Palestinian refugee problem: Deconstructing the right of return barrier..

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This article also published (2012/03/12) at
(Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies)

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, 201–  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.

Your home is my home
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 mio. 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 whereever 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 whereever 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 citzenship after all those years of being treated like parias, 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 neighbours 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 mio. refugees, we are then left with “only” 1 mio, – 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 !

Economic Compensation
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.

Full document: “Economic Dimensions of a Two-State Agreement Between Israel and Palestine“:  English  Hebrew Arabic French

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14 responses to “Palestinian refugee problem: Deconstructing the right of return barrier..

  1. How about we create a new Palestine in Denmark? I will be generous and suggest a division of 60/40 with 40% being allocated to the new arrivals.

    • Sorry mate, -- but you’re the one in denial. Occupation in the true sense is when a hostile nation invades another nation, as when nazi-Germany invaded Poland, Denmark, Netherlands etc. -- Israel DEFENDS itself, a fact you keep ignoring, and besides, it “occupies” part of no sovereign nation except for the Golan Heights. Remember, the West Bank was never a part of Jordan, and Gaza never a part of Egypt. You are also in denial when you -- which is typical for people like you -keep ignoring the fact that Hamas does not even recognize Israel’s right to exist.

      You then say: “An arab living in the West Bank has no say in the how the Israelis goven them” -- Again, typical for your type, and here’s the real story: Palestinians have MORE rights IN ISRAEL than in ANY Arab nation, democratic rights, human rights, rights to health care, freedom of speech, and on and on it goes.
      That is not to say Israel is beyond criticism, and I agree it is wrong of Israel to oppose a unity government, but on the other hand I totally understand their position, -- I mean, would you negotiate with someone who’s declared goal is to wipe you off of the map ?

      Re: “lecture others about democracy or human rights” -- I don’t get it, -- are you implying human rights are not an essential part of a true democracy, or is it as I suspect, that you are obsessed only with what you perceive as violations on the side of Israel, and we are not supposed to mention incomparably far worse human rights violations by Israel’s enemies, lest we become “racists” and “Islamophobes”, -- just like Pat Condell, eh ? -- I agree:he is a hatefilled bigot: he hates women, fags, atheists.. -- Shame on you for talking about this truly corageous Englishman / Irish, who does nothing but speak the naked truth about totalitarianism in all it’s colours. Would be great if you could come up with a single hatefilled quote, -- you’ll be hard pressed to do so, which says a lot about your apparent prejudise.

      Re: “it is easy for you to give away someone else’s history and heritage” -- Typical again: Denial of the history and heritage of the Jews, who -- for instance -- numbered from one fourth to one third of the population of BAGHDAD at the time of the birth of Israel. -- It is a typical leftist narrative, that Israel is the result of an influx of European Jews only, -- so much for denial of history.

      So.. let’s presume there was no danger to Israel in 1967.. -- I guess you are going to say next that there was no danger in 1948 either? -- 1973 ? -- And how about danger to Jews in modern day Europe: No danger ? -- Pre-WWII.. ??!! -- Are you getting the point ?!

      Re: The Wall: I think we are wasting our time discussing it, -- so let’s find a just solution for everyone instead, shall we.. -- We will then go there together and help tear it down, -- how’s that ?

      A new Palestine in Denmark ? -- Again: If only you’d read my article on the refugees you’d see I propose every nation including Denmark become part of the solution, which is to say that Palestinians as a matter of principle should be granted citizenship where they are, as it is completely out of touch with reality to hope for the resettlement of millions of “refugees” in Palestine.

      Re: “not allowed to point out (my) ignorance and hypocrisy…” -- We don’t deal in censorship here, and I welcome any comment you care to make, -- THANKS by the way, -- I MUCH prefer to discuss with someone like you. It is rather boring to “discuss” with someone you agree with..

  2. You seem to have posted this in response to the other comment I made elsewhere.

    Here I am offering you a very generous 60% of Denmark, so that the remaining 40% can be used to solve a refugee problem. Why would you refuse such an offer, I think you must agree it is very generous?

    I notice you put refugee in quotes when talking about Palestinians and you also seem to have issues with the accepted definition of the words occupation and democracy. Maybe you find it boring to agree with the dictionary too?


    • 40 % of Denmark as a new Palestinian homeland ? -- That is VERY generous, I’ll give you that, LOL, but really, which fantasy world are you living in.. You are somewhat amusing, but please try to be a little realistic here.

      I am saying this for the last time: Palestine is the legitimate home of Arabs and Jews, as well as other ethnic groups, e.g. Beduins, Druze.. , let’s keep it that way, shall we.. -- Anyone who seriously advocates the return of millions of “refugees” to Israel proper are also living in a fantasy world.There are already 1.6 mio. Palestinians living in Israel, and just how many Jews are left in Arab nations ??

