Palestinian Refugees: Challenges of Repatriation and Development

By Rex Brynen; Roula El-Rifai | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Introduction: Refugee repatriation, development,
and the challenges of Palestinian state-building

Rex Brynen, McGill University, Montreal, Canada Roula El-Rifai, International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada

PALESTINIAN REFUGEES SUFFER the twin misfortunes of being both the largest refugee population in the world, and one of the oldest. The refugee issue traces its origins to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, an event that was accompanied by the forced displacement of some three quarters of a million of Palestinian Arabs from their homes within what had become the territory of the new Jewish state. The refugees fled to the then Jordanian-controlled West Bank, Egyptian-administered Gaza Strip, the east bank of the Jordan River, Syria, Lebanon, and further afield. The homes and properties that they left behind were seized by the Israeli government. Most refugees were barred from returning. In 1967, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (WBG) saw a further three hundred thousand or so Palestinians flee from those areas, mostly to Jordan. With the natural growth of this population and the passage of more than two generations of time, over four million Palestinian refugees are today registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and a majority of Palestinians live in exile in the diaspora.

It has long been recognized that a fair and mutually acceptable solution to the Palestinian refugee issue is an essential component of achieving a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. What such an agreement might look like, of course, is far less clear. To what extent, if at all, would Israel recognize the refugees' 'right of return' or accept the return of some or any Palestinians to their original homes within Israel? What formula could be found to

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