Archive for the ‘conferences’ Category

Call for Papers: Towards Engaged and Responsible Research: The Case of the Palestinian Refugee Camps of Lebanon Workshop

18-19 March 2016, Institute for Palestine Studies, Beirut, Lebanon

Submission deadline: 31 August 2015


The Israel-Palestine conflict is one of the most protracted conflicts of our time and has produced one of the largest refugee crises in contemporary history. In the continued absence of a political solution Palestinian refugees remain in exile for over six decades. Reflecting the importance of this longstanding and fundamental crisis, the academic study of Palestinian refugees generated, and continues to generate, a large body of knowledge across a variety of disciplinary fields. In contrast little research has been devoted to investigate the state of academic research and its impact on the researched community. This workshop will focus on the study of the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon which have been, and continue to be, one of the most coveted sites of fieldwork for researchers year after year and decade after decade. It will convene scholars and community workers to probe three inter- related themes.

1. The state of academic research

What is the current state of academic research on Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon? How has research evolved over time? Is it possible to outline certain trends? Are researchers focusing on certain topics and leaving others unexamined? Are there gaps to be filled? What directions should future scholarship take?

2. Research impact

How has research, spanning several decades, affected the Palestinian community? What responsibilities do researchers carry towards the researched community in under-privileged conditions? Are there strategic intersections between activism and research in Palestinian camps? What challenges or
dilemmas does it give rise to? What are the different models, experiences and potentials of activist- research that have emerged in this context? Are there lessons to be learned from other places?

3. New forms of research/knowledge production

What new forms of research are emerging in Palestinian camps? Are these practices challenging traditional roles of researchers in marginalized contexts? Are they exploring new forms of knowledge production and targeting new audiences for their research?

The workshop will be in both English and Arabic. Speakers will be given 20 minutes to discuss their papers and a 40 minutes Q&A session will follow at the end of their panel.

To apply, please email with the following information:

  • Your name, position, and institutional affiliation.
  • The title of your paper.
  • An abstract of your proposed paper (up to 500 words). Make sure to include your paper’s main
  • A short biography – not exceeding 100 words.

Please put ‘IPS research workshop submission’ in the subject line. Submissions can be either in English or Arabic. The deadline for submitting paper proposals is 31 August 2015. Submissions will be reviewed and selected participants will be notified by 30 September 2015.

The selected presenters are required to submit a draft paper of 4,000 to 5,000 words by the 31 January 2016.

If you wish to attend the workshop without presenting a paper, please email your request to Please include your name and affiliation and please put ‘IPS research workshop attendee’ in the subject line.

The Institute for Palestine Studies, founded in Beirut in 1963, is an independent nonprofit Arab research and publication center that is not affiliated to any political organization or government.



Palestine refugees and the interpretation of article 1D of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees

This workshop will focus on legal issues relating to Palestinians who seek asylum in the UK.  This workshop will examine:

  1. The historical situation of Palestine refugees
  2. International law of Palestine refugees and Article 1D’s interpretations
  3. Litigating asylum claims in the UK and interpreting the ECJs El Kott decision and UNHCR interpretive notes under UK asylum law and practice.

DATE:  MONDAY 27 JULY 2015, 8.45 A.M. – 5.30 P.M.

VENUE : Oxford Quaker Meeting room, 43 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LD

REGISTER:  http;//  

The deadline for registration is 5 June 2015.

FEE: £350. The fee includes tuition, workshop materials, lunch and refreshments.

This course is suitable for: legal professionals, researchers, post-graduate students and those with an interest in immigration law.

This refugee law workshop offers 6 hours CPD


Oxford Rights Workshops offers unaccredited CPD points for solicitors who chose to follow the new continuing competency approach




Professor Susan M. Akram teaches immigration law, comparative refugee law, and international human rights law at Boston University. She is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Washington DC (JD), and the Institut International des Droits de l‘Homme, Strasbourg (Diploma in international human rights). She is a past Fulbright Senior Scholar in Palestine, teaching at Al-Quds University/ Palestine School of Law in East Jerusalem


Professor Dawn Chatty is a social anthropologist and has conducted extensive research among Palestinian and other forced migrants in the Middle East. Some of her recent works include Children of Palestine: Experiencing Forced Migration in the Middle East (ed. with Gillian Lewando-Hundt), Berghahn Press, 2005, and Dispossession and Displacement in the Modern Middle East, Cambridge University Press, 2010.


