Needs and Responses
Palestinian refugees and IDPs lack voluntary durable solutions. Most refugees originate from areas inside the state of Israel which opposes their return. Historically, only a small number of Jewish groups and individuals have supported the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes of origin inside Israel. More recently, however, a number of groups like Zochrot and Bat Shalom have begun education programs about Palestinian refugees and their rights. These include visits to the sites of destroyed refugee villages hosted by a refugee or IDP from the village and sign-posting at the village site.
The framework for durable solutions for Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948, including internally displaced persons inside Israel, is set forth in paragraph 11 of UN General Assembly Resolution 194(III), 11 December 1948. The resolution affirms three separate rights i.e., right of return, right to housing and property restitution, and the right to compensation and two distinct solutions (i.e. return, restitution and compensation or resettlement, restitution and compensation) governed by the principle of individual refugee choice. The framework for refugees displaced for the first time from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 is set forth in UN Security Council Resolution 237, 14 June 1967.
The first round of political negotiations to craft a solution to the conflict including durable solutions for all persons displaced in 1948 lasted from 1949 to 1952. These UN-facilitated talks ended without agreement (Caplan, 1997). The UN established a special agency to seek durable solutions and protect this refugee group, the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) composed of representatives of the United States, France and Turkey. The UNCCP, which was established in 1948 under Resolution 194, also had a mandate to facilitate a resolution of all aspects of the conflict. The UNCCP attempted to facilitate solutions for refugees primarily through intervention with Israel and Arab host states, preliminary technical work such as the creation of a profile of the refugee population, investigating methods for determination of refugee choices and examination of modalities for compensation, a series of framework proposals, mixed working groups and several conferences. The UNCCP did manage to obtain the release of refugee assets held in banks inside Israel and it completed a global and individual identification of Palestinian properties (Boqai & Rempel, 2005).
When the UN set up the UNCCP it was assumed that the refugees would return to their places of origin within a short period of time. The Commission was not provided with the machinery or with the resources to facilitate a solution in the context of a protracted conflict. Since 1952 the Commission has taken the view that the governments concerned have the primary responsibility for the settlement of their outstanding differences, including the plight of the refugees (Forsythe, 1972). A final effort to facilitate durable solutions for the refugees in 1961 led by Joseph E. Johnson, then head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, ended without agreement. The UNCCP still exists, but has no budget and no staff. The UN Department of Political Affairs assigns an individual responsible as UNCCP secretary. The Commission continues to file an annual report of roughly one paragraph in length stating that is has nothing new to report.
The international community was still searching for durable solutions for 1948 Palestinian refugees when they were faced with a new caseload of refugees from the 1967 Israeli-Arab war. The United Nations did not establish a separate agency to facilitate durable solutions for Palestinian refugees displaced for the first time in 1967. A small number of refugees were able to return under a Jordanian-Israeli agreement brokered by the ICRC in August 1967 (ICRC, 1970). In 1969 the United Nations recognized ( GA Res. 2523B) the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine under the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights which included the right to self-determination and the right of refugees to return to their homes. These rights were subsequently reaffirmed by the UN in a resolution ( GA Res. 3237) also recognizing the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. In 1976 the UN prepared a comprehensive two-stage peace plan for a two-state solution and a two-stage solution for Palestinian refugees.
The Palestinian refugee issue was raised during peace negotiations between Egypt and Israel in the late 1970s. The 1978 Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel included a three-stage autonomy plan for the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the final status of these areas to be decided after a five year interim period and called for the establishment of a special committee to find solutions for refugees displaced from the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 and for a prompt, just and permanent implementation of the resolution of the 1948 refugee problem. This would become the basic framework set out in agreements signed by Israel and the PLO over a decade later. A 1983 UN-sponsored International Conference on the Question of Palestine failed to advance a solution to the conflict and for refugees.
