Should Palestinian Refugees Have the "Right of Return"?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Zvika Krieger, Senior Vice President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and Fellow at the Truman National Security Project at the time of the quote, wrote in a Nov. 7, 2011 article titled "Transcript for 'Is Peace Possible?' Chapter 3: Refugees," published online by The Atlantic:

"At the conclusion of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948-49, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were unable to return to their homes and property within the new state of Israel. These are perhaps the only facts about the issue of refugees that both Israelis and Palestinians can agree on... To start with, Israelis and Palestinians argue over who is to blame for the creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis. Palestinians believe that the refugees were either forced from their homes by Israelis or fled due to fear of assault by Israeli forces, and thus Israel is to blame for the Palestinian refugee crisis. Israelis argue that most Palestinians left of their own accord or were encouraged to do so by the invading Arab armies who were expecting a quick victory, and thus Israel is not responsible for the creation of the refugee crisis. The reality is probably somewhere in between, with numerous factors having contributed to the creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis...

When the Palestinians come to the negotiating table, they make six key demands regarding refugees. They demand Israeli recognition of responsibility for creating the refugee crisis; an Israeli recognition of a right of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to the homes they left in what is now Israel; as well as citizenship, a permanent place of residence, and compensation for all refugees and their descendants. Giving refugees a choice in determining their place of residence is also important for addressing a population that sees itself as having been denied that agency for decades.

Israelis bring their own set of demands to the negotiating table. They refuse to acknowledge responsibility for the creation or perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee crisis, nor are they willing to acknowledge any right of return to Israel for Palestinian refugees or their descendants. When it comes to issues of narrative and recognition, Israelis insist that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and homeland of the Jewish people. They also insist that any refugee package be considered an end of claims."

Nov. 7, 2011 - Zvika Krieger 



PRO (yes)

Mahmoud Abbas, Csc, President of the Palestinian Authority and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in his May 15, 2010 statement available on website of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Negotiations Affairs Department:

"We will continue struggling until the principle of right of return as well as freedom and independence for the Palestinian people are achieved...

The return of the Palestinian refugee to his or her home is a constant right that can never be debated and a solution to the refugees issue would never be fair as long as it doesn't include all their historic rights...

The right of return will remain sacred for every Palestinian who was forced by the Zionist war machine to leave his or her home and land in Palestine. The Palestinians won't succumb to extortion; either we get the home and land peacefully, or we will make sacrifices until we return."

May 15, 2010 - Mahmoud Abbas, Csc 



Khaled Meshaal, Chief of the Hamas Political Bureau, in a June 25, 2009 televised speech from Damascus, said:

"The return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes from which they were expelled in 1948 is a general national right and an individual right that belongs personally to 5 million or more refugees, and no leader or negotiator can forfeit or concede it."

June 25, 2009 - Khaled Meshaal 



The International Commission of Jurists, a group of 60 eminent jurists, wrote in a Mar. 6, 2008 press release on its website:

"[T]he ICJ believes that any peace process between Israel and Palestine should fully guarantee the rights of Palestinian refugees, in accordance with international law, to dignity, to reparation and to return."

Mar. 6, 2008 - International Commission of Jurists 



Ghada Karmi, PhD, Co-director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter, wrote in her Jan. 24, 2011 article "Only Palestinian Refugees Can Give Up Their Right of Return" in The Guardian:

"The right of Palestinian return is enshrined in international law and historical precedent, and affirmed repeatedly by the UN. Resolution 194 was passed by the UN general assembly in December 1948 and called on Israel to repatriate those 'displaced by the recent conflict' with compensation for their losses. The 1948 universal declaration of human rights states that those who leave their homes for whatever reason have the absolute right to return to them...

[T]here is a quiet assumption that the return of refugees to Israel is impossible, and other plans must be devised. Many have already been persuaded by this logic. But this ignores the illegality of such strategies. The right of return is an individual right, and no one except the refugees themselves can negotiate it away."

Jan. 24, 2011 - Ghada Karmi, MD, PhD 



United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 Article 11, passed on Dec. 11, 1948, states:

"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 neighbours 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."

[Editor's Note: Resolution 194 has been re-affirmed by the UN General Assembly over 40 times. Additionally, UN Security Council Resolution 242 from Nov. 22, 1967 calls for "achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem." UN General Assembly Resolution 3236 from Nov. 22, 1974 "reaffirms also the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return."]

Dec. 11, 1948 - United Nations (UN) 



Nur Masalha, PhD, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Holy Land Research Project at St. Mary's College, University of Surrey, in his 2010 book titled The Politics of Denial: Israel and the Palestinian Refugee Problem, writes:

"While a catastrophe of these dimensions can never be truly rectified, simple considerations of justice and reconciliation require that the refugees be given the right to return home. Any genuine reconciliation between the two peoples – peace between peoples as opposed to a political settlement achieved by leaders – could only begin by Israel and Israelis taking responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, and the displacement and dispossession of the refugees.

