to the 1948 refugees in at least those areas it will control.

"If indeed all this plays out, one can expect a UNIQUE DYNAMIC to be created. It is hard to imagine that 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan will forgo compensation and a chance at a new life after their brothers in Gaza and the West Bank have accepted that they are not returning to Israel proper."
(Shlomo Gazit, Jerusalem Post, November 9, 1999; emphasis added by BADIL)

BADIL Resource Center wishes to clarify:

1. Unfortunately, Shlomo Gazit's proposal does not reflect a single, personal opinion. It reflects the strategic approach to the Palestinian refugee question chosen by the current Israeli government led by Ehud Barak. 

2. The "unique dynamic" to be created is equivalent to a LARGE SCALE CLAMP-DOWN by the PA on the 1.4 million Palestinian refugees (or about 38% of all refugees) living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; a massive PA campaign aimed at the repression of  the freedom of expression and public organization in the areas under PA control. Polling done in the summer of 1999 suggests that 90.8% of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state in exchange for surrendering the refugee's right of return; 84.2% stated that they would not be convinced of a final status agreement providing for compensation as the main element of a solution of the refugee question; and, 51.4% stated that they would work to make such an agreement fail (source: opinion poll by PA-State Information Service, summer 1999; for more on polling see BADIL press release, 7-10-99, on our website).
In light of the scope and importance of the refugee question for the Palestinian people, all PA repression of Palestinian human rights as a result of Israeli pressure (e.g. detention of "opponents of the peace process") witnessed so far, will then appear no more than a small-scale rehearsal...

3. The Israeli "refugee solution" aims to PERMANENTLY SEVERE the SOCIAL and POLITICAL TIES which continue to connect the 5 million Palestinian refugees living in Israel, the 1967-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, the Gulf States, and western countries despite 51 years of exile. It aims to impose an Israeli solution by means of total socio-economic EMPOVERISHMENT and MARGINALIZATION (the result of the "immediate cessation of UNRWA activities).

4. The Israeli "solution" aims to legitimize Israel's historical ethnic cleansing operation and the massive robbery of Palestinian refugee property via the repression of the victims, with the endeavor to be executed by the Palestinian leadership and supported by the international community. This in times when the international community has taken a clear stand against ethnic cleansing schemes world-wide and intervened against the responsible authorities in Rwanda, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova.

5. The Israeli "refugee solution" will lead to MORE CONFLICT and WAR in the Middle East. It has been proven that conflict resolutions which do not reflect a basic notions of justice as expressed in the principles of international law, are not sustainable:

  • The imposition, by political and economic force, of a final status agreement that will not reflect refugee rights and demands based on international law and principles will completely de-legitimize the Palestinian leadership in the eyes of its people;
  • The extortion from the PLO/PA of a final and binding surrender of the Palestinian refugees' right of return to their homes and properties now located in Israel is morally unacceptable and legally problematic. The Palestinian refugees' right of return, restitution and compensation is not only a collective, national  - and thus political - right, but also the INDIVIDUAL RIGHT of every refugee enshrined in a broad body of international and domestic law. 

According to the standards of international law, such individual refugee rights are not extinguished by a political agreement between the PLO/PA and Israel. The continuation of the struggle of the Palestinian people, more than two thirds of whom are refugees, for the implementation of the right of return, restitution and compensation will thus remain a legitimate cause.

BADIL Resource Center calls upon the international community and policy makers to convey a CLEAR MESSAGE to Israel:

  • A just and durable peace in the Middle East must be based on Israeli recognition and implementation of international law and UN resolutions on the Palestinian refugee question and incorporate the principle of refugee choice;
  • Refugee return and the restitution of refugee property in Israel are possible. Refugee lands are well documented and still sparsely populated by Jewish population;
  • Israel's racist and absurd immigration laws and policies must be challenged. While unwilling to implement international law and UN resolutions calling for the return of Palestinian refugees, Israel continues to encourage the exclusive immigration of Jewish people under its Law of Return (although, according to Israeli sources, some 40% of the new immigrants from Russia are non-Jewish).
Israel's position, outside the framework of international law and principles, must no longer be accepted, if the vision of regional peace, cooperation and development is to become a reality in the Middle East.
For more information contact: BADIL Resource Center, PO Box 728, Bethlehem, Palestine; tel/fax. 02-2747346; email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..