Refugees / Identity Issues:

Acknowledgement of Responsibility

Palestinians demand an Israeli acceptance of its practical and moral responsibility for creating the refugee problem, including acknowledgment of and apology for 1948 events. Israelis categorically reject that reading of history. Furthermore, any recognition of responsibility threatens to undermine the Israeli narrative by implying that Israel was founded “in sin,” and could also carry legal obligations to rectify the situation. These perspectives directly contradict each other, and thus far, creative formulas have failed to bridge the gap.

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In past negotiations, Israel has expressed willingness to acknowledge the suffering of Palestinian refugees, but not an Israeli role in that suffering. Israeli leaders have, however, agreed to contribute to an international fund for Palestinian refugees that could symbolically address, and perhaps substitute for, a recognition of responsibility. Polling suggests that Israelis might be willing to admit partial responsibility for the refugee situation, if Palestinians acknowledged their own role in rejecting the Partition Plan, or in fueling Palestinian terrorism. For their part, Palestinians have refused, as they see it, to find themselves responsible for their own tragedy. Another possible compromise could have Israel only acknowledge its role in prohibiting Palestinian refugees from returning after the war, as this is not in dispute. Ultimately, “constructive ambiguity” could allow both sides to accept language as consistent with their national narratives, without alienating the other side.

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