Print this page

The Problematics of Polls and the Right of Return

Opinion polls aiming to obtain clarity about refugee preferences in regards to the solution of refugee problems are a tool used world-wide by state and international organizations involved in the settlement of refugee problems. (The UN High Commission for Refugees/UNHCR, for example, has conducted such opinion polls in the framework of refugee repatriation in post-war Vietnam). Polls, in their common use, serve as an instrument to obtain a better picture of the mechanisms and resources required in order to solve a specific refugee problem in a way that meets refugee preferences. Thus, opinion polls, as commonly applied, are part and parcel of the implementation of the solution to refugee flows. The framework of the solution, on the other hand, is defined by the internationally recognized principle of the refugees’ right to choose amongseveral options (return, absorption in the country of refuge, third country re-settlement). Opinion polls are NOT used to determine refugee rights, as these rights are defined by international law and UN Resolutions.

The controversy over opinion polls in the case of Palestinian refugees, and the strong opposition voiced by refugee organizations against them, results from the fact that these polls are often used in a way that deviates from the common practice described above. Public opinion polls among the Palestinian (refugee) community have been used in an effort to question the legitimacy of refugee rights codified in international law (the right to return and compensation, in the Palestinian case), as if refugee rights, in the Palestinian case, were merely a matter of opinion. Palestinian refugee fears of the abuse of public opinion polls are aggravated by the fact that Israel has, for the past five decades, rejected implementation of the Palestinian right of return, and lobbied for the de-legitimization of this right among the international community.

The above problematics do not imply that the results of opinion polls conducted among the Palestinian (refugee) community should not be read as an indication of current refugee attitudes. It should be kept in mind, however, that answers reflect the public sensitivity resulting from the perceived concerted Israeli-international attack on the right of return, and – related to this – the strong variation in answers depends on the specific polling context (who asks the questions, how are questions asked, etc.).

New Opinion Poll of Palestinian Refugees: Excerpts of Results

A sample of the results of a recent poll on Palestinian refugees derived from a survey of Palestinians inside Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Israeli Jews is presented below. Further details, which cover compensation, resettlement, international law, and responsibility for the Palestinian refugees are available on the Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet (www.prrn.org).

1. A Just Solution to the Refugee Issue Most Just Solution
Palestinians in Israel
Israeli Jews
Palestinians in the West Bank
Palestinians in Gaza

Most Just Solution

Palestinians in Israel

Israeli Jews

Palestinians in the West Bank

Palestinians in Gaza

UN Resolution 194

61.4

4.5

81.1

82.6

Return of a limited number

22.0

14.9

10.4

12.2

Only those approved by Israel

5.0

56.8

3.5

1.8

There is no refugee problem

1.6

0.2

0.5

0.0

Don't know

9.2

5.0

-

No answer

0.8

18.7

4.5

3.4

2. Most feasible solution under the present circumstances 

Most Feasible Solution

Palestinians in Israel

Israeli Jews

Palestinians in the West Bank

Palestinians in Gaza

UN Resolution 194

49.2

4.7

66.8

58.0

Return of a limited number

29.6

20.8

15.7

24.2

Only those approved by Israel

7.8

50.8

6.6

6.2

There is no refugee problem

1.6

0.2

0.5

0.2

Don't know

11.0

7.2

-

-

No answer

0.8

-

10.4

11.4

Other

-

16.3

-

-

3. Estimate of Overall Number of Palestinian Refugees who will Return 

Estimate Number of Refugees

Palestinians in Israel

Israeli Jews

Palestinians in West Bank

Palestinians in Gaza

Up to 1 million

19.8

31.7

11.6

10.5

1-2 million

9.6

15.4

18.2

18.3

2-3 million

9.6

6.6

19.2

16.0

3-4 million

10.6

4.9

16.4

22.5

4 million +

6.8

4.1

18.2

21.7

Don't know

42.8

37.3

-

-

No answer

0.8

-

16.4

11

Sample consisted of 500 Israeli Palestinian men and women aged 18+, drawn on a stratified, random basis from 20 localities representing size of community and regional distribution, 23.2% of whom were internal refugees. Interviews conducted face to face. 762 face to face interviews in the West Bank and 438 in Gaza. Sample of Palestinians from Israel had marginal error or +/- 4.5%