Since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, the Arab refugee claim has remained a core excuse for the Arab nations to postpone recognizing Israel and moving on to some type of normal existence in the region.
Until the 1967 Six Day War, Pan-Arabist dreamers, under the illusions of Gamal Abd el Nasser still believed that the Arabs would unite and be able to push the Jews into the sea. But since, they have realized their great disappointment (or “Naksa”), when they lost their hope of eliminating the uninvited non-Muslim state in their midst. Not only did the Jews succeed in surviving their enemies’ plans, but the Jewish army took control of the holy city of Jerusalem and the areas to its north and south, historically known as Judea and Samaria, now called “the West Bank” by some.
To recap the history of the “refugee” situation, it first occurred as a result of Israel’s first war in 1948. Some 750,000 Arab residents fled areas in which the Jewish state had been formed. For the most part, the well-to-do leadership voluntarily left the area of conflict out of their own desire to take their wealth to safer pastures. The remaining bulk of those who moved did so mainly under the call of the Arab leadership, who advised them to stay clear of the war effort and promised them they could return after the Jews were defeated. Some also fled out of fear that they would be considered loyal to the enemy by the victorious Jewish army.
Blaming one side or the other for sixty five years has neither comforted those uprooted, nor brought about any type of permanent solution for them. It’s hard to argue against the fact that the policy of the neighboring Arab states has been to perpetuate the suffering of the refugees and all their offspring indefinitely as a means of blemishing Israel’s image. This conduct is should not be excused by the international community.
Since WWII, tens of millions of people, if not more, have lost their homes and been displaced as a result of wars and conflicts around the world. These people have been absorbed by and received citizenship in their countries of residence. There is no other situation in the world today in which refugee status is passed down to the second, third and fourth generations of those who were originally displaced. Again, this type of double standard is unacceptable.
Let us remember that it was not just the Arab residents of what is now Israel who were displaced in the founding years of the Jewish state, but some one million Jewish citizens of Arab countries were forcibly run out of Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, among others. These Jewish refugees left behind their properties and wealth. Most of them were taken in by Israel, where they rebuilt their lives. They have never been recognized as refugees by the international aid associations, and were never paid any damages by the countries who displaced them.
According to UNRWA, a total of 5 million qualify to be recognized as Palestinian “refugees” today. Talk of negotiations between Israel and the PLO and the issue of the refugees may give the impression that these negotiations are meant to find some way to resettle the descendants of those who fled at Israel’s founding. But in fact, in 2011, it was revealed that even PLO chief Abu Mazen acknowledged that at the very most, Israel could be expected to admit no more than 100,000. Israeli negotiators are aiming for no more than 5000 over the course of five years.
Bringing five million people into the areas under PA control is highly unrealistic – not only due to limited physical accommodations as far as housing, water and electric infrastructure, but also realizing that the Palestinian Authority has not the means to provide work for its population today. As it is, residents of the PA areas are barely getting by on minimum wage, at $560 a month. How could anyone expect them to multiply their population by four?
In retrospect, 65 years in limbo was a means of advancing the goals, not of those people themselves, but of others. Behind the headlines and slogans, the best either side might accomplish for the five million UNRWA refugees is to help them financially resettle elsewhere, away from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
If this is the case, what are they waiting for?
All individuals born in refugee camps in the countries surrounding Israel should be granted citizenship in the countries they were born in immediately. Accepting the reality, UNRWA and all of the donor states should put into motion a program to resettle all of the residents of the refugee camps in other locations around the world. There is no reason to wait for results of endless negociations that are not really dealing with a solution for this problem anyway.