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Refugees / Practical Issues:

Residency and Citizenship

Any resolution of the refugee issue will likely provide a pathway to permanent residence or citizenship, thus ending the refugees’ stateless status. Giving refugees a sense of choice in determining their place of residence would also be important to a population that perceives itself as having been denied that agency for decades.

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Chart and map showing current demographic spread. Numbers refer to total registered persons (RP) according to UNRWA figures, January 2017.


One option would be to repatriate refugees to exercise self-determination in the new Palestinian state. Of symbolic significance to some refugees could be the possibility of repatriating to territory that had been part of Israel-proper, but would be traded to the new Palestinian state in a land-swap, as part of a final-status agreement (see borders chapter). Although all Palestinians, in theory, could have the right to citizenship in the Palestinian state, there is a risk that rapid immigration to the new state could pose great strain on its economy and viability.


Illustration of borders with 3% Land swaps 


In past negotiations, Israeli and Palestinian representatives debated a limited return of Palestinian refugees into Israel. This issue is most contentious due to the Israeli concern that Palestinian immigration could upend Israel’s demographic balance and threaten its future as a Jewish state. Therefore, Israel has demanded an upper limit, to heavily constrain the magnitude of refugee return and avoid any long-term or open-ended commitment. However, for the Palestinians, any number, especially if it is too low, might conflict with the principle of giving Palestinians a choice in exercising the right of return. In practice, Israeli negotiators have hardened their positions over time, from agreeing to absorb 40,000 refugees in 2001, to lower numbers in 2008, and ultimately, rejecting any absorption today. Palestinian positions have also varied over the rounds of negotiation, between 80,000 and 300,000.


Other options raised over the years include setting an annual rate of refugee return for an indefinite period (which was rejected by Israel), or a link between the number of refugees to Israel and the number of refugees resettled in third countries. Still, others have proposed linking the number of refugees absorbed by Israel to the number of Israeli settlers who could be permitted to remain in the new Palestinian state. Some suggest that there is currently a narrow window of opportunity for compromise — so long as a few thousand original Palestinian refugees still live.


An Israeli recognition of the right of return for first-generation refugees born before 1948 could provide a meaningful resolution of the refugee issue — indeed, an unprecedented breakthrough — without jeopardizing Israel’s Jewish majority. Lastly, there is disagreement over how to characterize refugee absorption to Israel — Palestinians demand the symbolic terminology of ‘return,’ while Israel insists on language of ‘humanitarian gestures’ and ‘family reunification.’ Negotiators have explored how ambiguity in agreement language could help bridge differences, though it could prove counterproductive once the agreement were subject to public debate.



A solution to the Palestinian refugee issue would likely offer integration for refugees living in third countries who choose to remain, contingent on approval from their host countries. As many refugees currently live in refugee camps, significant funding would likely be needed integrate them as permanent residents, especially in terms of housing, employment, infrastructure, education, and health. Such a plan could be part of a broader economic development initiative in the region. Notably, Lebanon and Syria, which have hosted nearly 20 percent of Palestinian refugees over time, have strongly opposed permanent integration of their refugee populations.


Another important component would be resettlement in countries that would be willing to take in refugees as permanent residents or citizens. 

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Future resettlement based on analysis by the Aix Group (option 1)

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