Khalil Shikaki defends his refugee poll

Dear Editors,

The views expressed below by Ali Abunimah (“Who said Palestinians gave up the right of return?”, 23 July 2003) reflect the concerns and fears of many Palestinians in the absence of a serious engagement by Palestinian leaders who refuse to be open and frank with their public.

Abunimah described the Taba options as “Shikaki options” when in fact we simply wanted to measure attitudes (support/opposition) and behavior (selecting an option) toward a scenario that the Palestinian leadership says privately that it would be willing to accept and have in fact endorsed in the Taba negotiations.

The text used was formulated in full coordination with Palestinian negotiators and the survey was done to help them examine how legitimate such a solution would be in the eyes of the public. Respondents had the option of rejecting all the options and propose their own. They could have said that they wanted to return to Israel without citizenship. Indeed more than 90% of those selecting to go to Israel said so.

They could have said they wanted to return to Israel immediately. Most of the 10% wanting to go to Israel said so. They could have said they wanted to go to 1948 Palestine (with no Israel). And indeed 13% said so. They could have said they wanted to go to Israel AND receive compensation. None have said so.

Of course we could have changed the whole Taba solution to please Mr. Abunimah but we would have deceived the refugees by proposing something that was not a negotiating option at Taba at this time. Certainly, the results would have been different but we would have simply played games and deceived the refugees.

This was a survey about the Taba deal and the consequences for negotiators and planners. One can examine other options not linked to Taba as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future. This time the focus has been on Taba.

If you do not like the proposed solution, take it up with the PLO leadership. We simply reported the facts.

Khalil Shikaki

Khalil Shikaki is director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR).