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An Exchange of Populations

- Abstract

MORE THAN sixty million persons have become refugees since World War II. Of these, most have been resettled and rehabilitated in the countries to which they fled, seeking asylum. Indeed, the world community has long considered the resettlement and integration of refugees in their host countries to be a moral obligation of the highest order, and this understanding has been embodied in international law. Except after military victory, there have been no instances of the successful mass repatriation of any refugee group once it has become absorbed in its host country.

The one striking exception to the general rule is the situation of the Arab refugees in the Middle East. The Arabs who left Palestine during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948-49 have to this day not been resettled or rehabilitated in the Arab countries to which they fled. On the contrary, the Arab states have refused to absorb or integrate their brethren into their respective societies; instead they have made the “restoration” of the “legitimate rights” of these refugees-namely, their repatriation to Jewish Palestine in a position of sovereignty they never previously enjoyed-the central demand in their confrontation with Israel: the “heart of the matter.” This demand runs counter to all historical precedent and the universal present-day practice of mankind, yet it seems to have the approval and endorsement of a majority of the world community.

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