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Archived Webcast 30 April 2008 p.m.

Conférence internationale sur les réfugiés de Palestine (Paris, 29-30 avril 2008) - plénière III, session de clôture - Communiqué de presse (30 avril 2008) Français
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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
30 April 2008




General Assembly
GA/PAL/1087

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON PALESTINE REFUGEES CONCLUDES IN PARIS
 
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)


PARIS, 30 April -- “Let us recommit ourselves today as we conclude this Conference to work tirelessly to restore hope to the Palestine refugees, those trapped in seemingly hopeless circumstances. Let us help them rebuild their lives and become whole and complete again, as we continue to support the full realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people,” Paul Badji, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations, told participants as the event came to a conclusion.

Mr. Badji, who is Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People that convened the two-day United Nations Conference and UNESCO headquarters in Paris, said the Palestine refugee issue was without parallel in modern history but rarely made the headlines anymore.  One of the Committee’s objectives in organizing the United Nations Conference had been to re-ignite interest in the issue, and to examine some of the misconceptions surrounding it.

According to the Conference’s Recommendations and Conclusions – contained in full in this press release – participants stressed that a durable solution to the Palestine refugee problem, and by extension to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole, could only be achieved in the context of their inalienable right of return to the homes and property from which they had been displaced.  The participants underscored the abiding relevance of the provisions of General Assembly resolution 194 and subsequent United Nations resolutions on the question of Palestine embodying this principle, and of the Arab Peace Initiative. 

Further in the text, the participants noted that the right of return of refugees, which is a fundamental and widely acknowledged humanitarian and human rights principle, did not diminish with the passage of time, and was equally applicable to the Palestinians displaced as a result of the 1967 hostilities as it was to the Palestine refugees of 1948.  The various refugee resettlement and compensation schemes advanced over the years only supplemented but never substituted for this inalienable right of Palestine refugees. 

In thanking all who had contributed to the successful holding of the Conference, the Permanent Observer of Palestine at the United Nations said that the Annapolis and Paris conferences had shown that the tragedy of the Palestinian conflict could only be resolved through multilateralism.  All those who cared about finding a just solution to the conflict should be involved in helping the parties reach the historic compromise not only to resolve the refugee question based on Assembly resolution 194 but also the other final status issues. 

Before the closing session, participants heard experts speak on international and regional efforts to promote a solution of the Palestine refugee issue.  Michael Chiller-Glaus, Editor of the Neue Zűrcher Zeitung, addressed ways in which the issue could be resolved.  Menachem Klein, Senior Lecturer of Political Science at the Bar-Ilan University in Israel talked about the advantages of “Track 2” – informal – diplomacy”. Géraud de la Pradelle, Professor of International law, University of Paris X in Nanterre, went deeper into the legal meaning of the right of return, while Terry Rempel, Research Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate at the Department of Politics, School of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Exeter, told participants about the necessity to involve Palestinian civil society in the peace process.

Plenary III:  International, Regional Efforts to Promote Solution

Of Palestine Refugee Issue

The session focused on: the settlement of the refugee problem as a prerequisite for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East; lessons from past efforts to achieve a solution; and civil society efforts to uphold the right of return.

MICHAEL CHILLER-GLAUS, Editor, “Neue Zűrcher Zeitung”, Zűrich, said that past negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinian had often resembled a dialogue of the deaf.  While the Palestinians insisted on the recognition of the right of return, the Israeli vehemently rejected any such demand, arguing that recognition would mean the end of the Jewish state.  Most Israelis feared the return of a large number of refugees, while the minimal Palestinian demand was merely for Israel to recognize the right of return, while its concrete implementation was a whole different matter.  Palestinians, however, could only be asked to grant concessions regarding return if they were compensated with a satisfactory overall solution.

He said a solution could be found by accommodating the claims of Israelis and Palestinians. That came down to Israel recognizing the right of Palestinian refugees to return and the refuges refraining from exercising that right. In order to achieve that, the practical elements had to be separated from the principles. The practical elements were measures to dismantle refugee camps, financial compensation and the return of refugees to Israel.  The principled aspects included the Israeli recognition of the right of return and an expression of regret over their plight.  Israel had repeatedly offered to accept a limited number of Palestine refugees, but refused to accept them under the terms of the “right of return”.  Israel had allowed some 100,000 Palestinians to return to Israel under “family reunifications”.  Israelis mostly rejected any talks regarding the principled aspects.

