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Israel Outlines Its Policy on Arab Refugees at United Nations Assembly

December 1, 1959
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Israel today reiterated before the United Nations previous offers to pay compensation to the Arab refugees “even before the achievement of a final peace settlement or the solution of other outstanding problems,” providing international assistance were available.

At the same time, Michael S. Comay, deputy chairman of the Israel delegation, addressing the General Assembly’s Special Political Committee in the Arab refugee debate, repeated that Israel “is prepared immediately to enter into negotiations with the Arab governments directly or indirectly” not only regarding the refugee problem but also “for an overall and final settlement of all outstanding differences.”

Mr. Comay’s statement was the first formal enunciation of Israel’s policy regarding the Arab refugees in the Committee debate which entered its fourth week today. After surveying the “historical perspective” of the Arab-Israel conflict which resulted in the refugee problem, Mr. Comay told the Committee that Israel has given serious consideration to the insistence by the Arab states that the refugees be given “free choice” between repatriation and compensation.

“In considering whether to permit any refugees to return,” Mr. Comay stated, “the Government of Israel must obviously have regard to the situation as a whole, including such factors as the state of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the attitude toward Israel of the refugees themselves, security consideration, and the basic social and economic problems.

“This is for us not merely a question of jurisprudence, but an intensely practical one. Is it seriously contended that 40 percent of the citizens of Jordan, who have accepted complete allegiance to a hostile state and its laws and policies, have a right to march across the Israel-Jordan border and enter Israel at their own private option?”

Stressing that the refugees have been employed by the Arab states for military purposes against Israel, and recalling that Palestinian fedayeen had been trained “for murder and sabotage” by the Egyptian army, and operated under Egyptian army command, Mr. Comay asked: “Is this alleged right of free choice vested in refugees who have been trained to fight against Israel, or who may be formed into an army to be used in a ‘second round’ against Israel?”


Turning to the question of Israel’s contribution to a solution of the refugee problem, Mr. Comay said: “Whatever Israel can constructively contribute, it will contribute–but the basic solution lies in the Arab lands and not in Israel.” He referred to the offer made in August 1955 by the late United States Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to help obtain international funds to aid Israel to pay compensation to refugees entitled to such compensation.

“If a solution of the refugee problem by integration in Arab lands were actually carried out, and if the international assistance offered in 1955 were available, Israel would be prepared to pay compensation, even before the achievement of a final peace settlement, or the solution of other outstanding problems,” he declared.

Mr. Comay pointed out, however, that, infixing the level of compensation by Israel, “it would be necessary to take into account Jewish property in areas such as the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Jewish villages in the Jerusalem and Hebron districts; as well as the claims of Israel’s citizens in respect of property left behind in various Arab countries.”

The Israel delegate added the warning, however, that “the implementation of this compensation offer is bound to be affected by economic warfare carried out against Israel by the countries whose residents would be the claimants of compensation.”

“Nobody need doubt Israel’s will to peace,” Mr. Comay stressed. “It gives no satisfaction to be walled in by hostility, and cut off from our immediate environment. But the peace will not be the peace of the grave. We are sometimes told that Israel might bring peace nearer if we weakened our country by amputating its territory, or by opening our borders to persons who opposed our statehood at its inception, and feel no possible allegiance towards it today. It is inconceivable that any government of Israel would be elected to office on such a mandate. What is more, it is inconceivable to us that any other country would behave any differently, if its situation were similar to ours.”

Concluding his address, Mr. Comay told the Committee: “We repeat that Israel is prepared immediately to enter into negotiations for an overall and final settlement of all outstanding differences. If the time is not yet ripe for that, we are prepared to negotiate such measures as would relax tension and reduce the danger of another conflict, including a non-aggression pact, and an agreed regional scheme for disarmament, under suitable conditions of control and inspection.

“In any event, we are prepared to negotiate with the Arab governments concerned, regarding the refugee problem, to the extent that a solution of that problem depends on agreement between these Arab governments and ourselves. But it takes two sides to negotiate, and the question is one of basic willingness and not of finding channels of communication.”

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