Archive for the ‘refugee attitudes’ Category

At Haaretz (paywall) Mira Sucharov highlights mutual threat perception in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of particular note: some 60% of Palestinians fear that Israel seeks to expel them from the West Bank and Gaza, a view undoubtedly born of the shared experience of forced displacement that has been such a central part of Palestinian national experience.
What is really fueling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
‘The Most Important Video About Israel Ever Made’ got it all wrong: It’s too easy to blame the Mideast’s problems on blind hatred and genocidal tendencies.

By Mira Sucharov | Jul. 16, 2014 | 11:52 AM

With the murder of the four teens, followed by Hamas rockets and Israeli missile strikes, regional players and interested parties outside Israel and Palestine are understandably looking to make sense of the tragic mess, both in its short-term and long-term variants. And in the age of social media, sound bites rule. One 5-minute video that has been circulating on Facebook purports to explain the overall Arab-Israeli conflict simply and concretely. Those who’ve posted it praise its concrete and “unemotional” tone. It is indeed simple and unsensational. The problem is, the explanation put forth is anything but supported by the evidence.

Called The Middle East Problem (and tagged by the Israel Video Network as “The Most Important Video About Israel Ever Made,”), the video has Dennis Prager asserting that the Middle East Conflict is the “easiest in the world to explain.” His explanation? “One side wants the other side dead.” Israel wants to live in peace, he continues, and even recognizes the right of the Palestinians to a state. (Ignore pesky detail revealing Bibi’s recent revelationthat he has no intention of allowing this to happen.) But “most Palestinians, and many other Muslims and Arabs,” Prager stresses, “do not recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist.”

The assumption that “they want us dead” (also known as the “they hate us” theory) is a key cause of what Israeli psychologists have described as a siege mentality characterizing Israeli society. Suggesting that “they hate us” also serves to trivialize the actual concerns and claims of the other side. Claiming that “they” do not recognize the right of Israel to exist ignores the mutual letters of recognition exchanged between Israel and the PLO in 1993. Most importantly, such “they hate us” statements are important motivators for keeping powerful actors stuck to the status quo

But let’s hypothesize for a moment that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is due to Palestinian hatred. How might we test this hypothesis? Right now the best data we have is polling, and the closest polling question I have seen in the last year or so is one that asked about mutual attitudes. What emerged is something quite different from mutual hatred and genocidal tendencies. Instead, what is really going on is a story of mutual fear, but especially on the part of Palestinians towards Israel.

Consider this: From a December 2013 survey conducted jointly by the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, most Palestinians (60%) believe that Israel’s goals are to conquer all of the land between the river of the sea and expel the Arabs. An additional 24% believe Israel wants to annex the West Bank without granting the Palestinians political rights. A minority on each side (37% of Israelis, and only 15% of Palestinians) considers the other’s territorial aims to be limited in scope

It is easy to say that the other’s acts of protest — sometimes violent, other times in the form of boycott and divestment or general civil disobedience — stem from hatred. It is much harder to sit and listen to the fears of the other and to examine one’s own actions to see how they shape those perceptions

In sum, when watching videos that may be “unemotional” in tone, but are certainly inflammatory in content, we need to think more soberly about what is hatred, and what might actually, instead, be fear. And we all know from everyday life that the solution to fear is not heel-digging and head-in-the-sand burying, but rather confidence-building and reassurance — in the form of meaningful negotiation leading to a dignified solution for all.

Chatham House has published a summary of their recent workshop on the normative dimensions of the Palestinian refugee issue.

This is a summary of discussions that took place during a one-and-a-half day workshop on The Palestinian Refugee Issue: Normative Dimensions, held on 13 and 14 February 2014 in Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire. The participants in the exercise were regional and international experts on the Palestinian refugee issue, acting in a personal capacity.