Among Palestinians, there was no public debate regarding the right of return, he said. It had turned into something almost mythical. Every Palestinian had his or her own interpretation of the right of return, but most Palestinians realized that Israel could not and would not agree to a massive return. For the Palestinians, the refugee question was a matter of justice.  It was also part of a national trauma and they wanted that trauma to be acknowledged.

He said the basic building blocks of a viable solution to the Palestinian refugee problem were largely known:  some form of acknowledgment of responsibility by Israel; a symbolic recognition of the right to return in some form by Israel; repatriation of refugees to the Palestinian State, resettlement in Arab host countries or in third countries, a limited number returning to Israel; and a compensation for hardship and lost property.  The question of formulation was crucial.  Regarding an assurance for Israel, it would be advisable to include a time frame and a clause that an agreement would represent the end of claims.  On the Palestinian side, the challenge was to ensure that, once unveiled, such solution triggered minimal opposition.  For that purpose, the involvement of refugees in the process of developing a solution would be most advisable.

MENACHEM KLEIN, Senior Lecturer in political science, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel, said there had been practically no serious negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians on refugees, the only tentative step was taken in the Taba talks of 2001.  Those talks came too late, however, and the Israeli side had not been authorized by the Prime Minister to negotiate. 

He said the substance of the negotiations could be divided in two sections.  The first section was the issue of the narrative, namely what happened in 1948 and who was responsible.  The second section was about practical issues, such as who had the right to return, was it an individual or a collective right; who had the right to compensation and who would decide on compensation.  Who would compensate the host countries?  A meeting between Israeli and Palestinian economists had estimated the cost of compensation to be between $55 and $85 billion.

Negotiators should agree first on a joint narrative as a basis for a compromise, he said. A joint narrative also had an educational message to the Israeli and the Palestinian public and would include an apology.  However, agreeing on a joint narrative was very difficult, even among the most enlightened Israelis and Palestinians.  The conclusion therefore, was that discussion on the narrative should be left to civil society.  What remained was to deal with practical elements.  The matter of the 1948 refugees was to be part of a package deal among other final status issues.  A settlement of the refugee problem should include an end of claims and an end of conflict.  The Arab Peace Initiative provided a framework for such a settlement and enjoyed Arab legitimacy and de facto acceptance by Hamas.

He said that track-2, or civil society diplomacy, had helped to push forward understandings between the two sides.  The 2000 President Clinton’s parameters had been based on what had been agreed in track-2 diplomacy, as were the Taba talks.  Any further negotiations would be based on what had been discussed in track 2, as the two official sides had gotten caught up in their own taboos. Civil society diplomacy could also learn from other situations, such as the way the refugee problem in the former Yugoslavia had been addressed.

He stressed that the refugee problem was tied to the self-identity of both sides.  The real challenge was to accommodate the identity of the other side as part of the compromise.  The tragedy was that both sides were caught between the past and the future, traumatic memories and fears, victim-hood and self-righteousness.  The challenge was to rise above those factors in order to have a better future.

GERAUD DE LA PRADELLE, Professor of International law, University of Paris X – Nanterre, said Palestine refugees were not like other refugees.  In international law, refugee status had two aspects: protection and return to one’s country of origin once conditions permitted.  Palestinians did not benefit from the usual protection of international law, because they had a special status afforded by UNRWA.  As for the return aspect, much had been said for 60 years without any real result.

He said the right of return was the shadow of another right, namely the right of any individual to live in his country. That right had been set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and had been guaranteed to all human beings, not only to Palestine refugees.  The right of return was an individual right, although in the case of the Palestinians, the right had strong national and collective connotations. The individual right was inheritable.  It was a “credit” that could be used to get some kind of compensation.   

The exercise of the right of return could be and should be organized by Palestinian government, which would hopefully be in a position to negotiate with the State of Israel on the practicalities. He warned that civilization was witnessing a growing gap between principles and their application.  The principles of law were being violated, and remedies in case of violations were not available.  That was regrettable not only for the victims of the violations, but also regrettable for the law itself.  If the great Powers were not willing to rescue the principles they themselves had declared, the law seized to exist.

