The Palestinian refugee issue is one of the largest and longest-standing unresolved situations of forced displacement in the world today. Millions of Palestinians have been displaced since the beginning of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict while repeated efforts to craft durable solutions for them have largely succumbed to failure. This paper examines the potential role of refugees themselves in finding solutions to their unresolved plight focusing, in particular, on the emerging understanding of peace negotiations as comprising a domain for political participation entailing a concomitant right to take part. Drawing upon developments in recent decades relating to the role of democracy and international law in the regulation and resolution of armed conflict, generally, and in the negotiation of durable solutions for refugees, in particular, the paper offers an alternative paradigm that puts refugees themselves at the center of efforts to resolve their long-standing plight.
The paper begins with an overview of the circumstances of Palestinian displacement and the various categories of Palestinian refugees and displaced persons. Challenging the misconception that Palestinian displacement stems solely from the two major wars of 1948 and 1967, the premise of the first section is that for a solution to be durable, it should be inclusive and address the situation of all refugees and displaced persons. The second section provides an overview of the three main periods of official negotiations (1948 to the present) tracing shifts in key features - frameworks, third party mediation, participants and positions. In contrast to other studies, however, the paper highlights the unique role played by refugees themselves. Section three briefly discusses emerging principles governing refugee participation in the negotiation of durable solutions. The conclusion argues that while such participation has yet to be codified as a treaty right, instrumental benefits of participation nevertheless appear to militate in favour of the inclusion of refugees in negotiations to resolve their plight.