The 1993 Declaration of Principles established a two-stage process with three tracks for addressing the question of Palestinian refugees. The interim period of the peace process aimed to resolve the status of 1967 refugees. The parties did not agree as to whether refugees displaced after 1967 from the OPTs were included. The final status period was to begin no later than three years from signing of the 1993 Declaration and aimed to resolve the status of 1948 refugees. The process did not address the status of IDPs. The three tracks comprised multi-lateral and bilateral talks on the current and future status, respectively, of Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948, and a third quadripartite process (including the Palestinians, Israel, Jordan and Egypt) on the future status of Palestinians displaced for the first time in 1967.
The multi-lateral talks addressed issues of regional character and, therefore, involving, at least in part, regional solutions. A Refugee Working Group (RWG), headed by Canada ('Gavel holder') was established during the first round of the multilateral negotiations in 1992 and had a primarily humanitarian mandate to (1) improve the living conditions of Palestinian refugees without prejudicing the final status deliberations on the refugee issue; (2) to ease and extend access to family reunification; and, (3) to support the process of achieving a viable and comprehensive solution of the refugee issue. Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinians and Syria are all members of the RWG, although Syria and Lebanon have boycotted the RWG.
The RWG identified seven main themes and assigned a lead country (shepherd) to follow-up each theme Databases (Norway); Family Reunification (France); Human Resources Development (US); Job Creation (US); Public Health (Italy); Child Welfare (Sweden); Economic and Social Infrastructure (EU); and the Human Dimension (Switzerland). Plenary sessions review ongoing work and set priorities for the future and 'intersessional' meetings bring together Arab and Israeli representatives, their extra-regional counterparts and international experts for more detailed consideration of specific issues. No plenary sessions of the RWG have been held since the Arab League called for a boycott of the multilaterals in 1997 in protest of the policies of the Israeli government in the 1967 OPTs (Tamari, 1999).
The Quadripartite Committee was unable to find solutions for refugees displaced for the first time in 1967. The parties were unable to find a solution to the first major challenge, that of defining who was a 1967 Palestinian refugee. The 1994 Jordan-Israel peace agreement included provisions concerning Palestinians refugees according to which the parties would solve the refugee issue in accordance with international law and 'in negotiations, in a framework to be agreed bilaterally or otherwise'. Following the passage of the agreement Israel amended its 1950 Absentees Property Law declaring that property of Jordanian residents or citizens would not longer be defined as absentee property. The amendment, however, does not apply retroactive to the agreement and thus prevents Palestinian refugees in Jordan from filing claims for housing and property restitution (Fischbach, 2003).
The first round of final status negotiations took place in the United States at Camp David in July 2000. There were no substantive negotiations on durable solutions for Palestinian refugees. Neither Israel nor the United States, which hosted and facilitated the talks, was willing to contemplate durable solutions that included the voluntary return of refugees to homes of origin in Israel. The last round of final status negotiations were held at Taba, Egypt in January 2001. In early 2002 the EU Special Representative to the Middle East Peace Process released a paper summarizing the general content of the Taba negotiations and positions of both parties on the Palestinian refugee issue (EU, 2002). According to the paper Israeli officials suggested a 15-year absorption program to facilitate limited return (25-40,000 persons) of Palestinian refugees to Israel over three to five years. These numbers represent less than one percent of the total Palestinian refugee population. Israeli officials rejected the right of Palestinian refugees to be restituted of their properties. There have been no official talks on the refugee question since this period.
Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are also in need of international protection, both as refugees and as protected persons under international humanitarian law living in a situation of protracted military occupation. The protection crisis spans the panoply of basic rights afforded to refugees under international and regional instruments (see above). In the context of the second intifada, basic physical security has become so urgent that it has subsumed concern about protection of all other rights (Akram & Rempel, 2004). Thousands of refugees, including women, children, and the elderly, have been injured, killed, arrested, and separated from families since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. Israeli military forces have also destroyed thousands of refugee shelters and commandeered UN installations in refugee camps, in violation of UN privileges and immunities.
