In view of current and recent turmoil throughout the Middle East, a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem seems ever more distant. Basically, a solution can only come from direct talks between Israel and a unified Palestinian Authority, but stable Arab regimes are essential and a prerequisite, as, realistically speaking, a solution is unthinkable without the granting of citizenship to all refugees, in Jordan, in Syria, in Lebanon, and elsewhere.
Now, – if you are a Palestinian hardliner or sympathizer, your reaction to this statement will most likely be:
Forget it baby, ’cause we will NEVER, EVER give up our right of return, and we will fight those evil Zionists ’till the end” !
To which my reaction is.. dream on, baby..
More seriously.. I am being told by the other side, the Jewish hardliners and sympathizers, that there can be no peace, exactly because the majority of Palestinians just will not give up on this right of return, and apparently the data supports this pessimistic outlook. I am saying apparently because, as everyone should be aware of, the answers you get depend very much on how ask…
A “Palestinian Center for Public Opinion” poll, - No. 180 Nov. 02, 2011 - reveals that as many as 9 out of 10 Palestinians ”refuse to waive the right of return and to accept in exchange for that monetary compensation”.
So.. case closed, – right ? – NOPE, - absolutely NOT ! – This whole debate – generally ignored by the media - about economic compensation in exchange for giving up on the right of return, is overlooking a crucial and decisive factor: It is not a question of money or lack thereof, – (in fact Palestinian refugees are doing relatively well economically), – it is a matter of having a home, your OWN home ! Citizenship, and above all: not being treated as a refugee and second or third class individual is what really counts. – It is not just a question of sentiment, but one of dignity, – of belonging, - of being master in your own house.
Jarmi was five years old when his family left Jaffa in 1948. His story is similar to thousands of other Palestinian refugees. First they fled to the West Bank town of Taibe, and a few weeks later to the refugee camp in the town of Tul Karm, just across the Green Line. At the age of 12, Jarmi was sent to Damascus to live with his uncles, refugees from Tiberias. He worked in a bakery and didn’t attend school. When he was 19, he joined the Fatah organization and moved to Lebanon. He was a fighter, driver and chef.
In 1967, at the order of his superiors, he went to Jordan, where he was wounded, three years later, in the events of “Black September” (the battle between Jordanian troops and the PLO, which climaxed in September 1970), following which he returned to Lebanon and married, eventually fathering seven children. In 1982, he was expelled from Beirut along with the Palestinian forces and moved with them to Tunis. In 1986, following an improvement in relations between the PLO and Iraq, Jarmi was ordered to move to Baghdad.
Eight years later, in the wake of the Israeli-Palestinian Cairo agreement and Arafat’s return to Gaza, Jarmi and his family moved to the Balata refugee camp next to Nablus in the West Bank. Thirteen members of the family – Jarmi, his wife, their children and their grandchildren – now (2001) live in a four-room rented house.
On the right of return, Jarmi says:
“It is a sacred principle. I have lived in many countries and everywhere I went, I was treated as a refugee. Here, too, in Balata, I am treated as a refugee. I hear it at every opportunity. Sometimes I think it would have been better to have stayed in Iraq. There, at least, I got used to the surroundings I lived in”.
On economic compensation:
“Even if I will have enough money to buy half of Nablus, that would still not solve the problem. Even if I had a million dollars, I would still be treated as a refugee”.
Now, – not a living, empathetic soul should have trouble understanding and sympathizing with these sentiments, – this.. sacred principle.., – especially if you are Jewish (!), – but most of us also realize how completely unrealistic it is to imagine the influx of 1-2-3 million Palestinians into Israel.
A million or so Russian Jews posed no problem, you object ? – Well, that’s just it: They were / are JEWS, and let’s not shy away from the de facto state of affairs: Israel today is a JEWISH state, whether anyone likes it or not, and there is not a chance in hell that Israel will voluntarily allow this to change any day soon, – disregarding internal demographic changes in x years, perhaps…
What all this means, is that there is no other solution than economic compensation in combination with citizenship and full rights for the refugees wherever they are. It is as “simple” as that !
When, therefore, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, the Pew Research Center or others ask refugees questions like: “In exchange for economic compensation, would you be willing to give up on the right of return” ?, – they should add: “In exchange for economic compensation, plus the granting of citizenship and full rights wherever you may be, would you be willing to give up on the right of return” ?
However, the tragic truth is that Palestinians are unwelcome and perceived as potential troublemakers in each and every Arab nation, so suggesting naturalization of hundreds of thousands of refugees may be rather naive, and why should any Palestinian contemplate full citizenship after all those years of being treated like pariahs, you may ask.
Nevertheless, – as I see it – there is no other way, so how is it possible to achieve this goal ? – Obviously, without a final peace agreement, the refugee problem cannot be solved, and the opposite is equally clear. Peace between Israel and it’s neighbors must come as a complete package.
