Beilin: 'EU should absorb Palestinian refugees'

MK Beilin's request termed "premature" by Europeans, who cite lack of final agreement.

beilin 224.88  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
beilin 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Meretz MK Yossi Beilin on Thursday called on European countries to declare how many Palestinian refugees and their descendants they would be willing to absorb as part of any future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. "It is important that we know now how many Palestinian refugees [third] countries are willing to absorb, so that when we get to the critical moment [of a peace agreement] we will be prepared for such an eventuality, and be able to carry it out," Beilin said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. The dovish lawmaker made the remarks one day after he told a group of European ambassadors at a closed-door meeting of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that each of their countries needed to decide what their quota would be for absorbing Palestinian refugees and their descendants. In the interview, Beilin conceded that only a "certain, not large" number of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would be willing to go to third countries as part of a peace agreement, with the bulk choosing to be resettled in a future Palestinian state or remain in the countries where they are currently living. Nevertheless, he said it was important for such information to be known in advance of any future accord, even if it were only a symbolic move, to be ready for such a solution to the problem, partial though it may be. Beilin said that Europeans have never given a "clear picture" of how many refugees - if any - they would be willing to absorb as part of a future peace accord, and that no "affirmative answer" has been received on the issue until now. EU spokeswoman Christina Gallach said Thursday that it was premature to respond to such a proposal at this time. "This is not something that has entered into the pipelines of practical considerations, and I am not aware of specific discussion of this issue," she said in a telephone interview from Brussels. "The EU will be ready to continue to contribute in a clear manner to the final status of peace agreement as negotiations continue," she said. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians - with estimates ranging from 400,000 to 750,000 - left their homes in 1948 and 1949, and they, along with their millions of descendants, make up one of the prickliest issues to be dealt with by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators as part of any resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The super-sensitive issue of dealing with the Palestinian refugees, has been largely untouched in Israel for years, due to the Palestinian demand for the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees to Israel which the Jewish State flatly rejects as a move which will indelibly alter the character of the country. "We want to put this issue on the table, and not keep it under the table, and deal with it not tomorrow but today so that we can work on an agreed upon solution," said MK Amira Dotan of the ruling Kadima Party, who co-chairs a Knesset committee on the issue together with MK Benny Elon of the rightist National Union-National Religious Party. "We want to push the buttons so that the dynamics can begin," Dotan said. In contrast to Beilin, who shares the view of the international community that a solution to the refugee problem can only happen after a peace accord is reached between Israelis and Palestinians, Elon believes that the issue of Palestinian refugees can - and should - be dealt with now, especially since no peace agreement is in sight in the foreseeable future. "It has been a big mistake not to deal with the issue of the Palestinian refugees," said Elon, who advocates dealing with the issue head-on for humanitarian reasons. A cornerstone of the hawkish parliamentarian's recent diplomatic initiative includes dismantling the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the mammoth UN body that deals with Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and resettling the Palestinian refugees into countries outside of Israel, in keeping with long-standing Israeli government policy that an influx of refugees would demographically damage Israel's character as a Jewish state. Meanwhile, a much-anticipated visit by UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd to the Knesset for a special parliamentary committee meeting which was scheduled for this week was indefinitely postponed, after AbuZayd said that a fund-raising trip to Saudi Arabia this week was extended.