Elizabeth is a solicitor at Wesley Gryk Solicitors LLP, a firm with a leading role in personal immigration law in the UK.  Her current practice covers a broad range of cases, but focuses on asylum and applications based on human rights and family relationships.  She is qualified as a solicitor as well as an Attorney-at-Law in the State of New York.

Elizabeth first practiced immigration law in the US in 1996, and in the UK in 2007. Elizabeth is a native of New York City, and has lived in Germany and Italy as well as the UK. She was educated at Harvard University, Boston University, and the London School of Economics. After graduating from law school, she clerked for Hon. Nancy Gertner at the Federal District Court for the District of Massachusetts, before joining the Immigration Group at Dechert Price and Rhoads in Philadelphia. After moving to the UK, she practiced law at Elder Rahimi Solicitors and Refugee and Migrant Justice, specialising in asylum and refugee law. In addition to preparing asylum and immigration applications, she has represented her clients as an advocate before both the First Tier and Upper Tribunal, Immigration and Asylum Chamber.

CONTACT: Heidi El-Megrisi
tel: +44 (0) 7720601053


Chatham House Royal Institute of international affairs

Chatham House has released a summary report of its March 2014 workshop on “Israeli Perspectives on the Palestinian Refugee Issue”—it should be on the Chatham House website next week, but in the meantime here’s an advance copy.

This is a summary of discussions that took place during a one-and-a-half day workshop on Israeli Perspectives on the Refugee Issue, held on 5 and 6 March 2014 in Cyprus. The participants were Israeli and international experts on the Middle East Peace Process and the Palestinian refugee issue, acting in a personal capacity.

This workshop was intended to evaluate the status of the debate within Israel about Palestinian refugees, and various opinions were raised. Discussions focused not only on the opinions of the participants but also on their expertise of majority opinions and moods within Israel, which are summarized here.

The workshop took place at a time when the gap between Israelis and Palestinians on the refugee issue seems wider than ever, due in part to an apparent hardening of views within Israel over the past decade. Since the failure of the 2000–01 rounds of talks and the Second Intifada in 2000–05, Israeli concern have been particularly high over the demographic implications of any Palestinian refugee return. Additional issues implications for the Palestinian refugee issue have gained salience in the past decade, notably recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the forced displacement of Jewish people from Arab countries after 1948. Finally, both Israelis and international experts have expressed concern about the degree of policy expertise within Israel on the issue, and have noted the possible implications of this expertise gap for negotiations.

The workshop formed part of Chatham House’s on-going work on the regional dimensions of the Palestinian refugee issue, known as the ‘Minster Lovell Process’1, which aims at an informal and comprehensive discussion of the Palestinian refugee issue, including the role of host countries and international actors. The workshop was hosted by the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme and was kindly funded by a grant from the UK Conflict Pool. The other workshops in the current series have addressed compensation and implementation mechanisms2 and the normative dimensions3 of the refugee issue.

Key findings

  • Israeli official knowledge on the Palestinian refugee issue lags behind the state of research and policy work, particularly on the technical dimensions of implementing the refugee component of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
  • Israeli public interest in the refugee issue also remains low. The issue is considered highly sensitive and any compromise on refugees and on right of return is closely linked in public discourse to the perceived threat of the destruction of Israel.
  • There is scope for expanded engagement with the Israeli public, experts, and opinion leaders on the issue. Polling and practical experience suggest that there might be opportunities to encourage a more nuanced approach to the topic within Israel in ways that would enhance the prospects for any eventual agreement.

My own account of the meeting has been previously posted to the PRRN blog.

POMEPSThe Project on Middle East Political Science and George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies will be holding a conference in Washington DC on 10 April 2014 on Reacting to Refugee Crises in the Middle East: Responses from States, Scholars, and Humanitarian Organizations.

