UNITED NATIONS CONCILIATION COMMISSION FOR PALESTINE
PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS FOR THE COMMISSION'S FUTURE
ACTIVITIES IN CONNEXION WITH COMPENSATION
(Working paper prepared by the Secretariat)
1. The practical work to be done divides itself into two 'branches:
2. To complete the operation of payment of compensation the work in both branches will eventually have to be done; but the two are independent in the sense that one can be done without the other.
3. Dealing first with the global assessment, it seems fair to say that the parties, primarily concerned are the Government of Israel and the refugees. The Arab States are not concerned except in so far as they can claim to represent the refugees; but, there is no evidence that the latter desire representation by the former. So far as compensation for abandoned property is concerned, the basic relationship between the Government of Israel and the refugees is a-simple one of debtor and creditor.
4. Because of the political situation, the refugees are unable to pursue their claims themselves. They have no more invited the Conciliation Commission to represent them than they have invited the Arab States. Nevertheless, the General Assembly's resolution 394 (V) of 14 December 1950, which directed the Commission to set up a Refugee Office, may be construed as imposing an obligation on the Commission in this connexion, and it behooves it to consider how it could intervene so as to establish a compensation figure which would be accepted by both the Israel Government and the refugees.
5. It is important that this figure should be established quickly because, although Israel has not the means of payment at present, the situation may change rapidly. Israel is pursuing a claim against the West German Government for compensation for Jewish property of which the owners cannot be traced. The amount of this claim is many times the amount of any possible claim by the Arabs against Israel. Press reports indicate that the claim is likely to be at least partly successful. World Jewish opinion would be likely to favour the use of funds thus obtained for the purchase of Arab land in the National Home of the Jewish people or, in other words, for the payment of compensation for abandoned refugee property.
6. The Commission's Refugee Office made a global evaluation of the abandoned immovable property. Every effort was made to be impartial and the figure arrived at contains no "margin for negotiation". The figure was disclosed to the Arab and Israel delegations at the Paris Conference; and a summary of the methods by which it was arrived at was published in the Commission's progress report to the General Assembly. Despite this publicity the figure has not been publicly and seriously criticized by either party. At the same time it has not bees accepted by either party.
7. At the Paris Conference the Israel delegation, reaffirming that it was ready to contribute to the settlement of the question of abandoned Arab property, suggested that concrete discussions on the question of evaluation should be held immediately with the Commission or with any other United Nations body designated for the purpose. To ignore this suggestion might well bring the Commission under fire from both Arab and Jewish delegations at the next session of the General Assembly.
8. The Israel delegation qualified its offer to discuss the question by saying that the following factors should be borne in mind:
Neither (b) nor (c) is relevant to the valuation of the abandoned Arab property, and as regards (a) the expert committee appointed by the Israel Foreign Ministry to discuss the question of condensation with the Commission's Refugee Office agreed that the property should be valued according to its condition on 29 November 1947.
9. Israel has agreed on the principle of its liability for compensation. It remains to get its agreement on the amount of its liability. The first step in this connexion is to get its agreement on the value of the property to be compensated. The question of what amounts should be set off against this value to arrive at the amount of Israel's net liability logically comes later.
10. But it would be of little use to agree with Israel on a value unless the figure were arrived at in such a way that the refugees could accept it, or unless it could be demonstrably shown that they ought to accept it. An attempt should therefore be made to associate the refugees with the determination of any figure which might be established. At the Paris Conference the delegate of Egypt stated in regard to the question of the procedure to be adopted for the evaluation of refugee property: "Secondly, the refugees must be represented during the different stages of this operation for the purpose of seeing that their interests are protected and giving the benefit of their experience to the United Nations bodies entrusted with the operation".
11. As already mentioned elsewhere, it is unlikely that the refugees could elect a representative or representatives. The Conciliation Commission should therefore aim at setting up a mixed technical committee on which would serve a land expert or experts nominated by the Israel Government; a similar expert or experts of unquestionable qualifications and integrity selected from among the refugees by the Commission; and a neutral, technical chairman appointed by the Commission. The sole task of the committee would be to determine the value of the abandoned Arab property in Israel. This accomplished, the committee might be authorized to proceed to the valuation of the abandoned Jewish property in Jordan.
12. It would be necessary to insist that the members of the committee should be technically qualified in land valuation. It is to be hoped that the Israel Government would nominate Mr. M. Ellman, the Chief Valuer, who is attached to the Ministry of Justice; and a tactful suggestion might be made to this effect, since Mr. Ellman is an obvious choice. From among the refugees the Commission should appoint Mr. S. Hadawi who is now the Director of Land Taxation in the Jordan Government. The chairman should be the Commission's own Land Specialist, It is almost certain that a committee thus composed could reach agreement. The Commission might feel, however, that it had to appoint Mr. Tannous on the Arab side, since the General Assembly heard this gentleman on behalf of the refugees. In that case, Mr. Hadawi should be appointed as well, since, if the Arab side were represented solely by Mr. Tannous, it is unlikely that agreement would be reached. If there were two representatives on the Arab side there would have to be two on the Israel side, and Dr. Joseph Weitz, Head of the Land and Forestry Department of the Jewish National Fund, is suggested as a suitable second member. Of course, the Israel Government would be free to nominate anyone it liked, provided only that he was technically qualified.
