The Palestinian refugee issue has remained unresolved for almost fifty years, longer than most other problems of mass displacement during this century. From the outset, the international community made it clear that it saw voluntary repatriation as the desirable solution to the problem and accordingly the General Assembly in 1948 resolved, in its historic resolution 194, that 'refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date'.1 The implementation of this resolution was entrusted to the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine which made numerous attempts to promote the repatriation of the refugees.2 Israel, however, has consistently barred the return of the refugees except for small numbers in the context of family reunification.3 After it became clear that the Israeli government was unlikely to change its policy vis-à-vis the refugees, the international community explored alternative solutions. It created UNRWA, not only to continue the initial relief effort, but foremost to promote the 'reintegration' of the refugees into the economic life of the Middle East, either by integration in the countries of refuge or by resettlement in other countries in the region.4 These efforts also failed, however, and serious attempts at finding a durable solution were suspended by the mid-1950s. The Middle East peace process that started with the ' Madrid' conference in 1991, has for the first time after all these years brought a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem within reach.
The relevance of the ' Madrid' peace process for the Palestinian refugees has already been discussed in chapter I.5 The present chapter, the most 'political' chapter of the book, explores various aspects of the search for a durable solution to the Palestinian refugee problem in the context of that process. The next section discusses the different durable solutions to refugee problems in general and looks at various related principles of international law. The question, to what extent these____________________