I am concerned here with the refugees mainly, so I will not go into detail about other issues, – just say this: A final solution should be based on 1. mutual recognition of the right to a secure homeland, – and 2. New border will be pre-1967, except for reciprocal and agreed-on changes.
Tragically, Palestinians have a history of betting on the wrong horse, or being perceived as a pain in the neck by fellow Arabs. Nearly half a million were kicked out of Kuwait due to the PA siding with Sadam Hussein. Then there was the “Black September” in Jordan, and the “state within the state” in Lebanon. Now, however, it appears as if the PA, notably Hamas, has learned the lesson, as they are keeping a low profile in Syria. On the other hand, their refusal to support Assad has angered the Syrian regime, – and the Iranians.., – and all in all it is not exactly easy for Palestinians to navigate safely and wisely.
Basically perhaps, Palestinians would gain from committing themselves to peace and democracy… Is it naive to imagine a Jordanian spring that could bring with it full citizenship to all Palestinians living there ? – That alone would cut down the official, UNRWA number of refugees from 5 to 3 million. A final peace would change the status of another 2 milllion, who are already living in “Palestine”, – the West Bank and Gaza, that is. Instead of 5 million refugees, we are then left with “only” 1 million – half of them in Syria, the other half in Lebanon.
( UNRWF in figures )
Nidal, an observer who lives in Syria’s largest refugee camp, the Yarmouk camp in Damascus, says:
“Syria’s Palestinians are rather well integrated economically. But we must not forget that we are not citizens”.
Another refugee, Nizar, says:
“The thing is, in Syria, we are given nearly all the rights enjoyed by citizens, save for the right to vote or run for office. This is not at all the case for refugees in other Arab nations. We also share the same duties as Syrian citizens” [for example, serving in the military].
Nizar is not worried about a potential change of regime:
“Refugees have learned from history and no longer want to be part of any conflicts in region, as was the case in Jordan and Lebanon. But I don’t think Palestinian refugees should be worried about what might happen to them if Bashar al-Assad’s regime falls. We have been here since 1948 and we have integrated Syrian society.”
Is it fair to say then, that refugees in Syria have reason to stay ? – Eventually, democracy will prevail, also in Syria, and with a final peace that also involves Syria, plus massive compensation to refugees and possibly a new, democratic Syria, we are “now” left with under half a million refugees living in Lebanon.
Probably, Lebanon is the toughest hurdle, due to internal demographic (im)balances, but again, it is a matter of cutting things down to size: Of 455.000 refugees, 227.000 live in camps. I imagine this solution: With the help of the international community, the 227.00 living in camps should have the opportunity to relocate. Some, – probably most.. – to the West Bank, but the US, EU, and Saudi Arabia perhaps… could each receive.. how many.. ? – In return for being relieved of the burden of half or it’s refugees, Lebanon could be persuaded to grant full rights to the remaining, perhaps..
Voila, – the refugee problem – world’s largest – has now vanished into thin air !
In 2010 I wrote a peace plan proposal (draft), and as a complete outsider and non-expert, I imagined a total compensation around 50 billion $. I wasn’t aware at the time – had seen nothing in the international media – that others had reached the same conclusions, more or less, so I have been very pleased to learn about the Aix-group, comprised of Israeli, Palestinian and international experts.
In 2007, this group estimated the cost of resolving the issue of the right of return at between $55 billion and $85 billion, as follows:
* In order to implement comprehensive resettlement programs, the IAPR (International Agency for Palestinian refugees) will need funds in the order of between US$8 billion and US$19 billion over a ten year period, depending on the number of refugees who will choose to resettle/relocate.
* In order to implement rehabilitation programs, the IAPR will need funds in the order of between US$10 billion and US$14 billion, depending on the numbers of refugees who will decide not to resettle/relocate, and depending on how many of those who so decide currently live in camps or outside the camps.
* The funds necessary to answer expected property claims that are “fair and full” were estimated to be between US$15 billion and $US30 billion.
* All registered refugees will receive uniform sums; refugees who registers with the IAPR will receive an agreed upon sum; an additional sum will be distributed to the public authority where the refugee chooses to reside. This fund will require about US$22 billion.
In conclusion: “The process should bring to an end the refugees’ sufferings and special status since 1948 and make all refugees citizens with full rights“.
85 billion dollars.., – hell, that’s a lot of money, you say, and who’s gonna pay?
Well.. hell.., – consider these figures:
* US aid to Israel: 3 billion $ yearly * Arabic aid to Palestinian Authority yearly : 3/4 billion $ * Cost of running the UNRWA : 1 billion $
* According to the Bank of Israel, the first years of the second intifada caused Israel $ 4 billion in damage per year !
* A month (MONTH !) of the war in Iraq cost the American taxpayer more than $ 20 billion.