The ‘normative dimensions’ of the refugee issue refer to the intangible needs of both parties and the moral acknowledgment of these needs, including the acknowledgment of ‘the human dignity and moral worth of victims’. Moral acknowledgment includes statements of apology, as well as recognition of rights and suffering. Participants were divided into working groups and asked to produce ‘formulations’, or multiple versions of language that would meet these needs, with the aim of encouraging new and innovative ideas. In constructing formulations, participants took note of the relevant language from previous negotiations and Track II exercises, including the ‘Beilin-Abu Mazin Talks’, Core Group Track II Exercise, Israeli Camp David Position, Clinton Parameters, Taba Talks, Arab Peace Initiative and the Geneva Accord, among others. The draft formulations ranged from complete paragraphs to one sentence or phrase, and the list can be found in the appendix.

Although this summary presents the needs and perspectives of Israelis and Palestinians in separate sections, throughout the discussions there were internal debates among both perspectives, as well as nuances in individual positions and contributions from international experts with a comparative perspective.

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’2, 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.


Some of the main findings of the workshop include:

  • Normative dimensions are central to resolving the refugee issue, although opinions vary on when these dimensions should be addressed. While some argue that negotiations must address intangible needs now to signal acknowledgement of the each party’s deepest needs and thereby facilitate agreement in other areas, others stress that the normative dimensions of the refugee issue should be deferred until after significant progress has been made on other elements of an agreement, such as territorial issues regarding borders and Jerusalem.
  • Two of the most pressing intangible needs around the refugee issue are the right of return and recognition of the Jewish character of Israel. On these two questions, mutual Israeli and Palestinian unwillingness to recognize the other’s need becomes a threat to the other’s feeling of legitimacy and security. Palestinians view the right of return as an internationally acknowledged moral and legal right that requires recognition, even if the actual number of refugees returning might be limited or even largely symbolic. Israelis view recognition of Israel’s Jewish character as a signal of regional acceptance of Israel’s founding and continuing legitimacy as a country for the Jewish people, as well as acknowledgment and respect for Jewish identity and Zionism.
  • Demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state could become an immediate and permanent obstacle to peace. However, recognition of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people could provide the necessary flexibility to meet the needs of both parties.
  • Other key normative dimensions of the refugee issue include acknowledgment and/or apology for 1948, recognition of Palestinian rights and dignity, an end of claims and the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

You’ll find my own take on the workshop here.

I’ve been travelling much of the last week and a half, and so haven’t had any chance yet to comment yet on recent developments in the US Congress regarding who is, and is not, a Palestinian refugee.

The hijinks started when Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) proposed an amendment to the FY2013 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill. This would have called upon the US State Department to report on the numbers of Palestinian refugees who had actually been displaced in 1948, as opposed to their descendants, as well as their citizenship status:

Not later than one year after the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations detailing the number of people currently receiving United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) services 1) whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and who were personally displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict (“such persons”); 2) who are children of such persons; 3) who are grandchildren of such persons; 4) who are descendants of such persons and not otherwise counted by criteria (2) and (3); 5) who are residents of the West Bank or Gaza; 6) who do not reside in the West Bank or Gaza and are citizens of other countries; and 7) whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who were personally displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, who currently do not reside in the West Bank or Gaza and who are not currently citizens of any other state.

The proposed amendment received enthusiastic media support from right-wing columnist Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post (see here, here, and here) as well as by Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. It was opposed by the US State Department. In a letter to the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides warned that the proposed legislation would ” be viewed around the world as the United States acting to prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue.”

The status of Palestinian refugees is one of the most sensitive final status issues confronting Palestinians and Israelis. It strikes a deep, emotional chord among Palestinians and their supporters, including our regional allies. Indeed the refugee issue is not confined to the Palestinian territories; it also directly and significantly the politics and stability of allies, such as Jordan and Lebanon, which host large Palestinian refugee populations.

