Towards Final Status
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Resolving the issue of Refugees
1 - Refugees Under Madrid and Oslo
2 - Background
3 - The Israeli Position
4 - The Palestinian Position
5 - During the Interim Period
6 - Proposals

2 - Background

The general term "refugee" is often used loosely to refer to those Palestinian Arabs who lived in Mandatory Palestine prior to Israel's 1948 War of Independence, or in the State of Israel prior to the 1967 Six Day War, but as a direct result of these wars fled to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, neighboring Arab nations or elsewhere. However, there are three terms which more clearly define such persons based on the specific circumstances of their displacement.

Refugees: People displaced during -- and as a result of -- the War of Independence in 1948. They include Palestinians who lived within the Green Line, as well as Jews ejected from Arab countries. There are said to be approximately 800,000 Jews who were expelled from their native Arab nations at that time or forced to flee as a result of state-sponsored anti-Zionist violence. As for Palestinians, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which assumed responsibility for the welfare of these refugees following the 1948 war, they number between 600,000 and 700,000 people and their descendants.

However, Israeli officials have long questioned these UNRWA figures. They claim that a number of the 350,000 UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees presently living in Jordan actually became displaced as a result of the 1967 Six Day War or after their expulsion from the Persian Gulf following Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. There are also concerns that the UNRWA estimates are inflated due to the inclusion of Arab residents of Jerusalem. Moreover, some Israeli scholars have questioned the extent to which Palestinians living outside of refugee camps should be included in UNWRA's refugee category, because such persons may no longer pose an immediate problem or need for rehabilitation.

Displaced Persons: Palestinians displaced from the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a result of the 1967 Six Day War. According to Arab authorities, these persons number well over 800,000 including those actually displaced in '67 and their offspring. According to Israeli officials, the number is closer to 300,000, not including offspring.

Expired Permit Palestinians: Former Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip who went abroad and overstayed their permits. As a result, they have not been allowed to re-enter those territories. There are approximately 50,000 such cases (Jordan claims 90,000). Terms for the readmission of these Palestinians were set to be discussed in bilateral negotiations with Jordan, according to the Israel-Jordan Common Agenda, which sets the goal of "Achieving an agreed just solution to the bilateral aspect of the problem of refugees and displaced persons in accordance with international law." (Israel-Jordan Common Agenda, Article 4)

According to some analysts, there is an estimated total of 3 million Palestinian refugees and displaced persons and their descendants as a result of the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars.

The issue of Middle East refugees has been repeatedly addressed and debated at the United Nations. Article 11 of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, which supports the concept of right of return for all refugees, has often been used to legitimize the claim for absolute right of return for Palestinian refugees and displaced persons.

[The General Assembly] resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date. . . . (U.N. Resolution 194 -- Article 11, December 11, 1948)

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