The US reportedly has recently offered to compile a list of Palestinian refugees interested in settling in Israel, under the assumption that a small number would be approved to do so by the Israeli government, according to a Palestinian source cited in an Israeli report.
The compilation of the list, reported by Israel Radio, would mark a new phase in the US-brokered talks, which are reportedly stuck on security guarantees for Israel in the Jordan Valley, among other issues.
Israeli officials denied the report to Army Radio, saying it has never come up, and they would reject it if it did.
The return of refugees is seen as one of the more intractable issues, which would only be tackled in a final status agreement. Successive Israeli governments have ruled out a substantial influx of refugees; former prime minister Ehud Olmert said he offered to take in 5,000 Palestinians over five years after a peace deal, on an “individual humanitarian basis.”
On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry is slated to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the talks.
Ramallah has insisted on a right of return for Palestinians who left their homes during Israel’s War of Independence, a demand Israel has rejected as endangering the Jewish character of the state.
The Palestinian source quoted by Israel Radio indicated that it is thought that very few Palestinians would choose to live in Israel even if that was an option, because they would have to sing the national anthem, Hatikvah, send their children to schools run by the Israeli educational system, and perhaps in the future have to perform some form of national or army service.
Any final list of Palestinians for resettlement would have to be approved by Israel, the report said.
The fate of the millions of Palestinian refugees, which include Palestinians who left their homes both in 1948 and 1967 and their descendants, is one of the long-standing final status issues due to be addressed during the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The right of all the Palestinians refugees to return to what is now Israel has traditionally been a “red line” that the Palestinian leadership has been unwilling to give up.
Abbas has maintained a hardline stance on the issue, although this week, in a speech to Israeli students, he said that the Palestinians “do not seek, and we will not seek, to flood Israel with millions in order to change its social culture.”
The traditional Palestinian position on the “right of return” follows the language of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which stipulates a “just and agreed upon solution based on UN resolution 194.”