TERRY REMPEL, Research Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Politics, School of Humanities and social Sciences, University of Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom, focused on civil society efforts to uphold the right of return.  He said the substantive issues at the heart of the refugee question were not that different today from what they were 60 years ago.  Refugees continued to demand a solution that respected their basic right of return, while Israel viewed resettlement and compensation as primary solutions for Palestine refugees.  Recent attempts to square those two positions had resulted in a variety of creative proposals.  They failed, however, to secure the agreement of the majority of the refugees themselves.  One right of the refugees had often been overlooked, which was the right to participation.

He said the Middle East peace process that had begun over 15 years ago had provided few opportunities for civil society to participate; it was more an “elite pact-making” approach.  Such lack of participation could be explained by a number of factors, including lack of mobilization among civil society actors, absence of international support, and concerns shared by Israel and the PLO about how to manage the inclusion of divergent voices.

The right of return movement comprised a multitude of associations, networks, community-based organizations and NGOs, functioning separately, cooperating and coordinating efforts and using a variety of methods.  The campaign had emerged largely as a response to the sense of alienation experienced by refugees with the signing of the 1993 Declaration of Principles.  The campaign had been initiated in 1996 as a broad-based, non-sectarian, independent movement, comprised of Palestinian popular organizations and initiatives, refugee and non-refugee, in the Occupied Palestinian territory and in the Diaspora.  The Palestine Right of Return coalition had been set up in 2001 to facilitate cooperation and coordination among initiatives and carry out joint activities.  The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement had emerged in July 2005 when nearly 200 Palestinian organizations signed a petition calling of an international campaign of boycotts against Israel.

He said participation was not only a basic right; it could be an effective methodology for resolving conflict.  Participation was also a means to uphold the rule of law.  Enforcement had always been a weakness of the international legal regime.  Participation could be seen as a mechanism to ensure that States comply with their international law obligations.  Bringing people into the process could facilitate the development of a shared discourse in which interests were represented and protected by an agreement to respect, protect and promote basic rights. 

Closing Session

The Committee’s Rapporteur SAVIOUR BORG ( Malta) read out the Conference’s Recommendations and Conclusions, as follows:

“The United Nations International Conference on Palestine Refugees was convened by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 29 and 30 April 2008.  The Conference was held in accordance with General Assembly resolutions 62/80 and 62/81 of 10 December 2007. 

“The objective of the Conference was to assess the present situation of Palestine refugees and examine the role of the United Nations in alleviating their plight.  The Conference also examined efforts at finding an agreed, just and fair solution to the refugee issue in keeping with relevant United Nations resolutions, especially resolution 194 of 1948, as a prerequisite for resolving the question of Palestine and achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. 

“The Conference evaluated the progress achieved since the previous United Nations International Conference on Palestine Refugees organized by the Committee, held in 2000.  Participants noted with grave concern that today, 60 years since the original displacement of the Palestinians as a result of the Israeli-Arab conflict of 1948, the situation of the refugees, a particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged group, which numbers over 4.5 million, remained as precarious as ever, and the problem was no closer to a solution than it had been in 2000.  For six decades now and for several generations, the refugees have remained in exile away from their homes, living in overcrowded camps with inadequate facilities, facing demographic pressures, severe socio-economic constraints and, frequently, dangerous security environments. 

“The participants expressed particular alarm at the situation in the Gaza Strip, where the refugee-majority population has seen its already meagre living deteriorate further due to a crippling Israeli blockade and routine military operations.  The participants called for an immediate and unconditional lifting of the Israeli sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip.  They held Israel fully responsible for the welfare and protection of the refugees in the Palestinian territory it continued to occupy, including the Gaza Strip

“The participants also expressed their support for the rebuilding of Nahr Al Bared refugee camp which was destroyed in the summer of 2007.

“As the participants analyzed the various practical approaches to resolving the issue, they stressed that a durable solution to the Palestine refugee problem, and by extension to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole, could only be achieved in the context of their inalienable right of return to the homes and property from which they had been displaced.  The participants underscored the abiding relevance of the provisions of General Assembly resolution 194 (III) and subsequent United Nations resolutions on the question of Palestine embodying this principle, and of the Arab Peace Initiative. 

“The participants noted that the right of return of refugees, which is a fundamental and widely acknowledged humanitarian and human rights principle, did not diminish with the passage of time, and was equally applicable to the Palestinians displaced as a result of the 1967 hostilities as it was to the Palestine refugees of 1948.  The various refugee resettlement and compensation schemes advanced over the years only supplemented but never substituted for this inalienable right of Palestine refugees. 