This proposed amendment would be viewed around the world as the United States acting to prejudge and determine the outcome of this sensitive issue.  United States policy has been consistent for decades, in both Republican and Democratic administrations – final status issues can and must only be resolved between Israelis and Palestinians in direct negotiations.  The Department of State cannot support legislation which would force the United States to make a public judgment on the number and status of Palestinian refugees…

This proposed amendment poses serious risk of damaging a range of key United States interests in the region.  It pushed the refugee issue to the fore at a particularly sensitive time.  Forcing the United States to take a position on a permanent status issue would hurt our efforts to promote Middle East peace, prevent the Palestinians from returning to their pursuit of statehood via the United Nations, damage our ability to mediate between the parties, and risk a very negative and potentially destabilizing impact on key allies, particularly Jordan, who host Palestinian refugee populations

In the end, modified language was proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT):

The Committee directs the Secretary of State to submit a report to the Committee not later than one year after enactment of this act, indicating –
(a)    the approximate number of people who, in the past year, have received UNRWA services –
(1)   whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and who were displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict; and
(2)   who are descendants of persons described in subparagraph (1);
(b)   the extent to which the provision of such services to such persons furthers the security interests of the United States and of other United States allies in the Middle East; and
(c)    the methodology and challenges in preparing each report.

Detailed analysis of the legislative maneuvering has been provided by American Friends for Peace Now, in their excellent weekly legislative round-up.

The original Kirk amendment was clearly motivated by the view that UNRWA artificially prolongs the refugee issue. While it did not call for any limitation on funds to UNRWA, it seemed designed as part of a strategy to weaken both US support for the continuation of UNRWA services and registration practices over the longer term, as well as limiting the refugee issue to the elderly generation of 1948 refugees.

The Leahy version is less of a challenge to the status quo, in that it only addresses the generational issue (on which UNRWA and UNHCR practices are similar) and not the citizenship issue (where they largely differ).

Subsequently, the US State Department clarified to Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy magazine that it regards the children of refugees to be refugees, and not just in the Palestinian context:

In a new statement given to The Cable Thursday, a State Department spokesman said that the U.S. government does, in fact, agree with UNRWA that descendants of refugees are also refugees.

“Both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) generally recognize descendants of refugees as refugees,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told The Cable. “For purposes of their operations, the U.S. government supports this guiding principle. This approach is not unique to the Palestinian context.”

Ventrell pointed out that the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees also recognizes descendants of refugees as refugees in several cases, including but not limited to the Burmese refugee population in Thailand, the Bhutanese refugee population in Nepal, the Afghan population in Pakistan, and the Somali population seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

UNHCR by default only considers the minor children of refugees to have refugee status but often makes exceptions to include latter generations.

Rogin then spun this into the sensationalistic headline “Did the State Department just create 5  million Palestinian refugees?,” raising the spectre of an ever-expanding Palestinian refugee population.

Interestingly, both legislative amendments talk about those using UNRWA services, not those registered with UNRWA. The former number is, in practice, a smaller one since many refugees may not use UNRWA services.

This episode raises three main questions:

First, what is the relationship between UNRWA and Palestinian refugee claims? While the Agency undoubtedly plays some role in refugee identity, it would require a pretty shallow understanding of the refugee issue to believe that refugee claims or Palestinian attitudes to the refugee are somehow a product of UNRWA registration status. Indeed, as noted before at this blog, the public opinion survey data shows that receiving UNRWA services has little impact on Palestinian attitudes to the refugee issue.

Second, who is really a refugee? It is true that UNRWA uses a somewhat different definition of “refugee” than does UNHCR. Then again, UNRWA’s definition relates solely to service eligibility, and is in no way a political-legal definition for negotiations purposes. On the other hand, as the State Department notes, Palestinians are far from the only multi-generational refugees. In 1951 Refugee Convention and UNHCR rules were applied to Palestinians, the results would probably be the following:

  1. Stateless (non-citizen) refugees of all generations in Lebanon, Syria, or elsewhere would continue to be considered refugees.
  2. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, who are also stateless until such time as Israel allows creation of a Palestinian state, would either be considered refugees (if the Green Line is an international border) or displaced persons (otherwise). In other words, their status wouldn’t change either, until a peace agreement establishes a state of Palestine.
  3. Palestinian refugees in Jordan who hold Jordanian citizenship—that is to say, the vast majority—would lose refugee status, since they clearly enjoy the protection of a state.

