by Ziad AbuZayyad
Any settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must provide a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, one of the core issues of the conflict. The Palestinian refugees who were subjected to massacres (Deir Yassin, Tantora, al-Khatib...etc.), massive expulsion, and physical and psychological intimidation left their homes hoping to return as soon as the canons had stopped. No civilian is required to stay in the battlefield, especially when there is a real threat to his safety. The Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return or compensation is guaranteed in UN General Assembly resolution 194.
On the other hand, the Israelis argue that Israel was established as a Jewish state to provide an answer to the Jewish need for a national homeland. They insist on preserving the Jewish majority of their state, and fear that a massive return of Palestinian refugees may endanger that majority. The injustice done to the Palestinian people by uprooting them from their homeland, and turning them into refugees, could never be justified. Even those Palestinians who did not leave their homes and stayed in Palestine, whether in what became Israel, or in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, are not in a better situation.
The Palestinians who remained in their villages inside the newborn state of Israel may have become citizens of that state but never enjoyed all the same rights of its Jewish citizens. They were subjected to internal displacement, military rule for more than two decades and obvious discrimination compared with their Jewish fellow citizens. This discrimination is not just against the Arab individual, but also against the Arab Local Councils and institutions especially in land acquisition, town planning and budgets.
Yet, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are subjected to further land confiscation and oppression by the Israeli military occupation and by Jewish settlers in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
The Israelis argue that on the background of their bitter historical experience, especially the Holocaust, they need a Jewish state, with a Jewish majority. For many Palestinians this sounds strange. They are not capable of understanding why they cannot go back to their homes and lands inside Israel, and live in a bi-national state together with the Jews, as equal citizens of the same state.
We should not debate the past. Each side will come with a long list of arguments to support his own position, and another list of atrocities done to him by the other. Debating the past will lead nowhere, except to more bitter feelings on both sides. But knowing what happened in the past could help to provide a vehicle to move from the present to a better future. Examining the present tells us that the clock could not be turned back. A realistic look at the Palestinian refugees in their different geographical locations will show that many have already started another life somewhere else. Most would rather stay where they are, yet they will demand two things: a Palestinian state with which they will sympathize and even identify, and have as a national shelter in case of future persecution anytime, anywhere. And their individual claims for loss of property, or damage or human suffering. This could be addressed by compensations according to UN resolution 194. Only a small portion of refugees, especially those in Lebanese and Syrian refugee camps, still need to be settled. They insist on their Right of Return, to state, and to national dignity.
Within a comprehensive settlement to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Israel should initiate the establishment of an International Fund to compensate the Palestinian refugees who will choose not to return, and those who will not be able to practice their Right of Return to their homes and lands, including those who will practice this right but to the future Palestinian state. The future should be addressed with openness, realism, and a spirit of conciliation. Negotiations over the Palestinian refugee problem could be established according to UN resolution 194. But any solution to this problem should be agreed upon by both sides.
UN resolution 181 lays down the foundations and the international legitimacy for the creation of two states in Palestine. A Jewish state, and an Arab state. If this is the understanding of the political settlement to the conflict, then it is well understood, that any solution to the refugee problem in accordance to UNGA resolution 194 should not revoke resolution 181. The two state solution should be respected. A Palestinian Arab State alongside the Israeli Jewish State.