U.N. Body Reports on Arab Refugees; Studied Repatriation, Resettlement

The Palestine Conciliation Commission today submitted a report to the United Nations General Assembly on the Arab refugee problem, indicating that it studied not only the question of repatriation of the refugees to Israel, but also their “resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation,” in accordance with a resolution adopted by the Assembly in 1948. Resettlement and integration of the Arab refugees in the Arab lands is the central point studiously avoided by all the Arab delegations.

The PCC had been instructed by the Assembly last April to report not later than October 15 what progress, if any, had been made toward implementation of one clause in a long Assembly resolution adopted in 1948. The clause pointed to by the Arab delegations dealt only with repatriation of the refugees or their compensation.

In its report today, the Commission cited not only that section of the relevant 1948 clause, but also the section immediately following, in which the Palestine Conciliation Commission was ordered “to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation.”

In the report, the Commission informed the Assembly formally that it had sent to the Middle East Dr. Joseph E. Johnson, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as a special representative. Dr. Johnson, the report emphasizes, had conferred “at the highest level and with senior officials and experts” of Israel, the four Arab states involved, the Secretary General of the Arab League, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, and members of the UNRWA advisory commission.

“Since his return from the Middle East,” the report continued, “Dr. Johnson has been holding further conversations with representatives of the host countries and Israel. (The ‘host’ countries where the refugees reside are Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.) These conversations are continuing. All of the officials with whom he has talked, both in the Middle East and since his return to Headquarters, have received him in a friendly manner, manifested a deep interest in seeking progress, and given him their views freely and frankly.”

SEES POSSIBILITIES FOR PRACTICAL STEPS TO DEAL WITH REFUGEE PROBLEM

The report then implies that, so far, Dr. Johnson has not yet been able to get agreement between Israel and the Arab states on the refugee question, but holds out the hope that the Commission may be able to report “progress” soon. The Commissions report stated:

“While declaring that it was not yet possible to submit firm conclusions, Dr. Johnson informed the Commission that high officials of the host countries and of Israel had expressed the view that it might be possible to take practical steps with regard to the refugee problem without prejudice to the positions of the governments on other aspects of the ‘Palestine question.’ While it clearly would not be possible at this stage to develop an acceptable set of detailed proposals, the Commission hopes, in the light of Dr. Johnson’s report, to be able to make suggestions in the near future with respect to methods of procedure that might lead to progress on the refugee question.”

After reporting briefly on other activities, such as Israel’s release of Arab refugee bank accounts, the Commission in today’s report added a paragraph considered by observers here as highly significant. In this paragraph, the PCC calls the attention of Assembly delegations to two “working papers” issued several years ago dealing with “The Question of Reintegration by Repatriation or Resettlement” and “The Question of Compensation.” Thus the Commission bolstered the view that repatriation of the refugees is not the only possible solution, and that reintegration and resettlement must also be considered, as Israel has constantly demanded.

No indication was given as to when a further PCC report indicating “progress on the refugee question” may be expected. The Assembly’s Special Political Committee has placed the Arab refugee question next to the last item on its agenda so that it may not be reached until late November or early December. It was presumed here today that a further report from the PCC on the refugee issue may be filed before the committee debate is begun.

Regarding the Commission’s other activities, the PCC reported that it is continuing with its work of identification and evaluation of refugee property in Israel. The task is a vast one, according to the Commission, involving approximately 450,000 parcels of land.

COMMISSION REPORTS ON ISRAEL’S RELEASE OF ARAB REFUGEE BANK ACCOUNTS

In connection with Arab refugee bank accounts in Israel, formerly blocked but now unfrozen by the Israel Government, the Commission reported that “as of June 30, 1961, there had been released (by Israel) a total of 2,790,045 pounds sterling of the accounts of refugees and absentee owners.”

According to the Commission, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Republic have now agreed to permit refugees in their areas to withdraw those accounts through Barclays Bank and negotiations with the new Syrian Arab Republic on this issue are underway. “It is expected that the release operation will start in the near future,” the Commission reported.

The Commission also reported that many refugee account holders have so far failed to apply for funds due them. According to the Commission, the Arab states agreed in 1956 to permit refugees to apply for the unfrozen funds but so far this agreement “remains unimplemented.” The Commission asserted in its report that its help to refugees for obtaining these funds “remains available.”

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