Statement of Principles on the Palestinian Refugee Issue

The objective of ATFP is the establishment of a Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel, and an end of the Israeli occupation that began in 1967. ATFP is opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, but is not opposed to the state of Israel in its internationally recognized borders.

1) A resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue can only come about through direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian officials as an expression of their national policies. No other parties are entitled to negotiate on this issue. However, individuals and organizations are free to express their opinions on this issue in the spirit of free, open and respectful debate.

2) There are many parties responsible for the suffering of the Palestinian refugees. Responsible parties include first Israel for displacing the Palestinian refugees, refusing their return and confiscating their property without compensation. Some Arab states also bear varying degrees of responsibility; some for allowing generations of refugees to languish in camps under miserable conditions, or by placing various restrictions in terms of their legal status, employment and travel rights, and others for not having done enough to ease the suffering of refugees. Finally, the Palestinian leadership has been at fault for not communicating honestly and openly with the refugees on what they can expect for their future.

3) The right of return is an integral part of international humanitarian law, and cannot be renounced by any parties. There is no Palestinian constituency of consequence that would agree to the renunciation of this right. There is also no Jewish constituency of consequence in Israel that would accept the return of millions of Palestinian refugees.

4) Although the right of return cannot be renounced, it should not stand in the way of the only identifiable peaceful prospect for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: a resolution based on a state of Israel living side-by-side with a Palestinian state in the occupied territories with its capital in East Jerusalem. Implementation of the right of return cannot obviate the logic of a resolution based on two states. The challenge for the Israeli and Palestinian national leaderships is to arrive at a formula that recognizes refugee rights but which does not contradict the basis of a two-state solution and an end to the conflict.

5) As part of any comprehensive settlement ending the conflict, Israel should accept its moral responsibility to apologize to the Palestinian people for the creation of the refugee problem. Palestinians should accept that this acknowledgment of responsibility does not undermine the legitimacy of the present-day Israeli state.

American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017