In other words, applying UNHCR rules to the Palestinians would drop the number of refugees from the current 4.8 million to approximately 2.8 million. Almost all of this reduction in numbers would occur within Jordan, and would likely be politically destabilizing in view of post-Arab Spring tensions in that country (although legitimate questions could be raised about why the UN continues to provide substantial services to tax-paying Jordanian citizens). Certainly efforts to radically transform the way UNRWA deliver services would be viewed by both Palestinians and Arab host countries as a hostile move by the US government, as Nides warned.

Finally—and most important of all—none of this would actually change the claims made against Israel, nor would it significantly change the dynamics of future peace negotiations on the refugee issue. The forced displacement  of Palestinians in 1948 was a formative experience in modern Palestinian nationalism. It is as central to Palestinian identity as is Jewish attachment to Israel. Regardless of whether UNRWA counts five million refugees or five, Palestinians will likely continue to press for recognition of Israeli responsibility, some form of refugee return (however symbolic), and compensation for the properties seized by Israel.

In the latest issue of the Journal of Refugee Studies (March 2012), Ghassan Shabaneh has a thoughtful piece on Education and Identity: The Role of UNRWA’s Education Programmes in the Reconstruction of Palestinian Nationalism. In it he examines the role that the Agency has played—often inadvertently—in the post-1948 reconstruction and transmission of Palestinian national identity among refugees. As the abstract notes:

Studies of specialized agencies of the United Nations in general and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in particular focus overwhelmingly on the humanitarian activities and bureaucratic structure of these institutions. Relatively understudied and less understood in the literature on UNRWA is the impact the institution has had on the ongoing reconstruction of Palestinian national identity over the last six decades. UNRWA unintentionally—and despite its humanitarian mandate—played a political role in its five areas of operation: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, and Gaza. This study focuses on how UNRWA’s support of, and provision for, education in schools and camps in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and elsewhere helped in the continuation of reconstructing Palestinian nationalism and identity. In UNRWA schools, Palestinian students interacted with one another in ways that inadvertently preserved and cultivated an identity of nation and self among Palestinians amidst war and social dislocation. The main factor that had the unintended consequence of reconstructing Palestinian nationalism in the last six decades has been the use by UNRWA schools of extracurricular activities that reinvented many elements of Palestinian identity and nationalism (e.g. songs, plays, music, paintings, poetry). This article speaks to how UNRWA schools have been providing opportunities for Palestinian youth to articulate and enact Palestinian identity.

The article is especially useful in moving the discussion of this issue away from a politicized and rather misleading focus on textbooks and other aspects of UNRWA curriculum, and instead refocusing it on issues of spatiality, shared experience, and social interaction. Rather than being significant for some sort of top-down inculcation of political attitudes and identities, UNRWA schools (and, by implication, the camps too) have served to facilitate a bottom-up formation of political views and attachments by the refugees themselves.

The full article is behind the Oxford Journals paywall and requires an individual or institutional subscription to the Journal of Refugee Studies for access. I will, however, take the liberty of quoting the concluding section at length, since it summarizes Shabaneh’s argument very nicely:

UNRWA schools, vocational training centres, teachers’ colleges, and academic programmes have played a central role in reconstructing Palestinian nationalism by bringing refuges together from historic Palestine under the common umbrella of education and shaping student identity through interaction with other students and teachers. Students across class and geographical backgrounds studied, ate, travelled, and conversed together at UNRWA schools, creating a sense of shared national identity and paving the way for subsequent generations of refugees to assemble, remember, and share the past as well as their hopes and aspirations for the future. UNRWA schools and camps not only protected Palestinians, but also enabled them to resist assimilation and integration into host countries, fostering a greater sense of distinctiveness among Palestinians across the Middle East.

Despite the geographical fragmentation imposed on Palestinians after 1948, they have reconstructed their identity and nationalism as they saw fit. Throughout UNRWA’s networks, refugees have stamped the camps with a Palestinian identity to protect themselves from melting into the cultures of any of the host countries in the last six decades. Through narratives, refugees provided their children and grandchildren with a history that they will never forget. Palestinian children understand what happened six decades ago. Second- and third-generation refugees will likely impart the same messages to their children, keeping the story of the Palestinian exodus from their homeland alive until a just and comprehensive solution is reached.