Holocaust denial is abhorrent; in some European countries it is a crime. In the same way, acknowledging the Palestinian nakba and an official apology by Israel would be very helpful. However, the wrong done to the Palestinians can only be righted, and the disasters ended, though a return to their homeland and restitution of property."

2010 - Nur Masalha, PhD 



Susan M. Akram, JD, Professor of Law at Boston University, in her article titled "Palestinian Refugees and Their Legal Status: Rights, Politics, and Implications for a Just Solution," from the Spring 2002 Journal of Palestinian Studies, wrote:

"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…

Since 1948, the principles of the internationally binding right of return have been strengthened by their inclusion in numerous treaties, many of which bind Israel as a signatory. The right of return, most commonly articulated in the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, also is included in many draft declarations, constitutions, laws, and jurisprudence of states. Aside from the significant support existing in international conventions for the right of return, the right not to be expelled, the right to a nationality, and the right not to be denationalized on an arbitrary or discriminatory basis, a large body of declaratory law has developed through UN Resolutions affirming the right of return specifically in the Palestinian context."

Spring 2002 - Susan M. Akram, JD 



Robert Malley, JD, PhD, Middle East Program Director at the International Crisis Group, wrote in a May/June 2009 Foreign Affairs article titled "The Last Negotiation: How to End the Middle East Peace Process":

"Although denying outright the Palestinians' right of return might seem a way to end Israelis' immediate anxiety, it would not end the conflict; it would only transfer the seat of unrest to the Palestinian diaspora without eliminating the threat to Israel's security. The challenge is to find a stable and durable solution that accommodates both the refugees' yearning to return to the areas they left in 1948 and Israel's demographic fears. This can be accomplished by relying on two basic principles. First, refugees should be given the choice to return to the general area where they lived before 1948... Second, any such return should be consistent with the exercise of Israel's sovereign powers over entry and resettlement locations. Many of the refugees presumably want to go back to their original homes. But these homes, and indeed, in many cases, the entire villages where they were located, either no longer exist or are now inhabited by Jews... Israel would settle the refugees in its Arab-populated territory along the 1967 boundaries. Those areas would then be included in the land swap with Palestine and thereby end up as part of the new Palestinian state."

May/June 2009 - Robert Malley, JD, PhD 



Mark Levine, PhD, Professor of History at University of California at Irvine, wrote in his Sep. 23, 2011 article titled "Why Palestinians Have a Right to Return Home" in Al Jazeera:

"The right of return is a universal right that is binding under international law, enjoyed by every people regardless of where they come from. The idea of universal rights is an ancient one, but one of its first international expressions is found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948 'as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.' One of the core rights set out in the UDHR is the right of return. Article 13(b) of the UDHR states: 'Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.' Palestinian refugees are entitled to this binding universal right, in the same way that all other refugees are, whether they come from Bosnia, Rwanda, South Africa or anywhere else.

In spite of ill-founded - and quite frankly racist - arguments concerned with denying this universal right to them, the United Nations has frequently insisted on its particular applicability to Palestinian refugees, who constitute the world's largest refugee population. For instance, General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 2535, passed in 1969, recognises 'that the problem of Palestine Arab refugees has arisen from the denial of their inalienable rights under the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.' In the same vein, UNGA resolution 3236 reaffirms 'the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return.'"

Sep. 23, 2011 - Mark Levine, PhD 



A group of one hundred prominent Palestinians from around the world issued a Mar. 15, 2000 declaration titled "Affirmation of Palestinian Right of Return" in Al-Ahram (Egypt):

"The right of the Palestinian refugees and the uprooted to return to their homes is a fundamental right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the European, the American and the African Conventions on Human Rights; The right of the Palestinian refugees and the uprooted to return to their homes is an inalienable right and has been affirmed by the UN Resolution 194 over 110 times since 1948; The Right of Return is derived from the sanctity of private ownership, which cannot be extinguished by new sovereignty or occupation and does not have a statute of limitation; it is according to this principle that the European Jews claimed successfully the restitution of their lost property in World War II, without the benefit of a single UN resolution; The Right of Return is essentially an individual right which cannot be delegated, diminished, reduced or forfeited by any representation on behalf of the Palestinians in any agreement or treaty; The Right of Return is not substituted or affected in any way by the establishment of a Palestinian state in any form...

We absolutely do not accept or recognise any outcome of negotiations which may lead to an agreement that forfeits any part of the right of return of the refugees and the uprooted to their homes from where they were expelled in 1948, or their due compensation, and we do not accept compensation as a substitute for return; We demand due reparations for the psychological suffering, the material losses and damages and war crimes which the refugees endured for 51 years, in accordance with international law and legal precedents."