      I don’t give a damn about meaningless definitions and empty words. What counts for me is REALITY, and I have absolutely zero respect for “democracies” who treat their own people like shit.
      As for “refugees”: I don’t believe I have put “refugees” in quotes a single time in my article that deals specifically with this issue. The reason why I’m doing it here is to point out that the offical number of refugees, -- around 5 mio. -- is grossly overestimated. The majority never set foot in Israel and were born in neighbouring Arab countries, who, if they had any decency, would have granted these “refugees” citizenship and full rights long ago. I understand there are delicate demographic issues, which is one reason why I propose a massive economic compensation, shared between refugees themselves and host countries.

      Here’s an article for you to read: Is the U.N. making the Palestinian ‘refugee’ problem worse?

  3. OK I will be very generous, I will accept only 35%. Don’t forget you have the whole of Europe as your home, and you must agree the Palestinians are suffering, I think we should be able to agree that that is an excellent offer.

  4. What’s wrong with this offer? Isn’t this what was offered to the Palestinians, and what you offer to Arabs today? Aren’t the same arguments made by you in your blog when you post a map of the Arab world and comment on it’s relative size?

    • The 1917 Balfour Declaration proposed the establishment of a Jewish homeland in “Palestine”, the combined areas of what is now Israel, plus the West Bank, plus (Trans)Jordan. Then, in 1921 I believe, TransJordan was established -- although not yet as an independant state -- as an exclusively Arab Nation, preventing Jews from settling there. Although TransJordan (80 % of Palestine) had very few Jews -- , up to a million Jews lived in other Arab nations, so I think it is fair to say that the 1947 partition plan split the remaining 20 % of Palestine, -- 56 % Jewish versus 44 % was it.. -- We could go on debating forever how fair /unfair this was, but you should keep in mind that the proposed Jewish state was destined -- and expected perhaps.. -- to receive an exodus from Arab nations, and, of course, an influx of European Jews..

      Again, I prefer focusing on a solution based on today’s realities, rather than on futile arguing about the past, and if you truly care about Palestinians, and I think you do, you will bury your completely unrealistic fantasies and get down to finding solutions that just might work, which -- in all modesty -- is what I’m trying to do..

  5. Yep, I’m aware of the history of the Balfour declaration. I’ve even read it -- it is rather short. It actually goes against the destiny you speak of regarding Arab Jews saying they, like non-Jewish communities, should be respected, So onto the issue of fairness, my offer to you of 35% of Denmark must seem very fair indeed in comparison.

    Maybe you are beginning to see why this was not an appealing prospect for the Arab communities, It was also one that was struck without any input from the locals who where under British rule, so not very democratic either.

    • Always a “pleasure” talking to well-read people {;-)

      Apart from that, now that you insist on being silly, and since we are both so very generous, let us settle for 35 % of Denmark PLUS 35% of good old England, -- or, since I’m in a good mood, -- why not 35 % of “Great” Britain.. -- (Between you and me: We’ll share the Nobel Peace Prize..)

      Re: ” Maybe you are beginning to see why this was not an appealing prospect for the Arab communities
      -- Come on, you are not exactly revealing any secret here. The entire world -- those of us who can and do read -- is well aware that the prospect of a Jewish homeland in Palestine didn’t go down well among Arabs. As I said before, it is a waste of time to discuss wether or not a Jewish homeland was a legitimate proposal and / or whether or not it was morally right. In both instances, my personal answer is a YES, which of course does not come as a surprise to you, but let us deal with present realities now, on the basis of which I have proposed said compensation, in combination with statehood as described in my article.

      A final remark: Will you please stop talking about “the locals” as if they were exclusively Arab. There was input from Jews as well as Arabs, and probably the British took the inputs into consideration in such a manner as to suit their own ends.. -- (Don’t get me wrong: I am a complete fan of England, as are most Danes.. -- and I hope you beat them Germans in the final of the European Cup in Ukraine.. ).

  6. But there is the hypocrisy in you answers, you reject giving away 35% of your homeland but see it as morally right to give away another people’s homeland. It is something I cannot fathom. The Palestinians are paying a heavy price for Europe’s crimes, and some want them to carry on paying for the crimes of other Arabs states as well.

    As for locals, they were Arabs -- and that includes the minority Jewish population who also happened to be Arab as well. Until you are willing to offer up 35% of your homeland to new immigrants, I’m not sure it is fair to lecture others, Until you are willing to give up your history and heritage, I think it is wrong to push others to do so, be they Arab, Jew or Dane,

    Finally you talk as it this is ancient history, it is not, especially when compared to a 2000+ year long exile. It also happens to dove tail with the colonial attitude that allows Israel to expand it’s borders with illegal settlements both in Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan.

