Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Compromise on Palestinian Refugees Is Essential for Middle East Peace to Succeed

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Compromise on Palestinian Refugees Is Essential for Middle East Peace to Succeed

Article excerpt

Compromise on Palestinian Refugees Is Essential for Middle East Peace to Succeed

Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.

As Israeli and Palestinian leaders slowly move toward final-status talks, many outlines of what a final agreement would include are beginning to emerge. Compromise will be necessary, and such compromise will be difficult for hard-liners on each side to accept. Palestinians are likely to get less than 100 percent of their territories back, and the question of Jerusalem's final status remains a difficult one to resolve. An important outstanding issue which has yet to be seriously addressed relates to the question of Palestinian refugees.

There are, of course, serious problems with the 1993 Oslo accords. Milton Viorst, author of In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Souls of Islam, notes that, "...the statement of principles drafted at Oslo and signed in Washington was fundamentally flawed. The Palestinians forswore their right of resistance in return for a vague Israeli pledge to turn over the land taken in the 1967 war. The recent decline in terrorism is evidence that they have taken their part of the deal seriously. But the Oslo agreement failed in leaving too many issues to be resolved by further bargaining--between parties of grossly unequal strength."

In April, Nail Abourdeneh, an aide to Yasser Arafat, said that Palestinians would never relinquish their demand that Israel allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes lost during the 1948 war. Prime Minister Ehud Barak already had said that the refugees would not be resettled. But the principle of a "right of return" for the Palestinian refugees from both the 1948 and 1967 wars rests on the principle that they should return to their areas of origin, even if such areas are currently within the state of Israel. This is among the most controversial issues in the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.

Israel refuses to repatriate the Palestinian refugees, claiming that they fled of their own accord and that it is under no obligation to take them back.

Article II of the U.N. General Assembly's Resolution 194, ratified in December 1948, declared that "the refugees wishing to return to their homes, and live in peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for the loss of, or damage to, property which, under the principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible." The resolution has been affirmed by the General Assembly over 40 times, most recently in 1990. It represents the strongest claim under international law for the rights of repatriation available to the Palestinian refugees.

The official Israeli position disputes the legality of the Palestinian claim based on U.N. Resolution 194. It blames the Arab states for generating the Palestinian refugee problem, arguing that they ordered the refugees to flee so that Arab armies could liberate Palestine from the Zionists in 1948. Furthermore, Israel says that it could never accept the Palestinian right of return because it would fundamentally alter the Jewish character of the Israeli state.

A recent report issued by the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine in Washington, DC, reports: "With the new wave of Israeli `revisionist' historians uncovering more material on the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the origins of the Palestinian refugee problem, it has become clear that the mass flight of Palestinian civilians from Mandate Palestine was a strategic goal of the founders of Israel." Regarding Israel's argument about preserving the Jewish character of the state, W.T. Mallison and S. …

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