The Disengagement – Opportunity to Dilute the Refugee Problem
The Israeli Cabinet meeting, held last week, dealt with arrangements for passage between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (Aluf Benn and Amos Harel, Ha'aretz, 9/7). The international community has seemingly stipulated free movement between Gaza and Egypt as a condition for Israel to end its responsibility over Gaza.
Thus far, discussions regarding arrangements for passage across the Gaza border have mainly focused on security and economic aspects (e.g. customs envelope). The Reut Institute contends that the issue of refugees should be considered as an additional aspect. The Israeli disengagement from Gaza has created an opportunity to promote the solution of this problem, even prior to a Permanent Status Agreement.
What is the Issue?
About 60% of Palestinian refugees live in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank and the "Host-States" – Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Some of these refugees are "Displaced Persons" – Palestinians who lived in the West Bank and moved to Jordan in '67.
The Declaration of Principles (9/93) defined the refugee issue as one of the "Outstanding Issues" whose resolution would be deferred to a Permanent Status Agreement. However, a committee to deal with the issue of the Displaced Persons was established in accordance with the Interim Agreement, but their status has yet to be resolved.
Any solution to the refugee issue entails dealing with a number of facets: (1) annulment of the "Palestinian refugee" status; (2) resolution of declarative aspects, such as the issue of responsibility and the right of return; (3) resolution of the individual and collective property claims; (4) arrangement of permanent place of residence for refugees; and (5) economic development and welfare.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which is active in the refugee camps, perpetuates the unique status of the refugees, and is also the primary source for their welfare and employment.
Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza envelope, and the transfer of control over crossing points to the Palestinians, will enable Palestinian refugees, for the first time since 1967, to officially establish their residence in Gaza.