Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denied reports he had agreed to a compromise with the Palestinian Authority on the issue of return of refugees. The Israel newspaper, Haaretz, reported that under the compromise,20,000 Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return each year over a ten year period. Some would enter under provisions of reuniting families. Olmert’s office stated bluntly: “The prime minister never offered to absorb 20,000 refugees in israel. The prime minister reiterates that under any future agreement, there will not be any return of Palestinian refugees to Israel in any number.” Sources for the original claim there was an agreement said Olmert had agreed the absorption would be based on a humanitarian basis and according to a formula to be determined in advance. The Haaretz story said any such return would be conditioned on the Palestinian Authority giving up the general concept of a “right of return.”
The proposal makes sense and appears to be a fair and equitable compromise about a rather complex issue. Israel has repeatedly taken firm stands which may come across as a show of force, but, invariably make peace efforts more difficult to attain. Surely, absorbing 20,000 refugees a year is within the capability of Israel and it would indicate to Palestinians a willingness to compromise on a key issue. Until Israel grasps the importance of compromise its continued “firmness” only makes firm the inability to achieve peace.