Mar. 15, 2000 - Affirmation of the Palestinian Right of Return (917KB)  



CON (no)

Benjamin Netanyahu, MSc, Prime Minister of Israel, in a June 28, 2011 transcript titled "Address to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors," available at the Israeli Prime Minister's website, said the following:

"[T]he refugee problems [i.e. Jewish and Palestinian refugees] are settled in these two respective states - the question of Palestinian refugees will be resolved in the Palestinian state and not in Israel. Just as the question of Jewish refugees caused by that same Arab assault on Israel in 1948, was resolved within the Jewish state. The Arab attack, the attack of five Arab armies, with the Palestinians, on the embryonic Jewish state caused two refugee problems. About 650,000 Palestinian refugees and a somewhat larger number of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab states. Tiny Israel absorbed all the Jewish refugees and the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees, and neither justice nor common sense mandates that 63 years later, the Arab world or the Palestinians will come to us and say: Now, absorb the great-great-grandchildren of this part of the refugee problem that we created ourselves. The solution to the refugee problem, both in a practical sense and in the question of justice has to be addressed in the Palestinian state and not at the expense of the solitary, the one and only Jewish state."

June 28, 2011 - Benjamin Netanyahu, MS 



Shimon Peres, 9th President of Israel, in his Jan. 23, 2002 address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, said:

"What is a Muslim, Christian or Jewish state? It is one where Muslims, Christians or Jews are in the majority... Do not expect the Jewish people to lose our majority in our land and stop being a Jewish state. We have suffered enough throughout history, including in Europe, and we do not need to justify our independence. Right or wrong, the right of return does not call for the suicide of the State of Israel...

The right of return of the Palestinians would change the demography of the country... [and] mean the end of the state [of Israel]... We want to participate in solving the refugee problem by saving them from the status of refugees and to help, financially and in other ways, even in the reunion of families. We are ready to do that, but we are not ready to bring an end to Israel as a Jewish state."

Jan. 23, 2002 - Shimon Peres 



The Jewish Federations of North America, in a 2012 article published on its website titled "Israel Education Initiative: 'The Right of Return,'" stated:

"In the interest of peace, Israeli leaders since 1948 have repeatedly expressed a willingness to accept some refugees as part of a peace agreement, and Israel has already allowed approximately 200,000 to return; however, the Arabs have refused to negotiate and made clear they consider the refugees a weapon in their war against Israel.

Israelis across the political spectrum have made that clear acceptance of a 'right of return' would be suicide. If every refugee was allowed to move to Israel, the population would be nearly 10 million and more than 40% Arab. Given the higher Arab birth rate, it would not be long before the Palestinians would be a majority."

2012 - Jewish Federations of North America 



Ben Dror-Yemini, LLB, Opinion-editor of the Israeli newspaper Maariv and former spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Immigration Absorption, wrote in his article titled "NGOs vs. Israel," published in the Spring 2011 volume of Middle East Quarterly:

"[T]here are Palestinian rights that deserve support and protection. But there are just as many false claims for rights that are designed to harm Israel and prevent reconciliation rather than improve the Palestinian condition. Foremost among them is 'the right of return' - the standard Arab and Palestinian euphemism for Israel's destruction through demographic subversion…

In fact, there is no such right [i.e. of return]. It does not exist; nor has it been recognized or implemented on the political level virtually anywhere in the world, and certainly not as a tool to destroy an existing nation-state. Only last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against a Greek demand for a 'right to return' to the Turkish part of Cyprus stating that there is no such absolute right. But this does not prevent many groups from cultivating this destructive fantasy."

Spring 2011 - Ben Dror-Yemini, LLB 



Americans for Peace Now, an NGO that promotes a final-status Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, wrote in a Feb. 1, 2010 statement titled "Palestinian (and Jewish) Refugees and the Palestinian Right of Return" on its website:

"It is clear that any solution to the Palestinian refugee issue will have to be found within the borders of a future Palestinian state, rather than inside Israel. Indeed, while refusal to relinquish the principle of a 'right of return' is the prerogative of the Palestinians, demands that the principle be implemented inside Israel are tantamount to a demand that Israel cease to exist as a Jewish state. Successive peace initiatives - including the Clinton parameters, the Geneva Initiative, and the Arab League Initiative - all make clear that a solution to the issue must be found that is acceptable to both sides - respecting both the sensitivities of the Palestinian refugees and Israel's sovereign right to determine who may live within its borders. This is the right approach, and it is guided by moral, political, and strategical concerns."

