This fascinating study examines from a historical perspective one of the most important issues related to the Palestinian refugees, their grievances, and the future of the peace process: the fate of the property they abandoned in 1948 and the ways in which the property question has not been addressed satisfactorily. Shedding considerable light on why peace efforts have largely failed, Fischbach first outlines the historical background of the property issues and then details various estimates of the refugee property’s scope and value. He investigates U.S. and UN secret plans for settling the property issue and then explains why there has been neither compensation nor restitution. Finally he offers some practical ideas for settling the refugee claims in the twenty-first century.
Arabs who fled or were expelled from Israel in 1948 left land and other property, including their homes, farms, and other businesses. Although early on the Israelis stated their willingness to compensate Palestinian refugees for their abandoned property, the refugees have refused to consider accepting such compensation, as they do not wish to concede their ability to return. What the Palestinians want is not compensation but restitution of their property.
One of the central problems involved in the disputes is quantifying the property. No two parties have ever agreed on how much land and other property was left behind, let alone what it was worth. Another factor is the question of time. When did Israel actually become liable for compensation—at the time the refugees abandoned the property or at the time the Israeli authorities could exercise control over it? Because warfare damaged much property in the year before Israel took control of it there are considerable discrepancies on this issue alone. Then there is the question of tenant farmers who, while they did not own land, earned their livings from it and are thus arguably entitled to some compensation for their economic loss. These are just a few of the unresolved issues that Fischbach examines in considerable detail.

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