    • Your logic sucks, and it is non-sensical to compare the history of my -- or your own -- homeland with that of Palestine.

      And then you have a way with words, don’t you, so according to your own definitions and flawed logic, i.e. Jews are / were Arabs, it follows that it WAS also their homeland, even if you are unwilling to admit as much for other good reasons. So much for “giving away someone else’s homeland”. -- I was thinking also.. do you have the heart to allow the Jewish people, who have (also) suffered enough, wouldn’t you say, a homeland at all, or would you rather they continued to live at the mercy of.. well, you name them. -- You keep talking about the suffering of the Palestinians, and rightly so, but one gets somewhat suspicious when sympathy with the Jewish people is entirely absent in your utterings.. -- You go on and on criticizing Israel, as if you couldn’t care less about their very survival, which, to be honest, is making me sick ! -- Unlike you, I care about Palestinians and Jews. I advocate a homeland for Palestinians, a homeland that NEVER existed before.. -- so much for history and heritage, -- and I have proposed a massive economic compensation to all “refugees”, without demanding a penny in compensation for Jewish property in Iraq, Syria, etc. -- Israel, of course, have integrated millions of refugees -- and Jewish immigrants. Compare this to the treatment Palestinians have received by their fellow Arabs !!

      Re: Colonialism: You British leftists -- (dare I say.. -- please correct me if I’m wrong..), -- have colonialism on your brains, -- for obvious reasons perhaps -- and as long as you stick stubbornly to this narrative, I’m afraid it is impossible to reach much understanding.

  7. “Your logic sucks, and it is non-sensical to compare the history of my – or your own – homeland with that of Palestine.” Your failure to do so get’s to the heart of the issue. If you are unwilling, maybe you can ask your Spanish friends to give up 1/2 of Spain instead, after all it was home to the Moors, for 700 years. Maybe that historical parallel is closer for you?

    I don’t think you really hold Palestinians as unworthy or their position in history as incomparable, so I would suggest you really ponder on your initial response. I notice you have less trouble sympathizing with Israeli rejectionism of two states, and you are also hostile to immigration (even though in Denmark it is done by an elected government rather than under foreign occupiers) so maybe try and use both of these sentiments of yours and reimagine 1930s Palestine from a Palestinians perspective.

    The Jewish Arabs were both Arab and Jewish, and they lived among their Muslim and Christian neighbours without agitating for a new state. It was European Jewery who pushed for that due to European racism. In theological terms, a great number of Rabbis where against the creation of Israel. It was the secular nationalists who had seen both pogroms and the power of empire and the spirit of collective action, who carried on with the project.

    I haven’t said much about Israel at all, nor have I said anything negative about Jews or their history or heritage. Yet this is enough to say you are suspicious and to also to pretend to know what I do and don’t care about? I think that is highly unfair.

    All this while subtly denigrating Palestinians again -- the Palestinians did have a homeland and they also have a long history and a heritage that precedes 1949. They know the actual names and places of their individual ancestors in Israel in a way that most Jews do not.

    It is a tragic irony, that one people lost so much heritage and ancestory, literally, but gained a country, while another lost their country but cling so tightly to their heritage and ancestory.

    As for colonialism, it looks awfully like colonial project. It was set up by the British, a colonial power, and bank rolled in part by the Jewish Colonial Trust. Many of the attitudes and arguments hostile to Palestinians today reach back to out dated and rejected colonial attitudes, similar to those once directed at Indians and Africans,

    I just thought it was somewhat ironic for someone who is so wary of middle eastern immigration to express your views in the way you do in support of what was a largely immigrant state that was forged due to xenophobia of various kinds.

    • It’s past my bedtime, so a couple of quick comments:It’s an interesting discussion about the past, and you are very knowledgable, that’s for sure. Still, it is not really getting us anywhere, and I’m saying this again: We must deal with present realities and cannot go on and on bickering about the past. I have written my peace-plan proposal (draft), and I have proposed what I see as a fair and realistic solution to the refugee problem, -- now I suggest you tell us what your solution looks like, and you are right: I don’t KNOW what it looks like, but you are wrong when you say I pretend to know. I am merely saying what kind of impression you give, and I’ll be happy to hear if I’m wrong !

      Re: ” I notice you have less trouble sympathizing with Israeli rejectionism of two states..” -- Where exactly do you notice that ?? -- I specifically support a two-state solution, and so do the majority of Israelis. There is a percentage of orthodox no-brains in Israel, and I emphatically resent their “religulous” ramblings, -- I can assure you of that.

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