Palestinian Right of Return: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – Part Twenty Two
Palestinian Right of Return
It is the political position or principle asserting that Palestinian refugees, both first-generation refugees (c. 30 to 50,000 people as of 2012) and their descendants (c. 5 million people as of 2012), have a right to return, and a right to the property they themselves or their forebears left behind in what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories (both formerly part of the British Mandate of Palestine), as part of the 1948 Palestinian exodus, a result of the 1948 Palestine war and due to the 1967 Six-Day War.
Proponents of the right of return hold that it is a “sacred” right, as well as an inalienable and basic human right, whose applicability both generally and specifically to the Palestinians is protected under international law. This view holds that those who opt not to return or for whom return is not feasible, should receive compensation in lieu. Opponents of the right of return hold that there is no basis for it in international law, and that it is an unrealistic demand.
The number of Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war is estimated at between 700,000 and 800,000, and another 280,000 to 350,000 people were refugees of the 1967 war. Approximately 120,000-170,000 among the 1967 refugees are believed to have also been refugees from the 1948 war, fleeing a second time. Today, the estimated number of Palestinian refugees, including both first-generation refugees and their descendants, exceeds four million.
The issue of the right of return has been of great importance to Palestinians since 1948, when the refugee problem was created. In June 1948, the Israeli government stated its position, which was reiterated in a letter to the United Nations on August 2, 1949. In its view, a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem must be sought, not through the return of the refugees to Israel, but through the resettlement of the Palestinian Arab refugee population in other states.
The first formal move towards the recognition of a right of return was in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 passed on December 11, 1948 which provided (Article 11):
Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good-by the Governments or authorities responsible.
However, General Assembly resolutions are not binding in international law, and future agreements would deliberately omit any mention of these resolutions.
The right of return was defined as the “foremost of Palestinian rights” at the 12th Palestine National Council meeting in 1974 when it became the first component of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s trinity of inalienable rights, the others being the right of self-determination and the right to an independent state.
The government of Israel regards the claim as a Palestinian ambit claim, and does not view the admission of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel as a right, but rather as a political claim to be resolved as part of a final peace settlement. Other disputed aspects include the issue of the territorial unit to which Palestinian self-determination would attach, the context (whether primarily humanitarian or political) by which the right is being advanced, and the universality of the principles advocated or established to other (current and former) refugee situations.