This interdisciplinary conference will bring together a diverse group of scholars and practitioners to discuss historical and contemporary crises of population displacement in the Middle East and Africa. Special attention will be given to the ways in which government institutions, humanitarian organizations, and refugees themselves address the structural causes of recurring crises, the challenges of providing assistance to displaced persons, and the lived experiences of individuals struggling through these conditions.  
Thursday, April 10, 2014 9:00 AM
1957 E Street, NW
Lindner Family Commons, 6th Floor


Welcoming Remarks 9:00 – 9:10

Marc Lynch, The George Washington University

Introductory Remarks 9:10 – 9:45 

Refugees and Crisis in the Middle East: Research Agendas and Frameworks

Julie Peteet, University of Louisville

Panel I 9:45 – 11:15
State Responses to Refugee Flows & Displaced Populations
Lamis Abdelaaty, University of California – Santa Cruz
Rochelle Davis, Georgetown University
Elizabeth Ferris, Brookings Institution
Break 11:15 – 11:30
Panel II 11:30 – 1:00
Humanitarian Organizations & Responses to Refugee Crises 
Geraldine Chatelard, Institut Français du Proche-Orient
Margot Ellis, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East 
Adrienne Fricke, University of California – Davis, Human Rights Initiative
Hani Mowafi, Yale Medicine & Amnesty International

Lunch 1:00 – 2:00

Panel III 2:00 – 3:30
Documenting the Experiences of Refugees and the Displaced 
Zainab Saleh, Haverford College
Nell Gabiam, Iowa State University 
Wendy Pearlman, Northwestern University

Paphos, Cyprus—looking absolutely nothing like a Palestinian refugee camp.

This past week I attended a meeting in Paphos, Cyprus on “Israeli Perspectives on the Palestinian Refugee Issue,” organized by Chatham House as part of its ongoing Minster Lovell process of policy-relevant workshops and discussions. At the two day workshop Israeli and international analysts explored Israeli perceptions, concerns, interests, and policy capacity as they relate to the refugee issue. As might be expected, the discussions were lively. The weather was also a good 30 degrees or more warmer than snowy Montréal.

In time, a summary of the event will (as usual) be published by Chatham House. In the meantime, however, I thought I would outline a few of my own take-aways from the session.

First, almost all of the Israeli participants stressed the need for greater discussion of the issue within Israel, among experts, officials, politicians, and the mass public alike. Most made the point that it was a topic Israel preferred to ignore, in part because of difficult normative questions it raises about past Israeli actions. Several (including former senior officials) also pointed to what they saw as limited understanding of the issue within government. This “knowledge gap” relates to both technical and factual issues on the one hand, and empathy on the other. There is certainly a need to plug more Israeli scholars and activists more fully in the policy research community on the refugee question.

Most of the participants at this meeting tended to the left or centre of the Israeli spectrum. While that was helpful in sustaining a constructive dialogue, it will also be necessary to widen the discussion. Indeed, those who took a harder line were a very useful reminder of the challenges that these issues face.

Second, recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” or “homeland of the Jewish people”—a relatively recent demand by Israeli negotiators, and a topic that came up at a previous meeting—once again emerged as important for many. Whether this demand will prove a hindrance to negotiations, or whether it can skillfully be incorporated into a package of statements addressing  intangible needs, remains to be seen. (For my part, I continue to think that while “Jewish state” may prove particularly difficult for Palestinians to accept, “homeland of the Jewish people” is far more amenable to productive compromise.)

Third, we also spent time discussing the issue of Jews who were forcibly displaced from Arab countries. One longtime Israeli advocate for this issue argued the need to transform this from a zero-sum competition with Palestinian refugee claims (that is, somehow offsetting or cancelling them out) to a normative bridge of sorts, built on mutual recognition by both sides of the suffering and injustices experienced by the other. Doing so would involve not pitting both sets of victims against each other by compensating them from a common fund. It might involve Palestinian acknowledgement of, and reparations for, forcible displacements of Jews that took place within Palestinian areas in 1947-48. And it would likely involve Israeli acknowledgement that the appropriate source for most reparations would be the Arab regimes that were responsible, not the Palestinians or international community. It would be interesting to see if greater common ground might be built on this issue.