There is no active international body with an explicit mandate to protect Palestinian refugees including those resident in the 1967 OPTs. The UNCCP, the body mandated to provide protection for Palestinian refugees has not provided effective protection since the early 1950s. The UNHCR does not provide protection to Palestinian refugees in the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) areas of operation although it has recognized the existence of a protection gap for Palestinian refugees. During the late 1980s and the early 1990s UNHCR executive committee conclusions expressed concern about the protection gap and called for action within the UN system to address their protection needs. These conclusions ceased following the commencement of the Oslo process in 1993, despite the continued protection gap (Akram & Rempel, 2004). In 2002, UNHCR issued a revised interpretation of the status of Palestinian refugees under international refugee law which should lead to improved protection at least for those refugees outside UNRWA areas of operation (UNHCR, 2002).
The UNRWA does not have an explicit mandate to provide protection, but its mandate does not specifically exclude protection. Agency officials have made repeated interventions to the United Nations and relevant officials concerning the protection of Palestinian refugees in the 1967 OPTs. During the first Palestinian intifada UNRWA recruited additional international staff to provide protection through monitoring, reporting and a limited degree of intervention. The Refugee Affairs Officer Program (RAO) was eventually phased out following the redeployment of the Israeli military and establishment of the PNA in the mid-1990s (Takkenberg, 1998). The provision of services that guarantee basic economic, social, and cultural rights, particularly in emergency humanitarian crises, may also be considered as a type of protection. More recently the Agency has hired a Senior Protection Policy Adviser to examine ways in which the Agency could take on a wider protection role in its five areas of operation. A jointly-authored brochure to be released by UNRWA and UNHCR will provide further clarification about the mandates of each agency and their operational activities with respect to Palestinian refugees.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the main body responsible for the implementation of international humanitarian law, has worked in the 1967 OPTs since the 1948 war. ICRC protection, however, is limited to the extent that Israel is willing to cooperate. No protecting power has been appointed for the 1967 OPTs and Israel rejected an ICRC offer to act as a substitute protecting power (Takkenberg, 1998). ICRC civilian program have focused on physical protection, prevention of forced expulsion, tracing of missing persons, family reunification and facilitation of the return of refugees to their places of origin. The ICRC provided similar types of protection during the 1948 and 1967 Israeli-Arab wars. Since 1967, the ICRC has continued to provide protection to Palestinian civilians, including refugees. Protection activities have included intervention concerning special cases seeking family reunification and intervention with the Israeli authorities in response to violations of humanitarian law, such as expropriation of land, deportation and house demolition.
Many refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip continue to be in need of basic international assistance, especially as a result of deteriorating socio-economic conditions during the second intifada and the international sanctions imposed on the PNA. Dispossession, lack of access to land-based forms of subsistence, relative lack of accumulated savings, confinement to the fixed locality of the camp, and large family size increase the impact of economic downturns on refugee households. Palestinian refugees and IDPs frequently experience higher rates of unemployment, lower incomes, and higher rates of poverty. Housing conditions in many areas do not meet international housing standards. While literacy rates and educational attainment are generally high, there is a weak correlation between higher education and economic advancement. Refugees also appear to experience higher rates of chronic and mental illness (Boqai & Rempel, 2005).
The United Nations established a special agency to provide international assistance to Palestinian refugees the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Established under UN General Assembly Resolution 302(V), 8 December 1949, the General Assembly accorded UNRWA a short-term mandate, based on the expectation that the plight of the refugees would soon be resolved in accordance with the framework set forth in General Assembly Resolution 194(III). UNRWA's early programs also focused on emergency relief, employment programs and regional economic development (Schiff, 1995). By the end of the 1950s the UN concluded that the economic development programs had failed to provide a solution to the refugee problem (UNSG, 1959). UNRWA refocused its humanitarian operations on the delivery of basic education, health and social assistance services.
UNRWA's education program is the largest of the Agency's programs. Refugee children registered with UNRWA have access to free elementary and preparatory education. The Agency also offers special education for children with learning difficulties and operates four vocational and technical training centers in the 1967 OPTs. Health services include primary health care, nutrition and supplementary feeding, assistance with secondary health care, and environmental health in refugee camps. The relief program provides food support for special hardship case families, shelter rehabilitation, and selective cash assistance. Eligibility and registration for UNRWA services also falls under the relief program. The social services program consists of five main sub-programs organizational development of community-based organizations, women in development, a disability program, youth activities, and the poverty alleviation program. Since 1991 UNRWA has also operated a successful microfinance and microenterprise program in the 1967 OPTs.
