The Democratization of the Palestinian Refugee Question
Involving the Refugees in Determining their own Future
The most underprivileged segment of the Palestinian population is without a doubt the population of refugees. There are more than 900,000 refugees in the West Bank and Gaza. More than a third of the refugees of the West Bank and Gaza (380,000) are still living in camps. There are some 20 camps in the West Bank and 8 in the Gaza Strip.
Perhaps the one undeniable achievement of Oslo was the principle of mutual recognition that has led us to a point where we are talking to each other directly. This process, however, has only gone halfway. In order to complete the process, there is need to resolve the most fundamental issue in the conflict that of the final status of the refugees.
In a survey of Palestinian refugees conducted by IPCRI in 1998 we found that 61.2% of those surveyed were dissatisfied by the postponement of the refugee issue to the final status stage. In the context of interviews conducted by IPCRI amongst some 200 Palestinians (most refugees) we discovered that a large majority of the refugees feared that they would have little or no say in the final settlement of the refugee question. They expressed fears that the Palestinian negotiators would not consult with the refugees themselves and that there would be few opportunities for the refugees to air their views.
The primary objective of this project is allow for Palestinian refugees to express their views with regard to their own future in the context of future Palestinian-Israeli final status negotiations.
A secondary objective is to create public debate in Palestine and in Israel about the resolution of the refugee question.
Working with local refugee leaders IPCRI is holding town meetings in all of the refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza for the purpose of debating the future of the refugee question. In the first stage Palestinian public figures are participating as observers coming to listen to what the refugees have to say. In the second phase of the project, select focus groups of those refugees who agree will present their ideas and thinking to Israeli public figures as well. IPCRI is also conducting a public opinion poll within the camps with a sample of 2000 – 3000 respondents. It is expected that 48 public meetings will take place from February – September 2000.
The meetings enable the refugees to air their views as well as to present their positions to public figures from Palestine for the purpose of informing those public figures about their positions. The ultimate goal is to get the refugees involved in determining the kind of settlement that would be acceptable to them. The IPCRI team will also involve members of the Palestinian and Israeli press in order to insure the widest possible exposure of the discussion taking place.
The project is being directed and coordinated by Sheerin al Araj and Jihad Abu Zneid - both Palestinian women activists and refugees themselves.
The project is supported by Cordaid, The Netherlands, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Ford Foundation