Israel will Pay, but Deny Responsibility for Refugees
Israel will give a "substantial" contribution to a new international organization which will be set up to compensate and rehabilitate Palestinian refugees, and will absorb tens of thousands of them as part of a "family reunification" program on a humanitarian basis, reported Haaretz newspaper on Friday, quoting an official, who added that "these are the main points of the Israeli plan for solving the refugee problem."
The plan is to be presented by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the Camp David summit, said the paper.
Barak will stress that Israel refuses to recognize the Palestinians' right of return, and will not accept legal or moral responsibility for creating the refugee problem, beyond expressing sorrow for their suffering.
"The government will explain to the Israeli public that absorbing tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees is a reasonable price to pay for the agreement, and will note that in the years before 1967, Israel absorbed 60,000-70,000 Palestinians as part of a family unification program," said the official
Senior Israeli sources speculated that an additional half a million Palestinian refugees would be absorbed in the future Palestinian state. The remaining refugees are to be absorbed in the countries they are currently living in - Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, with the help of international funding.
"The proposed international body will be headed by Canada or Sweden and entrusted with raising money for the refugees' rehabilitation. The funds will be distributed among the Palestinian state, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon and designated for improving the refugees' living conditions," the official said.
According to the paper, the national security council, instructed by Barak to concentrate the efforts regarding the refugee problem, has recommended that Israel raise a substantial contribution for the refugees' rehabilitation so that it is more easily able to shake the moral and legal responsibility for the problem.
The council is now negotiating with the finance ministry on the size of the Israeli contribution, Haaretz added.
Regarding the question of borders, a senior Palestinian source told Haaretz that the PA is not opposed to the idea of "swapping" territory between Israel and the future Palestinian state, as a way to solve the dispute over the settlement clusters Israel is demanding to annex.
According to the source, the Palestinians view this as a blurring of the Green Line and an entrance into the "1948 borders," therefore advancing their own national goals, said the paper.
An Israeli source said the option, currently under discussion, is not based on swapping equal size territories, but rather on a transfer of "symbolic" territories to the Palestinians in return for the West Bank settlement clusters to be annexed to Israel.
Cabinet minister Haim Ramon confirmed on Wednesday that the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had agreed in principle to exchanging territories, and that this could be part of the permanent settlement, said Haaretz, adding that the White House has refused to comment on the issue - Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)