Shared Responsibility for Compensating Refugees

Israel accepted the Nov. 29, 1947 UN resolution which partitioned Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Arabs rejected this resolution which would have created an independent Arab state of Palestine alongside the Jewish state of Israel. Following the Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, four Arab armies from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq invaded the newborn Jewish state. The Arab attack began the 1948 Arab – Israeli War which produced about 700,000 Palestinian refugees.

Israel asserts that most Palestinian refugees fled because they were told to anticipate a quick Arab military victory that would allow them to return home. In a conflicting account, the Arabs insist that all Palestinian refugees were expelled by Israeli forces. Israel responds that relatively few Palestinians were expelled. The historical record of how many Palestinian refugees fled and how many were expelled remains in dispute.

What is not in dispute is that the May 15, 1948 invasion of the newly independent state of Israel by four Arab armies triggered the exodus of Palestinian refugees. Therefore, Israel can argue that these four Arab nations must share responsibility with Israel for finding a “just settlement” of the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194.  UN Resolution 194, which is nonbinding, states that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so …, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return …” After the war, Israel prevented Palestinian refugees from returning because of doubts about their loyalty to the Jewish state.

Today, less than 50,000 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Arab – Israeli War are thought to be alive along with about 5,300,000 descendants. Israel denies that Palestinian refugees and their descendants have a “right of return” to Israel because their vast numbers would nullify Israel’s identify as a Jewish state.

In lieu of allowing a “right of return,” why doesn’t Israel offer to contribute to a “Joint Compensation Fund for Palestinian Refugees,” provided that the Arab states which started the 1948 war that created the refugee problem agree to make an equal contribution? The advantage of requiring Arab states to contribute jointly with Israel is that all contributors would share the goal of limiting the size of the fund. The size and all details of a joint compensation fund would be negotiated with the Palestinian Authority. The PA would administer the fund by receiving contributions and making payments to eligible recipients.


About the Author
Ted Sheskin is a professor emeritus of industrial engineering at Cleveland State University, and the author of a textbook, Markov Chains and Decision Processes for Engineers and Managers. He has published peer-reviewed papers on engineering systems and mathematical algorithms. His letters to editors addressing politics, economic policy, and issues facing Israel and American Jews have appeared in the NY Times, Daily News, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Jewish News, Jewish Week, the Forward, and Jewish Voice.
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