There was considerable discussion of Israeli public opinion. It was noted by those who had done research on the subject that there was more acceptance than commonly believed among the public that Israel shares some of the responsibility for the situation of Palestinian refugees. Polls indicated that Israelis are strongly opposed to Palestinian refugee return. Most Israeli Jews want some acknowledgement of the Jewish character of Israel in an agreement. There might also be reluctance to contribute very large amounts to refugee compensation. However, as several participants noted, public opinion can be moved to some degree by political leadership, especially in the context of a larger deal that offers a realistic prospect of peace.

Many participants expressed the hope that Palestinians would more clearly signal moderation on the refugee issue, and highlighted that mention of the right of return was seen as especially, even existentially, threatening by Israeli Jews. There was praise from several for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’ recent statements on the issue. There was also recognition that the political challenge from Hamas has made Fateh leaders reluctant to indicate a willingness to compromise.

I continue to feel that many Israelis continue to overestimate the degree of international resources that will be available to support a peace agreement, and especially with regard to refugee compensation. This issue of resource mobilization was also raised at a previous meeting in the Minster Lovell series.

On questions of residency, participants opposed all but limited or symbolic return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, and several expressed a preference that this number be zero. Most supported that Palestinian state having full control over its own absorption policy, although a few expressed support for Israel having some veto over what Palestinians might repatriate to the Palestinian state for a limited transitional period. One participant voiced concerns (more widely shared in Israel as whole) that refugees repatriating to a Palestinian state could be a future security risk to Israel itself

Finally, there was considerable discussion as to whether past assumptions about resolving the refugee issue were still entirely relevant. I noted that the Syrian civil war has created strong “push” factors for hundreds of thousands of refugees, in contrast to an earlier era when Palestinians in Syria would be unlikely to face immediate pressure to repatriate following a peace agreement. Several participants also expressed doubt that a comprehensive peace deal was possible in the current era, arguing that a series of incremental and a transitional arrangements were more likely. Under such circumstances would the resolution of the refugee issue be postponed? Or were some sort of intermediate initiatives possible? It is a question that certainly needs further attention.

Normative dimensions of the Palestinian refugee issue

Posted: February 19, 2014 by Rex Brynen in conferences

I recently returned from another in the long-standing “Minster Lovell” series of conferences organized by Chatham House (UK). This time the focus was on the normative dimensions of the Palestinian refugee issue, with the meeting including Palestinian, Israeli, and international experts.

This is a difficult topic, for several reasons. First, the issue touches upon core aspects of Palestinian and Israeli narratives—narratives that often don’t agree. Given the suffering involved by all those who have been displaced, dispossessed, and exiled by the conflict, it can strike a deep emotional cord. In contrast to the previous session at Minster Lovell (which focused on the technical aspects of refugee compensation) the topic is one that largely intangible and hence difficult to precisely categorize or define.

Minster Lovell itself was rather soggy, since the meeting took place amid heavy rainstorms that flooded parts of southern and central England. However, accommodation and arrangements at the Old Swan and Minster Mill were excellent as ever.


The first (half) day of the meeting started with a general discussion of why the normative dimensions of the refugee issue mattered. We then moved on to an examination of Palestinian and Israeli perspectives on the topic. Overall, I would say that five major dimensions of the issue emerged from this:

  1. Recognition/responsibility/apology. Is it enough for Israel to simply acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinian refugees, or is more needed—a statement of regret, or perhaps acceptance of responsibility for their expulsion in 1948? To what extent can initiatives such as commemoration, memorialization, historical commissions, or even a truth and reconciliation commission help to address some of these needs?
  2. The normative dimensions of the right of return. Refugee return is, of course, also a “tangible” question of whether Palestinian refugees and their descendants might be able to return to their ancestral homes with Israel. However, it also has normative dimensions, in that Palestinians view this as an internationally-acknowledged moral and legal right that also requires recognition, even if the actual number of refugees returning might be limited, or even largely symbolic.
  3. Compensation as a moral element. Any compensation paid to Palestinian refugees would be at least partial reparation for their dispossession. I am doubtful, however (especially after the last workshop) that it could fully addresses the losses and suffering they have experienced. To what extent can compensation perform a symbolic and moral function too?
  4. Addressing the forced displacement of Jews from Arab countries. In addition to the hundreds of thousand of Palestinians that were forcibly displaced during the establishment of the state of Israel, many Jews also fled from discriminatory treatment in Arab countries. How might the situation of Jewish refugees be addressed in an agreement with regard to such normative dimensions as moral acknowledgement?
  5. End of claims, moral closure. Can an agreement not only bring to an end claims made against one party by the other, but also bring about a sort of moral closure to the decades of dispossession, violence, and conflict?

