CNN has recently shown footage from inside a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon - which makes for grim viewing. The interviewer said the people were living in sub-human conditions within the camps, and it was clear that if anything, that is an understatement.
The Arab League has taken the refugee disaster into account when it unanimously endorsed the revival of Saudi King Abdullah's 2002 Arab peace initiative. The League, at its summit meeting on March 28-29, also issued a joint statement calling on Israel to accept the terms of the initiative, which contains a reference to U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 stipulating all Palestinian refugees be granted a return to their homes. Those not wanting to return should be given suitable compensation.
Israel will not accept this. Therefore, in its original form the initiative will always present an impasse. The initiative also talks of finding a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. Among the solutions fielded is allowing the refugees to return to the territories which would become a Palestinian state if the initiative were agreed upon - and again, giving compensation for the lives they were not allowed to live. This seems to present a solution but it is never elaborated: no figures are mentioned and no guarantees are given. This needs to be done if Palestinian negotiators are to take the initiative’s chances of achieving an agreement seriously, and not only on the refugee issue, but every issue covered by the initiative
The initiative offers Israel a sweet deal, in return for a full withdrawal from territories occupied after the 1967 war, the creation of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, and full right of return or suitable compensation for all refugees. The normalization of relations would be a fundamental benefit that Israel would get - which means full recognition of the Jewish state by all states in the Arab League, i.e., practically all Arab states. This is something which hadn't been on the table before it was offered at the Beirut Arab League summit in 2002. For states which have never had anywhere close to normalized relations with Israel - most notably Syria and Lebanon - this is understandably a hard pill to swallow and something they will not do easily.
The refugee issue is a sore point for both sides. Palestinians, even in the current generation, are understandably angry at Israel forcing their brethren off family or ancestral land and into squalor. No Palestinian negotiator will accept any agreement that does not make up for the denial of a potentially good life and years of sub-human conditions that Palestinian refugees have been forced to endure. This issue has the potential to destroy the chances of the Saudi initiative to bring peace and every future negotiation.