World attention has been focused on the fate of the 6,000 PLO terrorists in West Beirut. Underlying the issue of their final destination is the question of where the Palestinian people should go, whether or not a "Palestinian state" should be established. Unfortunately, this question is often phrased in such a manner as to imply that Israel alone is responsible for finding a solution.
To understand the "Palestinian question," it is essential to analyze the history of the issue. The problem stems from the fact that approximately 600,000 Arabs left what is now Israel in the late 1940s. Most left during and after the War for Israeli Independence (1947-48), largely at the urging of Arab nations, which pledged that they could return to their homes when the Zionist state was destroyed. These Palestinians sought to escape the fighting and find refuge with their Arab brethren. This figure should be compared with the approximately 600,000 Jews who were expelled from various Arab states and immigrated to Israel.
The Arabs who left Israel in the 1940s were only a small fraction of the approximately 40 million refugees worldwide who were forced to find new homes in the same time period. The Palestinians are virtually the only people who have not yet been fully absorbed and assimilated in their new homelands. The reason is that the Arab nations preferred to keep the Palestinians as "refugees" as an act of policy. They decided to leave the burden of caring for Arab refugees with the world community in general to be handled by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
When discussing the problem of the Palestinians, it is important to remember that the majority already are permanently settled and have homes, jobs, etc., within historic Palestine. Approximately 500,000 live in Israel; 1,000,000 live in the West Bank and Gaza; 1,200,00 live in Jordan; and 300,000-400,000 live in Lebanon; of these, approximately 120,000 can still be categorized as refugees and live in "camps." (Even UNRWA admits that its statistics "do not necessarily reflect the actual refugee population owing to factors such as unreported deaths and births, false and duplicate registrations and unreported absences from the area of UNRWA operations. The agency presumes that the refugee population present in the area of UNRWA operations is less than the registered population.") In addition, 200,000 are in Syria, and 200,000 are scattered around the world.
With the exception of those living in camps in Lebanon, it is unlikely that the remainder would be very eager to leave their homes. The Palestinians in the camps are largely undereducated and unskilled; they are the victims of Arab propaganda and political designs. While these people could be absorbed by the Arab states, those nations have continued to utilize them as political pawns.
For the most part, the people in the camps do not trace their ancestors back to the West Bank or Gaza but to Israel proper. Thus, even if a "Palestinian state" were to be established in the West Bank, these refugees would not be able to return "home." They do not feel an affinity for the West Bank nor does their propaganda indicate that they would be satisfied with this territory. Furthermore, the West Bank is simply not large enough nor does it have the productive capacity to handle such a massive influx of people.
A final point is that Jordan is already a "homeland" for the Palestinian people. Jordan was part of traditional Palestine; the majority of the present day population are Palestinian Arabs. Palestinian refugees were granted citizenship in Jordan and many government leaders are Palestinians.
In sum, Palestinians already live throughout the Arab world and have citizenship in Jordan. They form the majority of the Jordanian population. The refugee issue ought to be settled in accordance with the plans set forward at Camp David, possibly resulting in some form of confederation of the West Bank and Jordan. Obviously, this would involve bringing Jordan (and, one hopes, other "moderate" Arab states) into the peace process. The solution to the question is complicated, but possible. It would involve the participation and good will of the Arab nations. Now that the PLO has been removed as a military power in the region, a force capable of blackmailing Arab nations into support, it is possible that Jordan and Saudi Arabia will finally be willing to negotiate with Israel.