An Israeli professor has claimed that the Palestinian refugee problem could be solved within the framework of the current negotiations. Elisha Efrat from the University of Tel Aviv said that Israel could accommodate 160,000 refugees within the land occupied by the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
According to Haaretz newspaper, Professor Efrat’s research study suggests that the number of actual refugees is “exaggerated”. The figure he mentions is the number of refugees who could be recognised by Israel and absorbed relatively easily in the context of their legal right of return. “Until today,” he claims, “we don’t have accurate data about the number of refugees who have the right to return, or who is recognised as a refugee.” This is disputed by Palestinian groups and millions more are recognised by the UN as bona fide refugees.
Efrat proposes that refugees could be accommodated in the Arab residential areas within Israel, especially in towns with more than 5,000 inhabitants, which he says would have the infrastructure necessary to handle such a large additional population. “It would not be necessary to establish new towns to assimilate the refugees, except in two places: Akerit and Burom in the upper Galilee,” he said. “They were depopulated during the war of 1948 when the authorities broke their promise to allow their residents to return after the war ended.” He does not envisage refugees being allowed to stay in the “mixed” cities, such as Jerusalem, Haifa, Lod and Ramle, as that could “increase the tension” between Arabs and Jews.
The professor added that there are only 12 Arab towns with a population in excess of 5,000 people. He named Umm al-Fahm, al-Taiba, al-Tira, Tamra, Kafr Qassem, al-Maghar, Sakhnin, Araba and Shafa Omar as the places where the refugees could be accommodated.