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Reviewed by:
  • The Future for Palestinian Refugees
  • Paul Rivlin
The Future for Palestinian Refugees, by Michael Dumper. Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner, 2007. 233 pp. $55.00.

This book explores solutions for the Palestinian refugees. It claims that "the study is an argument against the exceptionalism of the Palestinian-Israeli case," suggesting that measures that have been used elsewhere can be used to help solve this issue (p. 3). There are chapters on the causes of the problem; international practice; the options of local integration, resettlement and repatriation; the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA); reparations; truth, justice, and reconciliation. The book contains a wealth of information and commentary, three maps, and seven statistical tables.

Dumper suggests that the root of the problem is the Palestinian claim for justice or "completeness" as he calls it and the Israeli claim for an exclusively Jewish state. The Jewish demand is not the mirror image of the Palestinian one because the "Palestinians are not seeking an exclusively Arab, or Muslim and Christian state" (p. 5). This assertion is over-simplistic to the point of being untrue. Hamas, which won the last Palestinian elections, does seek an Arab or Muslim state and does not accept that the Jews have any rights in the Middle East. Other Palestinians, including Fatah, have conditionally accepted Israel's right to exist but only in recent years after nearly one hundred years of conflict.

Dumper's history of the conflict is inaccurate and biased. He states that the Balfour declaration was issued by the British prime minister; in fact it was issued by the British foreign secretary (p. 23). He claims that the UN General [End Page 164] Assembly decision of November 1947 to partition Palestine was "the catalyst for a civil war in Palestine" without mentioning Jewish acceptance of the resolution and Arab rejection. He makes no mention of the Peel Commission's Report of 1937 that was also rejected by the Arabs and accepted by the Jews as a basis for discussion. Blame is nearly always placed on one side. One clear example is this: "The radical Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) was elected as the new PNA government on a platform that does not recognize Israel or any of the agreements signed hitherto. The refusal of Israel or the Quartet (emphasis added) to countenance any dealings with the new government has caused a crisis in the peace process and possibly its temporary demise" (p. 34). Hamas does not concern itself with refugee issues: it demands Islamic justice which precludes any Jewish presence in what it considers to be Muslim land. Yasser Arafat often emphasized Islamic motifs and de-emphasized refugee issues that were much closer to Abu Mazan's heart.

Dumper's treatment of the role of the United Nations is uncritical. Hence he states that UNRWA, which deals with Palestinian Refugees, was not involved in permanent solutions while the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which works in other parts of the world, is involved in trying to find permanent solutions. This is a crucial issue that has played a major if not the major role in the history of the refugees, but Dumper has nothing to say about why such a distinction was made in the functioning of these two UN refugee bodies and what the implications have been. This is one of the major failings of the book.

In the chapter on Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Dumper asks, "Are we willing to establish a collective narrative on what happened to Palestine [reviewer's comment: note the choice of the word "to" rather than "in"] in 1948 and hence a basis for a solution to the refugee issue? Or are we attempting to accommodate Zionism and thus recognition of Israel as a Jewish state living alongside a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?" (p. 180). The impression given is that the former is preferred over the latter because of Zionism's and Israel's original sin.

Most of the quotations in the book come from Arab writers and a smaller number from Israelis who are critical of the Zionist enterprise. One of these quotations cannot be...


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pp. 164-166
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