PriorNegotiationsI presented a review of how normative issues had been dealt with in prior Israeli-Palestinian negotiations , as well as selected unofficial “track two” initiatives:

  • Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement (track II/1995)
  • Core Group working paper (track II/1999)
  • Camp David negotiations (official/2000)
  • Clinton Parameters (official/2000)
  • Taba negotiations (official/2001)
  • Geneva Initiative (track II/2003)
  • Annapolis negotiations (official/2007-08)

In general, in official talks Palestinian side has sought a clear expression of Israeli responsibility for the forced displacement of Palestinian refugees, while Israeli has been unwilling to go beyond an acknowledgement of the refugees’ suffering.  A copy of my presentation can be found here. Much of this discussion also drew on an excellent chapter by Mike Molloy and John Bell on “Intangible Needs, Moral Acknowledgement, and the Palestinian Refugee Issue” in  The Palestinian Refugee Problem: The Search for a Resolution (coedited by myself and Roula el-Rifai).

For the second (full) day of the workshop, participants were divided into three working groups, and challenged to develop appropriate language, formulations, linkages, and sequencing that might be used to address these issues in the context of current or future peace negotiations. In contrast to the usual “seminar” format of such discussions (which tend to produce a thoughtful but rather indeterminate output) or “second track” meetings (where the emphasis is often on producing an agreed text), the emphasis here was on brainstorming as many new ideas as possible. While participants certainly expressed their views on the political feasibility of the ideas put forward, the working group moderators made it clear that all ideas were welcome. After all, you never know when interesting synergies might emerge between several different proposals.

To make things interesting, the composition of the working groups was randomly shuffled every 90 minutes or so by drawing names from what the Harry Potter fans among us dubbed the “sorting hat.” I was certainly impressed with the energy and insight that participants devoted to the process.

Ina  final session, the working group moderators and the rest of the participants offered some reflections on the discussions. In my own view, several points stood out.

It was generally agreed that the normative dimensions of the refugee issue are centrally important. Achieving political and moral closure for the issue is more than simply a case of shifting people (repatriation, return, resettlement) and money (reparations/compensation). However, there was less agreement on whether it is necessary to address this now, or whether it is better to postpone the issue until issues of borders and Palestinian statehood have been agreed by the parties. In the former case, it was argued that postponing the issue would only fuel the alienation and anger of refugees. In the latter case, it was suggested that progress on territorial issues might create a better atmosphere for addressing difficult normative issues in future. I admit to still being undecided on the question.

The point was made by several participants that Israeli recognition of its historic role in creating refugee issue should not be seen as concession. Rather, it was better understood (when and if such recognition ever happened) as the self-confident act of a modern state that has come to terms with past abuses. After all, it has become increasingly common for democratic countries such as Australia, Canada, the UK, or US to acknowledge past wrongs—not as a sign of weakness, but in rather as an act of political maturity.

There was considerable discussion of how language, acknowledgement, symbolic acts, and truth and reconciliation initiatives might help promote moral closure, justice, and reconciliation. It was recognized, however, that it can be difficult to assure that such measures have the intended effects. There was also considerable debate as to how willing the Israeli public might be to acknowledge some responsibility for the refugee issue.

The question of recognition of the Jewish character of Israel emerged as a surprisingly important theme in what was, after all, a workshop devoted to the Palestinian refugee issue. Some Israeli participants suggested that this was necessary to offset any symbolic or practical Israeli recognition of a Palestinian right of return; others argued that the issue had simply assumed too much political salience in Israel to now be forgotten; still others cited Palestinian reluctance to acknowledge deep Jewish ties to the region as a reason for wanting such recognition. It was also argued that such recognition might facilitate Israeli recognition of Palestinian moral claims.

A large majority of participants were  uncomfortable with recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state.” Palestinians asserted that this could be seen as justifying ethnic cleansing in 1948 or legitimizing the treatment of Palestinians in Israel as second class citizens. Many Israelis were uncomfortable with the implications of the formulation for Israeli democracy. It was also widely felt that such terminology, if put forward by the US in its own bridging position, could prove a major stumbling block to progress. Conversely, there was much wider acceptance of recognizing Israel as “homeland of the Jewish people” or other similar formulations.

