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Israeli Leaders Hear Plan to Rehabilitate Arab Refugees

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A fairly detailed proposal for unilateral efforts by Israel to rehabilitate Arab refugees was presented to the Labor Alignment’s Knesset faction last night by Dov Zakin of Mapam. Eight Cabinet ministers, including Premier Golda Meir, listened attentively to the plan. At the end, the faction decided to refer the proposals to one of the Labor Party’s forums for further consideration. None of the ministers present would comment afterwards on the substance of Zakin’s plan.

But the fact that it was given a hearing by top level government officials was regarded as significant. Israel’s official line hitherto has been that a solution of the refugee problem must await a general political settlement with the Arab states. Coalition party members have been tacitly forbidden to even broach the subject of unilateral Israeli action on the refugees pending an overall settlement of the Middle East dispute.

Zakin’s scheme was aimed at inducing refugees to leave their camps and move to urban areas on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli government would offer them incentives in the form of funds raised from Israeli and foreign sources to open shops and other business enterprises. Zakin estimated that the scheme would cost $10-$15 million initially.

He proposed that cheap housing be provided in the urban areas along with social and medical services that would outweigh the advantages of living in camps. At the same time, he said, the refugees would be assured that their move would not entail forfeiture of their refugee status and the United Nations aid that goes with it.

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