“The participants examined the broader political context surrounding the refugee problem.  They expressed strong support for the Israeli-Palestinian political process resumed in late 2007 at Annapolis, where the parties committed themselves to meaningful and ongoing negotiations with the intention of concluding an agreement by the end of 2008.  At the same time, they expressed the view that any final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement must encompass a just and fair solution to the Palestine refugee question. 

“The participants were of the view that the United Nations should continue to exercise its permanent responsibility as a custodian of international legitimacy and uphold the rights of Palestine refugees until the question of Palestine is resolved in all its aspects.  The participants expressed their sincere gratitude to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for its important and valuable work aimed at sensitizing the international public opinion to the ongoing plight of the refugees, and for its role as a catalyst for efforts aimed at promoting a search for a just and lasting solution to the refugee issue, such as the current Conference. 

“The participants expressed their gratitude to States, intergovernmental organizations, such as the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Non-Aligned Movement, the African Union, and the European Union, and to civil society organizations, which remained unwavering in their support for the refugees’ rights over the years and provided material support to alleviate their conditions.

“The participants emphasized the continuing responsibility of the United Nations and its agencies for relief and protection of Palestine refugees.  The pivotal role played by UNRWA in this endeavour was particularly highlighted and emphasized.  The participants noted the growing demand for UNRWA assistance and services, especially in light of the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, and called on the donor community to redouble its efforts and provide vital support to meet the refugees’ immediate and longer-term development needs.

“The participants also welcomed the outcome of the Paris Donors’ Conference and the generous assistance pledged by the international community to the Palestinians to underwrite the peace process and jump-start the Palestinian economy, while calling on the donors to give priority to the refugees’ critical needs in that context.

“The participants expressed appreciation to Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, for extending assistance in the preparations for the Conference, as well as for making available the conference facilities for this occasion.”

The Conference then took note of the Recommendations and Conclusions.

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine at the United Nations, thanked on behalf of the Palestinian people and its leadership the Committee and all others who had contributed to the success of this very important Conference.  The just adopted Conclusions and Recommendations would send a message to the refugees, who were commemorating 60 years of Nakba, that they were not alone, he said  The expression of support would help them to continue the struggle until the chapter of history could be closed, in which the refugee question was but one component. 

He said that the Annapolis and Paris conferences had shown that the tragedy of the Palestinian conflict could not be resolved by the two parties but only through multilateralism.  All those who cared about finding a just solution to the conflict should be involved in helping the parties reach the historic compromise not only to resolve the refugee question based on General Assembly resolution 194 but also the other final status issues.  The Conference had been held in Paris, because the Europeans were very important in finding a solution and were also major donors to UNRWA.  Two other conferences would be organized in Europe, one of them would be on Jerusalem and the settlements. 

Sixty years of Nakba and 40 years of occupation were too long and the suffering of the Palestinians was immense.  It was time to put an end to the tragedy.  The Israeli occupation would be terminated and the Palestine state would emerge with the borders of 1967 and the refugee question would be solved, he said.

In concluding remarks, PAUL BADJI, Chairman, Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the Palestine refugee issue was without parallel in modern history as it had impacted the lives of so many people for such a prolonged period of time and still it rarely made the headlines any more.  One of the Committee’s objectives in organizing the Conference had been to re-ignite interest in the issue, and to examine some of the misconceptions surrounding it. “We simply cannot allow millions of Palestine refugees to continue to stagnate forever, locked into a marginalized existence, disempowered, with little dignity or control over their environment, an easy prey for extremists and a permanent source of regional instability.”

One message he hoped participants could take home was that the right of return of the Palestine refugees, one of the inalienable rights which the Committee was mandated with, was not just a high-minded but unattainable humanitarian ideal, or a bargaining chip, expendable in the context of a future permanent settlement.  Neither should the Palestine refugee issue be one of those intractable chronic situations which could only be expected to be deferred indefinitely and contained with humanitarian and security efforts. There were workable solutions available, as the discussions had made clear.

“Let us recommit ourselves today as we conclude this Conference to work tirelessly to restore hope to the Palestine refugees, those trapped in seemingly hopeless circumstances. Let us help them rebuild their lives and become whole and complete again, as we continue to support the full realization of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people,” he said.


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For information media • not an official record

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