There was very broad agreement that Jews were displaced from some Arab countries, and were deserving of both recognition and remedy. Many felt this issue had no place in a bilateral Israeli-Palestinian agreement, however, but instead was more properly an issue that should be raised with the states concerned. Others felt that, even though the issue might have been originally raised by the Israeli government largely as a bargaining chip, it was now at the point where it had to be addressed for Israeli domestic political reasons.

In the end, lots of ideas were generated, far too many to be listed here. These will be summarized in a forthcoming Chatham House report on the meeting, which should be available in the coming weeks. When it that report is released it will also  be announced here at the PRRN blog.

Palestinians Refugees in Syria BannerRegistration information here.


A few weeks ago I participated in a meeting on  “Refugees in the Middle East Peace Process: Evaluating the Impasse” convened by the Royal Institute of International affairs (Chatham House) as part of their longstanding Minster Lovell process. The meeting drew more than two dozen participants, drawn from academia, government, NGOs, and international organizations.

As usual, Minster Lovell was lovely.

Also as usual, the discussion was informal, well-informed, and free ranging. Despite the title of the conference, I argued that the “peace process” was effectively defunct for the near and medium term—indeed, continued discussion of it as if it were a living viable thing reminds me of nothing quite so much as the “Dead Parrot” sketch from Monty Python.

 Simply put, the current Israeli government is not interested in any reasonable compromise with the Palestinians, and is generally comfortable with the status quo of continued occupation. Mahmud is more interested in reasonable compromise, but he is also a weak leader, and the continued Fateh vs Hamas divisions seriously compromise the ability of the Palestinians to do anything.

A few others (but not many) at the meeting were a little more optimistic, hoping that were President Obama elected to a second term that the US might launch a bold new peace initiative. With Knesset elections now pending too, it is also possible that the Israeli political spectrum might shift in ways that make progress towards peace more likely. However, even if Obama wins reelection in November I’m not very optimistic of major changes in US policy. I think a substantial political shift in Israel is even less likely.  I see few prospects for substantial Palestinian reconciliation.  As I have argued before, I also don’t think that the “Arab Spring” and other developments in the region make progress more likely.

In short, I think we’re in for a decade or more of dysfunctional stalemate. What then are the implications for the refugees, the refugee issue, UNRWA, and host countries? What particular scenarios lay ahead?

Most immediately there is the challenge of an increasingly bloody Syrian civil war. While most Palestinian refugees in that country have tried to remain relatively neutral, they have become increasingly affected nonetheless. Refugee camps and districts have become the scene of regime security operations or fighting. Refugees may also be drawn in as more active participants. This obviously places a severe burden on UNRWA as it attempts to maintain its operation in Syria while dealing with those refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries. In a post-Asad Syria I think Palestinians will likely once more enjoy the sort of positive treatment they have enjoyed under the current government, but this will be in the context of a war-ravaged country which will likely suffer from serious problems of economic reconstruction, insecurity and political instability.

Regarding Lebanon, there are again immediate challenges arising from the conflict in Syria, in particular the (so far, rather limited) flow of Palestinian refugees across the border. This could accelerate, of course, as fighting intensifies. While the Lebanese government has hardly been welcoming of refugee inflows, it has perhaps been less unwelcoming than one might have imagined. Unlike some, I don’t think that the conflict in Syria will tip Lebanon into full-scale civil conflict. However, I do think the risk will increase after the Syrian conflict is over, when a new government in Damascus attempts to strengthen its Lebanese Sunni allies against a Hizbullah that the Syrian opposition has grown to hate. Political rebalancing can be a messy thing.

There is also the risk, of course, that an Israel-Iran confrontation spreads to Lebanon, either because Hizbullah retaliates following an Israeli attack on Iran, or because Israel decides to preemptively attack Hizbullah as part of an attack on Iran. While Palestinian refugees were less affected during the last war in 2006 than many Lebanese population groups, their vulnerability could increase if Israeli military actions were more intense next time around (which they might well be).