UNRWA's five-year Medium Term Plan (2005-2009), developed in consultation with donor states and other international agencies aims to restore the living conditions of Palestine refugees to acceptable international standards and set them on the road to self reliance and sustainable human development (UNRWA, 2005a). UNRWA has contracted external specialists to help move from a status-based to a needs-based approach to poverty alleviation and to develop and implement a comprehensive action plan for gender mainstreaming. A recently-established Camp Development Unit (CDU) will focus on improving the living conditions in refugee camps based on the principle of community participation and increased attention to the physical, social and economic facets of refugee lives. UNRWA is also partnering with the School of Social Work at the Southern Illinois University to refine Agency social services practice and has developed a digital social services map to help identify non-UNRWA resources and services to complement and strengthen those provided by UNRWA.
Monitoring is being improved through the development of policy guidelines and data collection systems. The Graduate Institute of Development Studies (IUED) at the University of Geneva and the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium have been tasked with carrying out comprehensive surveys of the refugee population to assist in the planning of services and the development of knowledge-management systems. An Intranet registration system, currently under construction, will allow UNRWA to update (and improve accuracy) of refugee information from all fields in a central database. A new health management information system will improve the surveillance, monitoring and evaluation of maternal health and non-communicable disease services, as well as action-oriented interventions and response at the service delivery level. The development of a community-based organization database system will improve planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation capabilities of UNRWA community centers.
During 2004-2005 an external donor review of the Agency's management structure and processes was initiated. The Overseas Development Institute's Humanitarian Policy Group is also undertaking a substantive independent evaluation of UNRWA's emergency programs in the 1967 OPTs. UNRWA has also invested efforts to improve relations with Agency stakeholders. In September 2004 the Agency set up a working group on stakeholder relations to discuss UNRWA's program cycle, policy, constituencies not currently represented in Agency meetings, and structural arrangements for the improvement of stakeholder relations. The group concluded that UNRWA's biannual donor meetings should be more substantive and endorsed wider participation of UN and international agencies and NGOs. This includes the reinvigoration and expansion of UNRWA's Advisory Commission. Improvement of stakeholder relations also includes initiatives towards greater refugee participation in the development, monitoring and evaluation of UNRWA programs.
Finally, refugees have sought increase opportunities for participation in the search for durable solutions. The peace process that began in the 1990s provided few opportunities for public participation. Refugees were talked about, argued over and decided for but rarely included (Nabulsi, 2003). This peacemaking process also shifted from an agenda articulated by Palestinian civil society to one that was subject to regional and international political pressures. This is particularly evident in relation to the question of Palestinian refugees. Agreements established different elite negotiating fora but did not address the issue substantively (Bell, 2000). Refugees have more often than not been considered as objects of humanitarian assistance rather than individuals with rights and as legitimate actors in the peacemaking process. They have been assessed, surveyed, quantified, classified, but few policymakers, diplomats and commentators have bothered to ask and listen to the refugees themselves about how they envision a solution to their plight.
Exclusion of Palestinian refugees and IDPs from the peacemaking process combined with demands for better representation from their own leadership, gave rise to initiatives of political self-organization among refugee community in 1967 OPTs. Popular refugee conferences set out the basic principles, structures and mechanisms of a popular campaign for refugee rights. Refugees emphasized that the campaign should be a broad-based, non-sectarian, independent movement comprised of Palestinian popular organizations and initiatives (refugee and non-refugee) pressure and lobby for the protection and durable solutions based on international law (Popular Refugee Conference, 1996). Strategy debates, lobbying and protest activities encouraged not only additional grassroots organizations, but also the PLO operated Popular Service Committees, elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and activists in Palestinian unions, political parties and national institutions (Palestinian National Council, and others) to join the campaign (Jaradat-Gassner, 2000).