A Generous Offer To The Palestinian Refugees?
Anyone familiar with Israeli politics was not surprised that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not acknowledge
Referring to the Palestinians, the Israeli Prime Minister stated in his
In addition to oral testimonies given both by Palestinian refugees and Jewish combatants, many official documents describe policies and actions taken by Jewish militias which were designed to expel Palestinians from what has become the state Israel. According to Israeli Historian Benny Morris "In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah [the pre-state defense force that was to become the IDF] were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the villages themselves.” Yet Olmert presented the refugee issue as a humanitarian problem, not unlike one caused by a natural disaster, saying that "
The solution Olmert suggests is "an international effort, in which we (
Working groups are now developing plans to implement Bush’s promise. According to Ha’aretz, The Aix Group, "a semi-official political-economic backchannel" is developing a plan for Palestinian refugees. The Aix Group’s members include Israeli, Palestinian and international economic experts, academics, members of economic organizations, and officials from international institutions, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, who participate in the Aix Group in their personal capacities.
The group is administered by a steering committee led by Prof. Gilbert Benhayoun, a Moroccan-born Frenchman, Prof. Arie Arnon, economics professor from
The Aix Group's document opens with a declaration of principles stating that an agreed and just long-term solution to the problem of the 1948 refugees must be based on the relevant United Nations resolutions, including General Assembly Resolution 194, but then nullifies that statement by saying that "a literal application of this Resolution is no longer possible given the substantial changes on the ground.” The document then describes an arrangement that would substitute for the U.N. resolution which they have deemed no longer applicable, stating that, "The parties would agree that the measures recommended in the paper implement Resolution 194."
The reference to "substantial changes on the ground" as an obstacle that renders the UN resolution inapplicable perpetuates the myth that physical or material obstacles render return impossible. According to Salman Abu Sitta an expert on the Palestinian refugee issue, "90% of the village sites are still vacant, 7% are partially built-over, and only 3% are totally built over in Tel Aviv and
The group suggests that an international committee of experts would determine what constitutes “fair and full” compensation for property claims. They estimate that the total cost of these claims will be between $15 billion and $30 billion.
The group makes it clear that in cases in which "fair and full compensation" is offered, "restitution" (the right of return) will not be considered. This formulation turns the basic principle set in the UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons totally on end. The UN principles clearly note that restitution is the primary remedy, and compensation only comes into play if refugees themselves choose compensation, or if restitution is factually not possible as determined by an independent tribunal.
"Palestinian refugees will be asked to choose a permanent place of residence, the group proposes that the individuals choose more than one alternative and rank their priorities." But the implementation of this choice depends on "the states concerned", including
The Aix group expects that a large number of refugees will choose to relocate to other countries at the cost of $8 billion to $19 billion, depending on how many refugees will choose to move from their current country of residence. The plan suggests that some of the Palestinian refugees will be rehabilitated in their current locations and will receive compensation "in kind or in money" at a cost of $10 billion to $14 billion.
In addition, the group recommends the creation of a fourth fund, which will require about $22 billion, for compensation relating to "refugeehood" not related to property claims or the other programs. All the registered refugees will receive a uniform amount of about $5,000 each. According to Ha’aretz, the money can be attained in a period spread out over 10 years and with extensive, generous international aid.
Under international humanitarian law the right of refugees to return to their homes is an inalienable, individual human right. Like all human rights, it is invaluable and cannot be bought. Under Israel and Bush’s "solution", Palestinian refugee families who had been expelled from what is now Israel would be consigned to return, not to their homes, but to small, non-contiguous parts of less than 22% of their original homeland. Jews from anywhere in the world, on the other hand, would be free to "return" to more than 78% of historic
Neta Golan is an Israeli peace with justice activist living in Ramallah, and a founder of the International Solidarity Movement. For more information see: http://www.apartheidmasked.org/