The attitude of Jordan to Palestinians fleeing the conflict in Syria has been even more restrictive than Lebanon’s, mirroring its earlier exclusionary treatment of Palestinians who fled Iraq. As in Lebanon, this policy is rooted in domestic politics, in this case a fear among East Bankers of a Palestinian influx. However, I do think there is some room at the margins to influence Jordanian policy in slightly more favourable directions. The international community should offer some third country temporary protection or resettlement opportunities to Palestinians entering Jordan, thereby assuring Amman of a degree of onward movement. Western donors should pre-commit now to supporting refugee repatriation back to Syria when the conflict there is over. It should also extend other aid incentives so as to reward Amman if it moves in a more positive direction. (Much of this also applies to Lebanon too, it should be added.)

While the Syrian civil war presents the most immediate challenge to refugee communities, there are others.

The Palestinian Authority has recently faced substantial internal protest, arising from economic slowdown, the PA’s current fiscal crisis, and the moribund “peace process.” While I don’t think at present this portends an eventual “Palestinian Spring” that threatens Fateh’s hold on power in the West Bank, it is possible that the fiscal crisis could generate greater internal political instability. This has implications for refugees and for UNRWA, especially if it affects the provision of public services.

Regarding UNRWA, I think it is likely to face a more hostile fundraising environment for some years to come. Part of this will arise from the continued global economic recession, especially in the Eurozone crisis grows deeper. While UNRWA has made efforts to diversify its donor base, there are real limits to how much can be generated this way. The current anti-UNRWA advocacy campaign also makes UNRWA’s job more difficult, especially in the US.

One key question in this regard is whether the attitude of Israel to UNRWA is undergoing a change, as evidenced by comments from Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in particular. Israel has never real had a clear policy on either refugees or on UNRWA. Some Israeli officials privately dismiss Ayalon’s campaign as a personal initiative, and it would appear that Israel didn’t really welcome Canada’s 2009 decision to end core funding for UNRWA. On the other hand, Israeli policy could well drift into an anti-UNRWA stance not because anyone has thought it through, but rather by default. That would make Agency fund-raising even more difficult, especially in the US.

No one at the meeting, by contrast, thought that the Israeli government’s current campaign to emphasize the claims of Jews who fled Arab countries would somehow weaken the Palestinian negotiating position on the refugee issue. Indeed, several argued that it could even work to the Palestinians’ advantage.

One possible development that could both directly and indirectly impact refugees in the near future is a Palestinian bid to gain recognition by the United Nations General Assembly as a non-member state. Overall I think this would be a useful move by further strengthening the international consensus around a two-state solution, especially if it were linked to an explicit recognition of the 1967 borders (with minor territorial swaps) as the basis for any future peace agreement.

However, the move could bring with it major risks, notably moves by the US (and especially the US Congress) to cut support for both the PA and UN specialized agencies—including UNRWA. Unlike UNESCO, Palestine can’t “join” UNRWA, which perhaps reduces the risk. On the other hand, as an agency that exclusively caters to Palestinians, UNRWA might be deliberately targeted.

Israel might also suspend tax transfers to the PA, dramatically worsening its fiscal crisis. While I don’t think any US Administration or Israel would wish to push the PA to the point of fiscal and political collapse, it is not impossible that matters could escalate beyond initial intentions. If a newly UN-recognized state of Palestine moves to join the International Criminal Court and raises the possibility of ICC indictments of Israeli officials for activities in the occupied territories, for example, the Israeli political backlash, coupled with US Congressional overreaction, could potentially reach a point which imperils basic PA service delivery and, in turn, the survival of the PA itself (ironically, to Hamas’ benefit).

What are the implications of this for researchers? Most people at the meeting suggested that research which focuses on how an eventual refugee agreement might be designed and implemented remains useful, even with near- and medium-term prospects for political progress so dark—after all, such research can always be dusted off if and when the political context improves. However, it also would be increasingly useful to examine how key actors might best respond to the emerging challenges that lie ahead, in a practical way that addresses the social, economic, and security needs of the refugee population.

Randa Farah (Department of Anthropology, University of Western Ontario) spoke on the topic of “A Closer Look at Palestinian Refugees and UNRWA” at the Harvard Kennedy School on 28 February 2012. You’ll find the audio of her presentation below.