Although UNRWA is not solely responsible for reconstructing Palestinian nationalism, the agency played a major role in the development of Palestinian identity. Through its historical involvement as a relief agency, UNRWA succeeded in delineating spaces, sites, and places where all refugees, regardless of background or class, shared their experiences. Given this support, refugees resisted assimilation and integration and instead reconstructed their own tradition and with that their own national identity.

In March 2010 the Heinrich Böll Stiftung (a “political non-profit organization striving to promote democracy, civil society, equality and a healthy environment internationally,” linked to the German Green Party) held a conference on the Palestinian issue in Berlin.

The historic event of the formation of Israel had, however, far-reaching consequences not only for the Jewish people and the yishuv, the Jewish community in the British mandate territory of Palestine, but also for the Arab-Palestinian people. Around 800,000 Palestinians had to leave their home during the 1948-49 war either because they were driven out or forced to flee. 170,000 stayed in Israel, became citizens of Israel and, with approx. 1.3 million, have become a minority in the Jewish state over the last 60 years. Since then, the refugees of the Nakba (“catastrophe”) and their children have lived in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in the Arab states of the Middle East and scattered throughout the entire world. Their numbers are estimated to be at least 4 to 5 million. Their day-to-day realities could hardly be more different. 2.4 million have lived for more than 40 years under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, 1.4 million under Israeli siege in the Gaza Strip, millions more live in the countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria next to Israel. In 2008, the UNRWA counted a total of roughly 4.6 million Palestinian refugees (this figure was 914,000 in 1950). Only a small percentage has managed to integrate. Others have started new lives, most of them in the Arab Gulf states, in Europe and North and Latin America.

The geographic and social fragmentation of the Palestinian people is essentially a result of the conflict in the Middle East. But a wide variety of other change processes – economic, social, gender-specific, political – have affected the societal development of the Palestinians over the last few decades and shape the reality of their fragmented existence. Because the political-diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict are still dominated by the decades-long debate over a two-state solution which also finds its legitimacy under international law in the 1947 UN partition plan, it is time to take a closer look at the Palestinian people and their development, which is characterized by many contradictions, development over the last 60 years. Within the framework of a final status agreement, the goal will not just be to find a viable solution for the people living in the historic region of Palestine. The right of Palestinian refugees to return has been the subject of numerous UN resolutions. Thus, the extremely different realities of refugees will also be analyzed and their prospects for the future discussed.

Late last year the edited proceedings of that conference were published (in German). The volume contains contributions by leading experts on Palestinian and Middle East politics, and quite a few pieces on the Nakba, forced displacement, UNRWA and other refugee-related topics.

For those of you who read German, the full volume can be downloaded for free as a pdf here. For those who can’t, many of the original English-language conference papers can be found here.

h/t Michael Fischbach

Wikileaks: Jordan’s Palestinians

Posted: September 16, 2011 by Rex Brynen in Jordan, refugee attitudes, right of return, US

The recent release of the full Wikileaks collection of unredacted US diplomatic cables has generated political interest in Jordan, where some have claimed that the cables show evidence of a secret US plot to make Jordan into alternative Palestinian homeland. Particular attention has been directed to the notion of a “grand bargain” whereby Palestinians do not return to Palestine but instead are integrated into the Jordanian political system:

¶22. (C) A common theme that emerges from discussions with Palestinian-origin contacts and some government officials (although not necessarily East Bankers as a group) is a “grand bargain” whereby Palestinians give up their aspirations to return in exchange for integration into Jordan’s political system.  For East Bank politicians and regime supporters, this deal could help solve the assumed dual loyalty of Palestinians in Jordan.  For Palestinian-origin citizens, the compact would, ideally, close the book on their antagonistic relationship with the state and open up new opportunities for government employment and involvement in the political process.

¶23.  (C) “If we give up our right of return, they have to give us our political rights,” says Refai.  “In order for Jordan to become a real state, we have to become one people.”  Rantawi calls for a comprehensive peace process that would resolve issues of identity and rights for Palestinians in Jordan as part of the “package.”  This, he says, would require major reforms in Jordan, its transformation into a constitutional monarchy in which greater executive authority is devolved, and external pressure on the Government of Jordan to ensure that equal rights for Palestinians are enforced.

¶24.  (C) If a peace agreement fails to secure political rights for Palestinian-origin Jordanians as they define those rights, many of our contacts see the right of return as an insurance policy through which Palestinians would vote with their feet.  Refai asks: “If we aren’t getting our political rights, then how can we be convinced to give up our right of return?”  Palestinian-Jordanian Fuad Muammar, editor of Al-Siyasa Al-Arabiyya weekly, noted that in the past few years there has been a proliferation of “right of return committees” in Palestinian refugee camps.  This phenomenon, he said, reflected growing dissatisfaction with Jordanian government steps to improve their lot here and an increased focus on Palestine.

¶25.  (C) Comment:  Just because there is a logic to trading the right of return for political rights in Jordan does not mean that such a strategy is realistic, and it certainly will not be automatic.  There are larger, regime-level questions that would have to be answered before Palestinian-origin Jordanians could be truly accepted and integrated into Jordanian society and government. In the absence of a viable and functioning Palestinian state, those who are charged with protecting the current identity of the Jordanian state will be loath to consider measures that they firmly believe could end up bringing to fruition Jordan is Palestine – or “al-Watan al-Badeel.”  It is far from certain that East Bankers would be willing to give up the pride of place that they currently hold in a magnanimous gesture to their Palestinian-origin brethren.  Senior judge Al-Ghazo told us: “In my opinion, nothing will change in Jordan after the right of return.  East Bankers will keep their positions, and the remaining Palestinians will keep theirs.”  Likewise, none of our Palestinian contacts who saw a post-peace process environment as a necessary condition for their greater integration in Jordan offered a compelling case as to why it would be sufficient.

If you actually bother to read the cables, however, it is clear that there is no conspiracy at all, but rather some pretty solid and factual reporting by US Embassy staff on the private viewpoints of a range of Jordanian interlocutors of both East Bank and Palestinian origin. Indeed, the February 2008 cable quoted above (on “The Right of Return: What it Means in Jordan“) provides perhaps the best single short treatment I know of the topic in any language, drawing out the many tensions and nuances around the issue. It is controversial in Jordan partly because it highlights continuing discrimination against Palestinians, as well as the extent to which many Palestinian and Jordanian figures have come to view achievement of the “right of return” as improbable.

Uncomfortable truths no doubt—but truths nonetheless.

The US Embassy in Jordan also described (June 2004) Palestinian-Jordanian fears of an unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict and (August 2004) Palestinian-Jordanian criticism of King Abdullah. US diplomats provided some very solid reporting (May 2008) regarding Jordan’s measures to strip some Palestinian citizens of their citizenship, and a four part series of cables (June 20o8) describing the social and political dynamics of Palestinian refugee camps (here, here, here, and here)—among others.

Nothing in these cables should be particularly surprising to those who follow Jordanian politics. However, these are discussions that Jordanians usually have with friends, over coffee or dinner—and not in public forums where they are often considered far too sensitive for frank and substantive debate. I hope that the leak of the cables results in a more productive conversation within Jordan over the issue—and doesn’t harm any of those named in the cables who dared to share their honest views with foreign diplomats.

How do Palestinian refugee attitudes in the West Bank and Gaza vary from those of non-refugees? The answer, it is clear, is not much.