Feb. 1, 2010 - Americans for Peace Now (APN) 



Larry Derfner, columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Israeli correspondent for the US News and World Report, wrote in his Nov. 29, 2011 column "Response to Joseph Dana: A Case for Liberal Zionism," published on 972mag.com:

"I'm against the right of return. I'm against it both on practical grounds... and on moral grounds. It's not just that the Palestinians started the 1947-48 war, it's that they, too, carried out expulsions in that war, expulsions of thousands of Jews from the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, Gush Etzion, Kfar Darom and several other kibbutzim and moshavim. As Uri Avnery, a veteran of that war, said in a debate in 2007 with Ilan Pappe: 'There can be no dispute that ethnic cleansing took place in 1948 – though allow me to remark, in parenthesis, that the ethnic cleansing was on both sides, and that there was not a single Jew left residing in whatever territory was conquered on the Arab side.' The Arabs were trying to do to the Jews what the Jews were trying to do to the Arabs; the Jews, to be brutally frank, just did it better. So I don't see that the Palestinians have any right of return, especially since they started the war in the first place."

Nov. 29, 2011 - Larry Derfner 



Terence Prittie, late British author and journalist, in a 1973 essay titled "Middle East Refugees," published in a compilation The Palestinians: People, History, Politics, wrote the following:

"Palestinian refugees have been systematically encouraged to demand the right to return to old homes which, in a physical sense, disappeared decades ago. The Table below gives approximate figures of refugees from different countries who, since 1945, have been resettled elsewhere. World opinion has accepted the terms of their resettlement, and in no instance has there been any outside backing of a 'return' to the former homeland. Any such return has, in fact, been castigated as the worst kind of irredentism.

India / Pakistan - 15 million; Finland - 400,000; Czechoslovakia - 1.5 million; Poland - 2.8 million; East Germany - 7.5 million; DDR - 3.8 million; Roumania - 1.2 million

There have been a great many other movements of refugees, of a minor nature. But this short list indicates that up to 35 million refugees have been successfully absorbed in the countries in which they have found refuge. In no single case has a claim to repatriation been supported, let alone upheld."

1973 - Terence Prittie 



Yaffa Zilbershats, PhD, LLM, Professor, Former Dean, and Former Deputy President of the Bar-Ilan University School of Law, wrote in her Feb. 2011 paper titled "Return of Palestinian Refugees to the State of Israel," published on the website of the Metzilah Center for Zionist, Jewish, Liberal and Humanist Thought:

"Return in the sense of going back to the country of origin of the refugees is not a legal right derived from the way international law developed over time. It is not a right granted by the general laws of human rights, nationality laws, refugee laws or humanitarian law. Accordingly, the Palestinian claim that they possess a right of return by virtue of international law is unfounded... [T]he Palestinians cannot base their 'right of return' on the international instruments dealing with the Palestinian problem itself. These instruments are the resolutions of the UN General Assembly or the Security Council which are not per se a binding source of law in international law... [T]heir content is disputed and alongside the option of return, alternative solutions are being proposed such as resettlement or a just settlement... [T]he State of Israel is not legally bound as a matter of international law to allow the Palestinian refugees to choose whether or not they wish to return to its territory... [B]road implementation of the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants into Israel will create an untenable situation. Hence, it is unreasonable to discuss this issue in terms of rights rather than as a matter of political negotiations."

Feb. 2011 - Yaffa Zilbershats, PhD, LLM 



Benny Morris, PhD, Professor of History at Ben-Gurion University, in a Mar./Apr. 2001 interview with the magazine Tikkun, said:

"[T]he return of hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of Palestinians would undermine the Jewish character of Israel...

The state envisioned by the founders of Zionism was a state composed of a large majority of Jews. At the moment, Israel is about 20 percent Arab and 80 percent Jewish. If you were to allow a right of return for several million Palestinians (who have higher birthrates than Israeli Jews) you'd soon have an almost balanced Arab/Jewish population--and that would soon mean that you'd no longer have a Jewish state.

At the present moment, if you speak to most of these refugees who live in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan you will find that they have a wish to return to their villages, their towns, and their houses. But those villages were destroyed, the towns have been repopulated with Jews, the homes have been transformed in the past fifty-two years. There is no place to bring them back to. What happened in 1948 is irreversible...

A country divided between Israelis on the one hand and on the other Palestinians who had returned and were filled with anger not only at the way they had been treated in the past but also at not finding their villages or homes available--that country would quickly become ungovernable. Each individual Jew living in the country would be facing a real physical danger."

Mar./Apr. 2001 - Benny Morris, PhD 



Alan M. Dershowitz, LLB, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University, wrote in his 2006 book The Case for Peace:

"The outline for the solution [to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] is obvious to all reasonable people: some symbolic recognition of the rights of Palestinian 'refugees' including a compensation package and some family reunification but no absolute 'right of return' to Israel of the millions of descendants of those who claim refugee status - a questionable 'right' whose exercise would produce the great wrong of quickly turning the Jewish state into yet another Muslim Arab state."

2006 - Alan M. Dershowitz, LLB