Former Palestinian Official Says Israel Offered to Absorb 200,000 Refugees

YERUSHALAYIM -

Israel agreed to absorb 200,000 Palestinian refugees during failed negotiations in the second half of 2000, a former senior Palestinian official told The Times of Israel in an exclusive report.

Mohammed Dahlan, one-time leader of Fatah in the Gaza Strip and a Palestinian negotiator under Yasser Arafat, claims that the Israeli offer was made during the premiership of Ehud Barak in the period between the failed Camp David summit in July 2000 and the Clinton Parameters for a final status agreement in December of that year.

The refugee issue remains one of the intractables of any final-stage peace agreement, as the Palestinians have so far refused to compromise on their maximalist demands.

Dahlan’s statement was the first report of such a far-reaching Israeli concession on the question of refugees. Dahlan,  who has been living in Dubai for the past two years, was in Brussels speaking to members of the European Parliament.

Documents leaked by Al-Jazeera in 2011 revealed that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert agreed during talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in August 2008 that Israel would absorb 5,000 Palestinians over a five-year period, “on a humanitarian basis.”

Former Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin said in March that the gap between Israel and the Palestinians on the refugee issue was large in 2008, with the Palestinians demanding that Israel accept 100,000 refugees, but he described it as “not unbridgeable.”

He dismissed as naïve and “based on emotions rather than on a realistic assessment of the negotiating sides” expectations by Secretary of State John Kerry of reaching a comprehensive deal within nine months. He estimated that the current round of peace talks had “zero chance of success.”

The only possible solution, Dahlan argued, would be the imposition of an agreement from outside, with the United States pressuring Israel to compromise and the Arab League pressuring the Palestinians.