The most recent survey of Palestinian public opinion in the West Bank and Gaza by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research contains a question in which respondants are asked to select the two most vital Palestinian national goals from among a list of four. They were also asked to identify more immediate concerns. According the the PSR press release:

  • The largest percentage (48%) believes that the first most vital Palestinian goal should be to end Israeli occupation in the areas occupied in 1967 and build a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. By contrast, only 21% believe the first most vital goal should be to build a pious or moral individual and a religious society, one that applies all Islamic teachings, and only 20% believe that the first and most vital goal should be to obtain the right of return to refugees to their 1948 towns and villages, and only 11% believe that the first most vital goal should be to establish a democratic political system that respects freedoms and rights of Palestinians.
  • The largest percentage (39%) believes that the second most vital Palestinian goal should be to obtain the right of return to refugees to their 1948 towns and villages. By contrast, only 24% believe that the second most vital goal should be to end Israeli occupation in the areas occupied in 1967 and build a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital, 22% believe the second most vital goal should be to build a pious or moral individual and a religious society, one that applies all Islamic teachings, and 16% believe that the second and most vital goal should be to establish a democratic political system that respects freedoms and rights of Palestinians.
  • The most serious problem confronting Palestinian society today is the spread of poverty and unemployment in the eyes of 28% of the public while 26% believe the most serious problem is the absence of national unity due to the split, 24% believe the most serious problem is the continuation of occupation and settlement activities, 10% believe it to be the siege and the closure of the Gaza border crossings, and 10% believe it to be the corruption in some public institutions.

I thought it would be interesting to see to what extent opinion varied between refugee and non-refugees on these questions, so I asked PSR if I might obtain a more detailed breakdown. Efficient as ever —yes, that means you, Olfat—they emailed me back the crosstabs within hours.

First, on the question of the top national priority there are only minor differences between refugees and non-refugees, with the former slightly more likely to emphasize the right of return (see Figure 1 below). It should be noted, however, that both groups prioritize the establishment of a state in the 1967 borders over refugee return, but that both groups also think refugee return is important too.

Figure 1: Most vital Palestinian national goal

This survey therefore confirms what numerous other surveys have found—namely, that the attitudinal differences between refugees and non-refugees are relatively small. This also can be seen clearly in Figure 2 (below) which examines the importance placed on refugee return not only for refugees (versus non refugees), but also for refugee camp inhabitants (versus persons living in towns and villages or cities). All of these groups tend to make the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders their primary national goal and rank refugee return in second place, hence all of of the lines sloping upwards to the right. While there are differences between the subsamples, these differences can again be seen to be quite small.

Figure 2: First and second most vital national goals

These relatively small attitudinal differences hold true for other issues too—for example on more immediate concerns such as settlement activity, poverty, or national unity (Figure 3 below).

Figure 3: Identification of most important immediate issue

Once again, attitudinal data casts fundamental doubt upon the notion that UNRWA services are somehow responsible for “artificially” keeping the refugee issue alive. If this were true, there would be much larger differences between refugees (who get such services) and non-refugees (who don’t), as well as between refugee camp dwellers and others. Indeed, while the surveys aren’t compatible because different questions were asked, the priority placed on the right of return in the PSR polling in the occupied Palestinian territory seems very similar to the attitudes of Arab citizens of Israel reported the in recent Telhami poll of Israeli attitudes. The latter, of course, have never had anything to do with UNRWA.

A few analytical caveats might be in order. Forced choice questions (such as the “national goals” question) tend to structure responses in particular ways, don’t allow for non-specified issues to appear, nor do they necessarily explain how respondents would weight and trade off different objectives. Second, one can’t tell from simple crosstabs how much of the marginal “refugee effect” is from being a  refugee, versus other things (socioeconomic status, education, greater likelihood of living in Gaza) that may correlate with refugee status. Teasing out multivariate effects out requires more sophisticated statistical analysis than I’m going to do on Christmas eve, however. Were it to be undertaken I suspect that it might reduce the impact of refugee status still further.

Finally, an appeal to would-be graduate students out there. There is massive amount of rich attitudinal data available on Palestinians, especially those within the occupied territory. With a few exceptions, it is very under-utilized by researchers. I’m just saying—doing some statistically rigorous work on it would make a great PhD thesis. Hint, hint.

