At the heart of the Palestinian cause are the Palestinian refugees. Solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in all its aspects and achieving a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East means that, among other issues, the problem of the Palestinian refugees should be addressed and solved. A fail¬ure to achieve a satisfactory solution to this problem will continue to threat¬en the prospects for a durable peace, stability and security in the region.
Physical force, psychological intimidation, terror and legitimate fear for one's own safety were behind the expulsion or exodus of Palestinian refugees from their own homeland, Palestine, in 1948. Even some of those who refused to leave and remained in their homes at the risk of their lives eventually became refugees in their own country. They had to leave their villages, emptied of their citizens, as the Israeli army gath¬ered them and moved them forcibly to one village. The lands and prop¬erties they left behind came under state supervision and were declared absentee property.
The war of 1967 added new categories of refugees to those of 1948. These include the Palestinians who again fled for their safety hoping to be able to return once the bombing and shooting stopped; those who were caught outside the country when the war broke out; those whom Israel expelled on grounds of incitement against the Occupation, and those who were barred from returning because their Israeli travel documents expired before they had the chance to renew them. All of these have hoped and expect to be able to return home one day.
It is universally accepted that a civilian population is not expected to stay on the battlefield, but has the right to return once cannons calm down. The 1948 refugees, however, realize that the current peace process will not allow all of them to return to their homes and lands inside Israel. They know the limitation of this process. It is for this very reason that some of them are reluctant to support it. Others would accept a return to national dignity and statehood barring an actual return to a specific geo¬graphic location. But no refugee will be ready to forget the private prop¬erty left behind. If no actual return to homes and lands is possible, no one has the right or the authority to give up these homes and lands on their behalf.
The different categories of 1967 refugees, on the other hand, cannot understand why they are prevented from returning to their homes and lands in the West Bank and Gaza. If - with a modicum of understanding - the return of the 1948 refugees to their homes inside Israel can be con¬sidered a threat to the Jewish majority and demographic balance in Israel, no one can comprehend why Israel opposes the return of the 1967 refugees or displaced persons to their homes in the West Bank or Gaza, which has no bearing on the demographic balance inside Israel.
If the nascent Palestinian state or entity cannot provide a national shelter and refuge to Palestinians persecuted in Libya, Lebanon and elsewhere, what purpose or meaning would the establishment of such a state or entity serve?
An injustice has been committed against the Palestinian people.
Absolute justice cannot be achieved. Two peoples dispute the same piece of land; both have the right to live in peace and dignity. Deep emotions are involved. An honest and open discussion of this very sensitive issue will help diffuse tension, create mutual understanding and explore possibilities for achieving justice, albeit a relative one, based on mutual recognition, mutual respect and coexistence.