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Debate: Palestinian right of return

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Do the Palestinians have the right to return?

Background and context

The Palestinian right of return is a political position or principle asserting that Palestinian refugees, both first-generation refugees and their descendants, have a right to return to the property they or their forebears
left or which they were forced to leave in the former British Mandate of
Palestine (currently Israel and Palestinian territories), 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. 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. The right of return is rejected universally by almost all Israelis, including a majority of the far-left. While Israel has offered compensation, assistance in resettlement, and return for an extremely limited number of refugees based solely on family reunification or humanitarian considerations, it has refused to compromise on any unlimited right of return for all refugees and their descendants. These and other arguments are outlined below.
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Right of return: Do Palestinians have a right of return?

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Pro

"The Geneva Conventions of 1949. The General Assembly, Having considered further the situation in Palestine ... 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." -UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (11 December 1948) [see more passages cited in the argument page].
  • Palestinians were forced to leave, have a right to return. Nizar Sakhnini. "Dispossession and Ethnic Cleansing." Al-Awda - The Palestinian Right of Return Coalition. July 12th, 2004: "Dispossession and Ethnic Cleansing were an Integral Part of Herzl's Colonial Project. His real intentions and full extent and scope of the colonial settlement that Herzl was after were reflected in the draft-agreement of The Jewish-Ottoman Land Company (JOLC) 'for the purpose of settling Palestine and Syria with Jews' that Herzl lobbied for approval from Sultan Abdulhameed in Istanbul in 1901. According to article I of the draft, the JOLC would be granted 'A special right to purchase large estates and small farms and to use them for agriculture, horticulture, forestry, and mining. On these areas (the JOLC) may build all installations, roads, bridges, buildings and houses, industrial and other facilities, which it considers appropriate. The JOLC is further entitled 'to drain and utilize swamps (if there are any) by planting or in any other way, to establish small and large settlements, and to settle Jews in them.' Article III gives the JOLC the right to deport the native populations, an act aiming at legitimizing ethnic cleansing, by granting "The right to exchange economic enclaves of its territory, with the exception of the holy places or places already designated for worship. The owners shall receive plots of equal size and quality procured by it (the JOLC) in other provinces and territories of the Ottoman Empire."


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Con

  • Palestinians never citizens of Israel, no right to return. According to Alexander Safian, Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees a right to return "to his own country". But, the Palestinians who were displaced were never citizens or legal residents of Israel. Therefore, they can have no right of return to Israel.
  • More of a right to leave than right to return. According to Alexander Safian, Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not guarantee a right of return because the clause "everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country" was meant to guarantee the right to leave. According to its legislative history, Article 13 was aimed at governments which imprisoned certain subgroups of their own nationals by preventing them from leaving. According to its sponsor, the mention of a "right to return" was included to assure that "the right to leave a country, already sanctioned in the article, would be strengthened by the assurance of the right to return.[2]
  • Jews expelled from Arab countries have no right of return. Some critics of the Palestinian "right of return" also argue that it is not supported by international precedent, drawing attention to the 758,000-866,000 Jews were expelled, fled or emigrated from the Arab Middle East and North Africa between 1945 and 1956, with property losses of $1 billion. These critics argue that since these refugees were neither compensated nor allowed return—to no objection on the part of Arab leaders or international legal authorities—the international community had accepted this migration of Jews as fait accomplish, and thereby set legal precedent in the region against a right of return.
  • Palestinians maybe "should" be allowed to return, but have no "right" Ruth Lapidoth from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has argued that U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 does not specify a 'right', but rather says refugees "should" be allowed to return.
  • Right of return based on claim of unprovoked victimhood. Efraim Karsh asserts that "whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the Palestinians' legal case, their foremost argument for a 'right of return' has always rested on a claim of unprovoked victimhood."


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International law: Does international law support right of return?

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Pro

  • Denationalization of Palestinians illegal; have right of return. Although the status of Palestinian nationals/citizens after the creation of the State of Israel has been much debated, established principles of state succession, human rights and humanitarian law confirm that the denationalization of Palestinians was illegal and that they retain the right to return to their places of origin.
  • Israel has consistently dehumanized Palestinians and their rights. Raphael Eitan, Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, New York Times, 14 April 1983. "When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle."[3]


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Con

  • No formal international legal right of return for Palestinians There is no formal mechanism in international law to demand repatriation of refugees and their descendants in general, or Palestinians specifically. No international legislation, binding UN resolutions or agreements between Israel and the Palestinians require this.
  • Arab countries, not Israel, keep Palestinians in state of limbo. It is the failure of Arab states to incorporate Palestinians into their societies by offering legal status (with the exception of Jordan) which keeps the Palestinian refugees in their current limbo, not Israeli policy.


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Individual: Is right of return an individual right?

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Pro

  • Right of return is individual, not group, right (so is stronger). On March 15, 2000, a group of 100 prominent Palestinians from around the world expressed their opinion that the right of return is individual, rather than collective, and that it cannot therefore be reduced or forfeited by any representation on behalf of the Palestinians in any agreement or treaty. They argued that the right to property 'cannot be extinguished by new sovereignty or occupation and does not have a statute of limitation.'