Refugee status and political attitudes

Posted: September 22, 2010 by Rex Brynen in refugee attitudes

One of the surprising things about research on the Palestinian politics is that although we have an unusually rich amount of data on Palestinian public attitudes, there has been surprisingly little sophisticated quantitative work done with this. Oh certainly, pollsters and analysts quote various poll results, and even do simple breakdowns of how attitudes appear to vary across social groups. However, they almost never do any robust multivariate or regression analysis to tease out what underlying variables have what significant effects. One major work that does Amaney Jamal’s excellent Barriers to Democracy, which combines quantitative analysis of survey data with a rich qualitative exploration of the complex effects of social capital in Palestine and the Arab world. Her book, however, remains very much an exception to the general rule.

The same holds true of data on Palestinian refugee attitudes. We have a great deal of data from the attitudinal and living conditions surveys done by PCPSR, NEC, JMCC, Fafo, and others. However, few analysts ask whether the relationships that appear in simple descriptions of the data are due to refugee status per se, or rather other variables like locale, socio-economic status, education, and so forth.

Because of that, I was particular pleased to get the following note from my McGill colleague Mayssun El-Attar. Mayssun recently authored a paper for the Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice entitled Could education promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?, in which she attempts to tease out the effects that education has on Palestinian attitudes to negotiation concessions and longer-term political reconciliation with Israel:

The goal of this paper is to measure Palestinians’ attitudes towards a peace process and their determinants. One novelty is to define these attitudes as multidimensional and to measure them carefully using a flexible item response model. Results show that education, on which previous evidence appears contradictory, has a positive effect on attitudes towards concessions but a negative effect on attitudes towards reconciliation. This could occur if more educated people, who currently have very low returns to education, have more to gain from peace but are less willing to reconcile because of resentment acquired due to their experience.

From that same data analysis Mayssun is also able to pull out some specific findings on the effects of refugee status, which she’s kindly offered for the PRRN blog. I’ve posted her email below, and emphasized her major findings: 1) controlling for other socio-economic and demographic characteristics, refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory are somewhat less willing to make concessions (although this effect is rather modest); and 2) refugee attitudes to reconciliation do not differ from those of other Palestinians.

As also she points out, there is much more that can be done in analyzing survey data of this sort, including out developing a more sophisticated understanding of what shapes attitudes (by refugees and non-refugees) to the refugee issue itself.

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Hi Rex,

I’ve been reading your blog and I would like to share some of my research results with you. I’ve been analyzing Palenstinians’ attitudes towards the peace process. I’m particularly interested in how attitudes differ across demographic groups.

There is a lot of information on Palestinians’ attitudes in a series of surveys conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR). The surveys contain many very precise questions on detailed issues like e.g. “After reaching a peace agreement between the Palestinian side and Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state, that is recognized by Israel, would you support opening borders to free movement of people and goods” and, under these same conditions of peace, “Would you invite an Israeli colleague to visit you in your home?”. This is a lot of detail, so I used some recent statistical techniques to create two indices: an individual’s attitude towards making concessions and the attitude towards reconciling with Israelis.

In my paper, I focus mainly on the role played by education. There has been quite some controversy about it in the previous literature. My findings shed some light on why these results appeared contradictory in previous work.

More related to your blog, I also find an interesting result about attitudes of refugees. Taking into account the effect of differences in family income, education and place of residence, refugees are less willing to make concessions. The difference to non-refugees is about as large as that for men (relative to women) or for people who attended only elementary school (relative to those with higher educational attainment); characteristics that are also associated with lower willingness to make concessions.

As one of the questions used to measure willingness to make concessions concerns the right of return of refugees, they might feel more directly personally affected by potential concessions. Whether the difference is only due to this one factor warrants further investigation.

Importantly, I also find that refugees’ attitudes towards reconciliation do not differ from those of other Palestinians. In contrast to this, women, more religious people or more educated people are less willing to reconcile. (Again, this result takes into account the effects of other differences such as family income.)

Differences between the attitudes of refugees and others thus appear only in some aspects of the peace process, and even there are not larger than those among other demographic groups. It would be interesting to investigate further which facets of the experience of being a refugee, which may also differ across refugees, contribute to their attitudes. There are data for doing this, so hopefully we will see more results soon.

Mayssun El-Attar