13. The Commission would have to decide whether it would ask the Israel Government to accept in advance the findings of the Committee in the event of their being unanimous. Alternatively it might leave acceptance to the power of moral suasion, since it would be difficult for the Government to repudiate the unanimous findings of a committee on which its own nominees had served. 14. The setting up of such a committee would obviously involve complicated negotiations, which could best be carried on by a representative of the Commission on the spot. It is suggested that in the first instance the Commission should address a communication to the Israel representative to the United Nations to the effect that the Commission has been giving careful consideration to the suggestion made by the Israel delegate at the Paris Conference; that it welcomes the suggestion but feels that the refugees should be associated with any discussions which may take place; that it considers that the best results are likely to be achieved if the discussions are held on a technical level and are confined at first to the question of the value of the abandoned Arab property; and that if the Government agrees, the Commission is prepared to send a "representative to Palestine to make arrangements for such discussions and to take part in them. An early reply should be requested.
15. Alternatively the Commission might address a communication to the Israel delegate informing him that it has given careful consideration to the suggestion made in Paris, and is sending a representative to Palestine to hear the views of the Government on the form which such discussions should take, to represent the views of the Commission thereon and to make such practical arrangements as may be agreed upon. In any case it is important that the suggestion for discussion should not simply be ignored.
16. Turning now to the question of the individual assessment of compensation it is obvious that this is work which will have to be done before compensation can be paid. It is equally obvious that it will take time, possibly several years. It is inconceivable that the United Nations, whose resolution on the partition of Palestine was primarily responsible for the plight in which the refugees now find themselves, will in the long run allow the refugees to go uncompensated for the property of which they have been deprived. It is true that the funds for paying compensation are not at present available, but that is a situation which may change at any time. If the start of the work is postponed until after the necessary funds have become available the Commission may be charged with unnecessarily delaying payment, and in the meanwhile many of the beneficiaries may die or be reduced to despair.
17. The starting of the work, even on a small scale, would give a valuable fillip to the morale of the refugees. Furthermore, the Arabs will often go to great lengths to exploit a "nuisance value". Whilst they remain refugees they have such a nuisance value, which some of them feel they can exploit to compel payment of compensation. They would be unlikely to abandon this bargaining position by accepting settlement elsewhere if they had the slightest suspicion that compensation would be dropped. On the other hand, if they felt that compensation was being actively pursued, they would be so much the more likely to accept resettlement.
18. It would be preferable that all the work connected with the individual assessment of compensation should be handled by a separate organization responsible only to the Conciliation Commission (e.g. a modified and expanded Refugee Office), but much of the work, such as the distribution and collection of questionnaires, the publication of notices, etc. would be of a mechanical and routine nature, for which the machinery already exists in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Many of the refugees who were interviewed by the Refugee Office expressed a lack of confidence in the UNRWA personnel with whom they came into contact, that is the locally recruited, Arab personnel. Nevertheless, to set up separate machinery for tasks such as those mentioned above would result in unnecessary expense, and the co-operation of UNRWA would probably have to be invited.
19. That being so, it would appear only reasonable that UNRWA should be consulted on the form of questionnaire, the contents of public notices, and similar matters.
20. The Refugee Office prepared a draft form of questionnaire which appears as an appendix to its report. The form could be modified in the light of any comments which UNRWA might make. For example, question 36, which reads "What was the market value of the property on 29 November 1947?" could be omitted altogether, since the information which it would elicit would be of little real value in the process of individual valuation. The object of including the question was to put to an end the astronomical claims of some Arab politicians. If the total of individual claims, no matter how much exaggerated, came to millions, it would be useless for the politicians to talk of billions. Similarly, the declaration at the end of the form could be omitted if UNRWA objected to it. Criticism might be levelled against the length of the form, and it might be shortened, but not very much. It contains thirty-seven questions. A similar form prepared by the leading Palestinian Arab export in this field contained sixty-one.
21. The intention of the Refugee Office was that the value and ownership of each parcel of land and of the various interests therein should be established from a study of the completed questionnaires, the micro-photographs of the mandatory government's land registers, and the tax records. This is undoubtedly the best way of setting about the task.
22. If, however, there were insuperable objections to the issue of a questionnaire the problem could be approached in the first place through the micro-photographs. This method would be applicable only to the part of the territory, roughly about three-quarters and including the most valuable part, to which the mandatory government had applied the Land (Settlement of Title) Ordinance. One of the processes in the application of this ordinance was the division of the land into numbered parcels identifiable on a map. Subsequently, every disposition of a parcel by way of sale, mortgage, succession, etc. was recorded in the land register. As regards the rest of the country the information in the land registers is inadequate and often misleading. It is based on information furnished by the alleged owner. An owner of, say fifty dunums would register it as five dunums in order to escape taxation. Boundaries are often unidentifiable on any map, and the law which made it obligatory to register changes of ownership was honoured more frequently in the breach than in the observance.
23. As far as the "settled" part of the country is concerned the micro-photographs will show the number, area, location and description of each parcel and the names and interests of the owners. They will not show the value, unless there happens to have been a disposition subsequent to land settlement. Even then the value shown will be the value as at the date of the disposition and not the value in 1947 or 1948. The information obtained from the photographs would therefore have to be supported by information from the tax records when available, or failing this, from the valuer's own knowledge.
24. Once a value had been placed on each "settled" parcel it would be necessary to polish lists calling upon the registered owners, or persons claiming to derive title from them, to come forward. This need not be done until after the money for payment had become available.
25. The copies of the micro-photographs which are being made by Kodak Limited of London for the United Nations will not be ready until July, 1952. It is understood that the United Kingdom Government, which seems anxious that the individual assessment should proceed as quickly as possible, has suggested that the Commission's land specialist should work in the meantime on the originals in London. This does not seem practicable, for when one considers that there are something like a million and a half separate photographs, it is obvious that even just to look at them would be more than one man could cope with. Clearly, an organization would have to be set up, and it would not be practicable to set it up in London for so short a period. In any case the first task of the land specialist would seem to be the discussions with the Israel Government.
Document Type: Working paper
Document Sources: United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP)
Subject: Refugees and displaced persons
Publication Date: 24/04/1952