As stated earlier, the Israeli policy concentrated its efforts, after the expulsion and dispossession of the Palestinians and confiscating their land, on getting rid of the refugees themselves.
Today, 88 percent of the refugees live in Palestine and environs: 46 percent in British Mandatory Palestine, 42 percent in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, within a 100-mile radius of Israel. Only 12 percent reside further afield, equally divided between Arab and foreign countries. Their total number, according to 1998 figures, is 4.9 million, of which only 3.6 million are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the official body set up to care for the refugees. More than two-thirds of the Palestinian people are refugees! There are no other people in the world where so many have been forced into exile.
The proximity of the refugees to their homes and their unquenched desire to return explains the feverish Israeli attempts to bring in as many immigrants as possible from such diverse places as Ethiopia and Russia, just to fill the depopulated Palestinian locations. On the other hand, there are over three dozen schemes (over a hundred if we consider minor variations) to resettle the refugees anywhere in the world except their homes. They are all Israeli-inspired and are based on one or more of the following premises: that the Palestinians are not a distinct "people", that they could and should live anywhere, that they have no rights to qualify them for return, that their return is not physically possible, and that their return is not desirable because it would threaten the "Jewish character" of Israel.
The latest edition of these schemes is a proposal made by Donna Arzt. Although dressed in humanitarian garb, it is essentially a continuation of the ethnic-cleansing plan executed by Ben-Gurion, Weitz and Ariel Sharon. The plan calls for the transfer of 1.5 million refugees to various parts of the world and the forced exile of several million under a scheme of threats, coercion and bribery.
There are other schemes which call for the return of the refugees, not to their homes, but to a new state of Palestine, whose sovereignty and territory are still shrouded in mystery. They even propose ‘land swaps’, such as exchanging Palestinian-populated areas in Israel, or deserts in Israel used as dumps for chemical waste, for valuable territory in the West Bank occupied by settlers to be annexed to Israel.
Such ideas confuse the issue of sovereignty, which applies to a territory in which the state can make laws to admit citizens to it, and the issue of return to the homes from which the refugees were expelled, which is an Inalienable Right. The two are entirely unrelated. The refugee remains one until he returns to his original home. This has been clearly spelled out in the Explanatory Memorandum of Resolution-194. Changing the camp address of the refugee does not make him a returnee or deprive him of his rights. A refugee should return to his home, regardless of the sovereignty of the regime where his home lies.
All such schemes have failed, and they will continue to fail. Therefore, it becomes increasingly necessary to go back to basics and find creative solutions. Such solutions can never be permanent unless based on justice. First we must break the Israeli taboo that the Right of Return is not possible. We start by examining and refuting the Israeli standard arguments against the Right of Return.