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Con

  • Right of return is individual right, not collective for Palestinians. Stig Jagerskiold in 1966, in which he argues that the right of return was intended as an individual and not a collective right: "...[it] is intended to apply to individuals asserting an individual right. There was no intention here to address the claims of masses of people who have been displaced as a by-product of war or by political transfers of territory or population, such as the relocation of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe during and after the Second World War, the flight of the Palestinians from what became Israel, or the movement of Jews from the Arab countries."[4]


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Jewish interests: Does right of return help/harm Israeli interest?

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Pro

  • Unjust for Jews to be able to emigrate, but not Palestinians return. a massive injustice the fact that Jews are allowed to emigrate to Israel under Israel's Law of Return, even if their immediate ancestors have not lived in the area in recent years, while people who grew up in the area and whose immediate ancestors had lived there for many generations are forbidden from returning.
  • Denying right of return is a prejudiced Zionist objective. Nizar Sakhnini. "The Core Issue" Al-Awda - The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition. 11 July 2004: "Theodor Herzl, who presided the 1st ZC, had provided the ideological underpinnings of the Zionist movement in his pa pamphlet, Der Judenstaat, which was published in 1896. In a nutshell, Herzl called for a colonial project for the exclusive benefit of the Jews and suggested that Der Judenstaat would 'form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.' Efforts of the Zionist political movement to implement their project, with the support of the Imperialist Great Powers, in complete disregard to the Palestinian rights and human reality in Palestine, were responsible for initiating and prolonging the conflict in and around Palestine. Establishment of an exclusive Jewish State in a country where the majority of its people were not Jewish meant transplanting Jews from all corners of the world and bringing them to Palestine. Simultaneously, it meant dispossession and ethnic cleansing for the Palestinians. This was, and still is, the core issue in the conflict. All else was derivative."
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Con

  • Right of return would make Jews minority in Israel. Some opponents argue that if all or a large majority of Palestinian refugees and their descendants were to implement a 'right of return', it would make Arabs the majority within Israel and Jews an ethnic minority. They contend that this 'amounts to abolishing the Jewish people's right to self determination' and would 'mean eradicating Israel.'
  • Right of return undermines idea of Israel as Jewish state. The majority of Israelis find a literal right of return for Palestinian refugees to be unacceptable, pointing out that allowing such an influx of Palestinians would eventually cause Israel's Jewish population to become a minority, thus undermining Israel's status as a Jewish state.
  • Right of return would result in mass of unworkable legal claims. A right of return would result in a flood of Palestinians stating their "right of return" as justification for entering Israel at any time and in unlimited numbers and laying claim to old homes. This creates an unworkable legal nightmare, clouded by historical ambiguities. Such an extended legal nightmare would last for decades, and hurt the reconciliation process.
  • A right of return wrongly makes Israel responsible for refugees. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in 2007: "I will not agree to accept any kind of Israeli responsibility for the refugees."[5] That is what a right of return does to Israel. But, without justification. Israel was attacked in 1948 and 1967. It should not have to bear the burden of the refugees that resulted from these conflicts.
  • Unlimited right of return goes a step too far. There are many things that Israel can and has offered to Palestinian refugees: compensation, assistance in resettlement, and return for an extremely limited number of refugees based solely on family reunification or humanitarian considerations. But an unlimited right of return for all refugees and their descendants simply goes too far. This is largely because it is purely unworkable to allow millions of Palestinians to return back to a territory that is already overcrowded.


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History: Were Palestinians forced out, or flee on own will?

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Pro

  • Palestinians forced out, did not leave on own will. The traditional Israeli point of view arguing that Arab leaders encouraged Palestinian Arabs to flee has also been disputed Palestinians, who have presented evidence indicating Arab leaders' will for the Palestinian Arab population to stay put. Historians such as Benny Morris, Erskine Childers, and Walid Khalidi state that no evidence of widespread evacuation orders exists, and that Arab leaders in fact instructed the Palestinian Arabs to stay put. According to Morris, whatever the reasons driving many into flight, temporary evacuation under local orders, contagious panic, fear of Jewish arms, or direct expulsion manu militari, the 700,000 odd Palestinians who did become refugees acquired that status as a result of compulsory displacement or expulsion, since they were not permitted by Israel to return. In any case, even if the 1948 exodus had not been caused by Israel, the claimed right of return is not contingent on Israeli responsibility for the displacement of refugees.


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Con

  • Arabs instigated 1948/1967 wars; no Pal. right of return. Israeli official sources, foreign press, and officials present at the time, and historians such as Joseph Schechtman have long claimed that the 1948 refugee crisis was instigated by the invading Arab armies, who ordered Palestinian civilians to evacuate the battle zone. Opponents of the right of return, such as Efraim Karsh say that Israel is therefore not obligated to compensate Palestinians or allow them to return. Israel officially denies any responsibility for the Palestinian exodus, stating that their flight was caused by the Arab invasion.
  • Palestinian flight from Israel was voluntary, not forced. According to some sources, Palestinian flight from Israel was not compelled but was predominantly voluntary, as a result of seven Arab nations declaring war on Israel in 1948. Many Arab leaders encouraged and even ordered Palestinians to evacuate the battle zone in order to make it easier for the Arab armies and fedayeen to demolish the newly found Jewish state and Israel officially denies any responsibility for the Palestinian exodus, stating that their flight was caused by the Arab invasion. Karsh states that most Palestinians chose their status as refugees themselves, and therefore Israel is therefore absolved of responsibility.
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Pro/con sources

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See also

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