Last week, former deputy minister for economic affairs in the Palestinian Authority, Saeb Bamya was delayed at the Qalandiyah checkpoint on his way from Ramallah to the Defense Ministry s offices in Tel Aviv. He and Prof. Arie Arnon entered the office of Major General (res.) Amos Gilad, where they presented Gilad with a thick document setting forth possible political-economic solutions for two of the major core issues: the Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.
The Aix Group document, the final draft of which is being made public here for the first time, is the first semi-official Israeli-Palestinian attempt to deconstruct the right-of-return barrier and present practical solutions to all parties involved and to the international community. The prime minister s economic adviser, Prof. Manuel Trachtenberg, who took part in the group s meeting in Paris, says he returned from the meeting, for the first time in his life, with the feeling that the refugee problem was not a monster, and that the document s importance lay in its translation of militant language of injustice and historic rights into rational economic discourse.
The Aix Group document opens with a declaration of principles, which agree that a just, long-term solution to the problem of the 1948 refugees must be based on the relevant United Nations resolutions, including General Assembly Resolution 194, which grants every refugee, under certain conditions, the right to choose between returning to his home and compensation, while recognizing that a literal application of this Resolution is no longer possible given the substantial changes on the ground.
On the one hand, the Palestinian refugees will be able to choose a permanent place of residence, but on the other hand, implementation of the choice will be agreed by all sides and subject to the sovereignty of all the states concerned, including Palestine and Israel. As stated, The parties would agree that the measures recommended in the paper implement Resolution 194.
The group s assessment is that resolving the refugee problem will cost between $55 and $85 billion. Compared to the alternative, and spread out over 10 years and with extensive, generous international aid, this is not unattainable.
According to the Bank of Israel, the first years of the second Intifada caused Israel $4 billion in damage per year. A month of the war in Iraq costs the American taxpayer more than $20 billion. According to the Clinton parameters, as presented to the sides in December 2000, a substantial number of refugees will move to new places (at a cost of $8 billion to $19 billion, depending on how many refugees will choose to move from their current country of residence). Others will be rehabilitated in their current locations and will receive compensation in kind or in money (at a cost of $10 billion to $14 billion).
The choice among alternative options will be made individually, under the supervision of the International Agency for the Palestinian Refugees (IAPR), to be established for this purpose. Each refugee will rank his priorities, and a time frame for completing the process will be agreed. The IAPR will implement a mechanism to ensure that the final decisions about place of residence are consistent with the overall agreements between the sides.
The Palestinians, as well as Israeli and international bodies, have in their possession a highly detailed database regarding abandoned property. The problem, of course, will lie in evaluating its worth and in the method of capitalization. Accordingly, it was determined that an international committee of experts would settle the expected compensation on a full and fair basis. The group s economists estimate that the total cost will be between $15 billion and $30 billion. Restitution will be considered only in those cases where full and fair compensation has not been offered and where the properties exist in a form that can make restitution practical and equitable.
In addition, the group recommends creating a fourth fund, which will require about $22 billion, for compensation relating to refugehood, not related to property claims or the other programs. All the registered refugees will receive a uniform amount of about $5,000 each. Currently, a refugee family of six-seven souls makes do on about $1,000 a year.
Prof. Arnon: The economic dimension is not secondary. If the economic arrangements do not succeed in providing the conditions needed for true development, the political agreement will also fail. The proper solutions are difficult for both sides, but they are implementable. Bamya: The time available for a two-state solution is running out. If ideas like ours are not adopted soon, both sides will have to consider an alternative political solution. The Aix Group is convinced that if bold steps are not taken in the right direction, the vision of one state for two peoples, based on joint citizenship and equality before the law, will be placed on the agenda.
Akiva Eldar is a senior columnist for Ha aretz. He is the co-author of Lords of the Land: The War for Israel s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 (Nation Books). This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.