The (Relative) Decline of Palestinian Exceptionalism and its Consequences for Refugee Studies in the Middle East

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There has long been a great divide at the heart of refugee policy and scholarship in the Middle East, between Palestinian refugees and all others, which has hindered attempts to analyse refugee issues in the region coherently. This divide has been driven by the assumption that the Palestinian refugee case is entirely unique, that it cannot be understood alongside other refugee cases, and that the usual analytical tools and norms of refugee policy cannot be applied to it. These assumptions of uniqueness are increasingly being questioned, and as old orthodoxies break down it may be possible to see on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides greater potential for compromise on the refugee question than often understood. This paper observes an accelerating intellectual trend evidenced primarily by increasing interest in using international law and comparative analysis to apply common standards of refugee law to the Palestinian case. While Palestinian refugees are unique in some respects, the relative decline of exceptionalism opens new doors to understanding refugee policy in a troubled region.

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22 J. Refugee Stud. 417 (2009).