In the current round of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority one of the sticking points will certainly be the Palestinian claim to a Right of Return for Palestinian refugees.
The Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister argued today in the Jerusalem Post that no such Right existed:
The so-called Palestinian ‘right of return’ is legal fiction. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, the supposed source for this ‘right’ does not mention this term, is not legally binding and, like all other relevant United Nations resolutions uses the intentionally ambiguous term ‘refugees’ with no appellation.
This is also taken up on the Zionism and Israel Information Center website:
Palestinian advocates claim that the refugees of 1948 have a right guaranteed in international law to return to Israel. In fact, there is no such law. The Fourth Geneva Convention, often cited in this context, does not stipulate a right of return for refugees. UN Resolution 194, also cited as the basis for this “right” is a resolution of the UN General Assembly. Such resolutions are not binding in international law. No nation has the obligation to admit enemy belligerents. Moreover, Resolution 194 does not insist on a Right of Return. It says that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so.”
The refugees were not Israeli citizens. They did not want Israeli citizenship. Beyond the dry provisions of the law, in this case admission of several million refugees would soon create an Arab majority in Israel. The people who advocate “Right of Return” also favor abolishing the Israeli Law of Return that permits Jews to immigrate to Israel freely. Israel would cease to be the national home of the Jews, and the Jewish people would lose the right to self-determination. Clearly “Right of Return” cannot be implemented in any case if it contradicts a different fundamental right that is anchored in international law.
Here we are already beginning to explore the practical absurdity of any such Right.
As indicated above, allowing ‘refugees’ to return, assuming that were practical or even practicable would effectively destroy the Jewish nature of the State of Israel, and Israel would cease to be a guarantor of the safety of Jews worldwide, which was one of the major factors in its establishment. And I am not referring here to the Holocaust; any student of Jewish history can list a very long litany of Jewish persecution for the last 2000 years, and they could also reference the current growing antisemitism in Europe and around the world. The need for a state of the Jewish people is as urgent now as at any time in history.
But let’s assume there is a Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. Let’s assume that they can now return to the homes or villages across Israel where they or their forefathers once lived 62 years ago.
1. How would any individual Palestinian prove his/her claim to his/her ancestor’s residency in any particlualr home or village?
2. What would happen to the current residents of those properties? They may not all be Jews, of course.
3. We are assuming that the ‘refugees’ want to become Israelis? Why would they? Why would they want to become citizens of a country that their leaders, media and education system has taught to loathe and despise? Has anyone asked? If not, what is the basis for the Palestinian Authority’s insistence that this is a non-negotiable agenda item?
4. How would Israel accommodate several million new citizens?
5. As Israel has never been compensated for the 900,000 Jewish refugees who were forced out of, or fled, Arab lands after 1948, why should Israel now have to foot the bill for several million people who need homes, schools, hospitals, sanitation, water, food?
5. How can Israel be expected to accept within its borders millions of people with an historic grudge against the state who have demonstrated for several decades that they are willing to shoot, bomb, attack and sabotage Israelis and Israeli infrastructure with the ultimate aim of destroying the very state they are now asking to become citizens of?
Is it not patently obvious that the Palestinian so-called Right of Return is nothing but the expression of an on-going desire to destroy Israel and remove the Zionist entity?
As Danny Ayalon puts it in the article cited above:
Before 1948 there were nearly 900,000 Jews in Arab lands while only a few thousand remain. Where is the international outrage, the conferences, the proclamations for redress and compensation? While the Palestinian refugee issue has become a political weapon to beat Israel, the Arab League has ordered its member states not to provide their Palestinian population with citizenship; Israel absorbed all of its refugees, whether fleeing the Holocaust or persecution and expulsion from Arab lands.
Can Mahmoud Abbas really be a genuine believer in a two-state solution when one of the most cherished and immoveable pillars of the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and the PLO is the Right of Return?
How can a peace settlement be based on the negation and denial of the rights of one side?
A limited return based on humanitarian grounds such as the reunification of families might be a possibility.
Beyond that, the Right is and always has been an instrument of delegitimisation and an excuse for scuppering peace.
I would not be at all surprised if it were again.
Back to Ayalon:
EVEN THOUGH the number of Jewish refugees [from Arab lands] and their assets are larger than that of the Palestinians, the international community only appears to be aware of the latter’s plight.
There are numerous major international organizations devoted to the Palestinian refugees. There is an annual conference held at the United Nations and a refugee agency was created just for the Palestinian refugees. While all the world’s refugees have one agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Palestinians fall under the auspices of another agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
UNWRA’s budget for 2010 is almost half of UNHCR’s budget.
Equally impressive is the fact that UNHCR prides itself on having found “durable solutions” for “tens of millions” of refugees since 1951, the year of its establishment. However, UNRWA does not even claim to have found “durable solutions” for anyone.
What is also impressive is the Palestinians’ and their supporters’ success in completely obliterating the story of the fate of Jews from Arab lands whilst perpetuating their own refugees for more than six decades.
What constantly surprises me is why the practical absurdity of the Palestinian Right of Return has rarely, if ever, been examined and no comprehensive survey of Palestinian ‘refugees’ intentions has ever taken place.