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The Palestinian Refugees: The Refugee Working Group

This working group focuses on the sensitive issue of Middle East refugees. Family reunification, training and job creation, public health, child welfare and social and economic infrastructure are among the subjects addressed by this forum. The underlying principle of this group is to improve the living conditions for refugees in their present location. The members of the refugee working group have reached an understanding on the appropriate frameworks for discussing various aspects of the Palestinian refugee problem, in accordance with the terms of the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles and the Israeli-Jordanian Common Agenda  signed in September 1993, as follows:

  • The question of the 1948 refugees will be discussed within the framework of the permanent status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

  • Modalities for the admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 will be decided by an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian-Egyptian committee.

  • The re-admission of former Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza who had overstayed their permits abroad will be discussed in the bilateral negotiations with Jordan.

The above understanding, achieved in Tunis at the fourth round of talks, enabled the working group to focus on the humanitarian aspects of the refugee issue -- family reunification and improving living conditions. In this context, Israel agreed to approve 2,000 family reunification requests annually, thus according permanent resident status to an additional 6,000 persons who had entered the territories as visitors. In a further humanitarian act, Israel has permitted a number of individuals deported in the early 1970's due to prior terrorist activities, to return to the territories, together with their families.

In the round of talks which took place in Cairo (May 1994), more concrete plans were developed to ensure a real and positive impact on the lives of the refugees. A substantial portion of the World Bank's emergency assistance program will be directed toward this effort. The following activities were agreed upon:

  • Human Resources and Development: Several countries including Israel, the US, the Netherlands, Germany, Turkey and China will be conducting courses for the refugees as follows: paramedic training, a drylands agricultural seminar, a public sector management training course, an animal health workshop, 'employment guaranteed' skills training program (to develop small and medium scale enterprises in Gaza and the West Bank), agricultural training, public health, community planning and education.

  • Child Welfare: Sweden has agreed to make available $2 million for child welfare programs. A conference on assistance to Palestinian children in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring countries will also be convened.

  • Social and Economic Infrastructure: The U.S. is providing aid to develop housing facilities and rehabilitation for refugees in Syria and Lebanon.

  • Public Health: A regional laboratory is to be established in one of the West Bank cities in order to compliment a Medical center already in place.

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry