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Tuesday, 18 July, 2000, 19:02 GMT 20:02 UK
Refugees: No place like home
Rafah refugee camp in Gaza
Right of return is a creed passed down the generations
By Barbara Plett in Damascus

Palestinian refugees are watching the Middle East summit with a mixture of anxiety and cynicism.

The meeting may decide their fate after decades of living in camps waiting to go home.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to leave in 1948 when Israel was created and again in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

A refugee camp in Lebanon
Lebanon's camps are home to some 350,000 Palestinians
Their numbers have now swollen to four million, and leaks from the closed talks at Camp David suggest they will get money rather than the right to return.

It has become a sacred trust, a creed passed from generation to generation - this belief in the right of return.

Old men in Lebanese refugee camps still keep the keys to the front doors of the houses they left 50 years ago; young women who have grown up in Jordan say their home is Palestine.

Living conditions

Some 2.5 million Palestinians are listed as refugees with the United Nations, most of whom live in camps located in Arab states or the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Another 1.5 million displaced people are unregistered.

Living conditions vary between countries. Jordan gives the refugees citizenship, while Lebanon refuses them access to some 60 professions.

Bitterness

Palestinian refugee in the West Bank
A brighter future for the next generation?
With bitterness the Palestinians have watched new Jewish immigrants welcomed into Israel, while they are denied this right of return.

Israel does not accept any moral or material responsibility for the refugee problem, arguing that it is the fault of the Arab states who fought in the wars of 1948 and 1967.

Before leaving for the summit, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, said he would never agree to let the refugees back.

Leaks in Israeli newspapers citing unofficial American documents, suggest a compromise is under discussion.

"The Iraq option"

It is reported that Israel would acknowledge the right of return in principle, but only accept a token number of refugees.

The rest would be resettled outside Israel with money from the US and other western countries.

It is not clear where they would go. Lebanon has said it will not keep its refugees, while Jordan has said it will not take any more.

Arab papers have been reporting for months that Iraq will accept some as part of a deal to help it shake off its pariah status.

Whatever the solution, it will not satisfy many Palestinians, who may lose their refugee status without gaining their homeland.

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See also:

17 Jul 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Paying for peace
14 Jul 00 | Middle East
Analysis: The bottom line
17 Jul 00 | Media reports
Fears raised over refugees' return
02 Jul 00 | Middle East
Palestinian statehood 'irreversible'
08 Mar 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Arafat's other Palestine
15 May 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Why Palestinians are angry
29 May 00 | Middle East
Palestinians reach across divide
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