During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, around 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes. These Palestinians and their descendants have been defined by the international community as Palestinian refugees. Today, their number has swelled to almost 5 million, with most living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Peace Now believes that a resolution of this human tragedy, in a manner that recognizes the grievances and dignity of refugees and does not threaten the character of the State of Israel, must be one of the most important goals of any peace process.
Palestinian refugees have consistently claimed that they have the right to return to their old homes in what is now Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and to receive compensation for their losses if they choose not to return. The Israeli government does not recognise the Palestinian claim as a legal right. However, Israel has addressed the claim and during peace negotiations, Israel has offered to allow a set number of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel and to provide some compensation for property loss to Palestinian refugees. A solution of the Palestinian refugee problem is crucial to finding a comprehensive, just and enduring peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Peace Now believes that it is both possible and essential to resolve this problem in a manner which recognises the grievances of the Palestinian refugees, whilst preserving the character of the State of Israel and her sovereign right to determine who may live within her borders.
It is clear that any such solution will be found for the most part within the borders of a future Palestinian state, rather than inside Israel.
Peace Now fully supports the Geneva Initiative’s solution for the refugee problem detailed in its blueprint for peace . This would require the Israeli government to provide financial compensation to Palestinian refugees and to the states that have hosted them. Several options are presented for what may be the refugees’ permanent place of residence. These include a future Palestinian state, their current residence, and a number of third party countries, including some to Israel, at their discretion. A solution based on a combination of these options is likely to represent the most fair and viable outcome for all sides. Under such an agreement, all Palestinian refugees will gain citizenship of wherever they choose to settle and the Palestinian refugee problem will finally be resolved.
Peace Now also recognises the plight of the Jewish refugees who fled or were forced to leave Arab countries when the State of Israel was established and thereafter. These refugees have every right to seek redress. However, resolution of these claims is not an Israeli-Palestinian issue and Jewish refugee claims do not “balance out” or erase the Palestinian refugee claims. The Palestinian people cannot be held responsible for the mistakes of Arab governments, and a peace agreement that could end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be held hostage to the resolution of Jewish refugee claims.