No Right of Return

There is no right of return. Period.

By Ted Belman, Israpundit, December 28, 2007

See Also: Satire on LA Times Bias

The LA Times continues with its pro-Palestinian advocacy and it’s misinformation. It recently published Will peace cost me my home? by Ghada Ageel who is a self professed “third-generation Palestinian refugee”. There are tens of millions of third generation refugees all over the world who neither claim a right of return nor would they ever claim to describe themselves that way. They and their parents have gotten on with their lives.

She demands that “Any Mideast pact must give Palestinians the right to return home.”

    But in 1948, in the first Arab-Israeli war, many people lost their lives defending our village from the Zionist militias. In the end, with their crops and homes burning, the villagers fled. My family eventually made its way to what became the refugee camp of Khan Yunis in Gaza. We were hit hard by poverty, humiliation and disease. We became refugees, queuing for tents, food and assistance, while the state of Israel was established on the ruins of my family’s property and on the ruins of hundreds of other Palestinian villages.

War always creates refugees who have similar stories to tell. Nothing unusual there but the war was started by her people and they are to blame for her grandparents tragedy.

    I raise this story today because it remains profoundly relevant to the Middle East peace process — and to help convey the deep-seated fears of Palestinian refugees that we will be asked to exonerate Israel for its actions and to relinquish our right to return home.

“Deep seated fears” after sixty years? Time does not stand still. Yet she continues to harbour a desire so strong that she “fears” it won’t be satisfied. Something wrong here. You would think that as a third generation Palestinian” she would be living a normal life.

    That cannot be allowed to happen. All refugees have the right to return. This is an individual right, long recognized in international law, that cannot be negotiated away. Palestinian refugees — and there are more than 4 million of us registered with the United Nations today — hold this right no less than Kosovar or Rwandan or any other refugees.

There is no truth to this whatsoever. Where are the LA Times fact checkers? Looking the other way as they always do.

For the truth I refer you to Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees: International Law and Humanitarian Considerations by Ami Isseroff.

The balance of this post is an extract therefrom.

Rights of Refugees under Resolution 194

UN General Assembly Resolution 194 was passed immediately following the assassination of UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte by Jewish extremists. Bernadotte had asked for return of all Arab refugees (but not Jewish refugees) and was going to recommend removing large areas of the Israeli state and returning them to the Arabs. The resolution reflected in part, UN anger at Israel for having allowed the assassination, but it did not reflect Bernadotte’s recommendations in full. Section 11 referred to the refugee problem:

    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;

Notable in this wording, is the fact that a “right of return” was not mentioned, and the reference to “refugees,” rather than “Arab refugees” and “governments,” rather than the government of Israel. This implies that the framers had in mind the rights of Jewish refugees in Palestine as well, and would also be applicable to Jewish refugees forced to flee Arab countries as a result of the conflict. The number of Jews were forced out of Arab and Muslim countries because of the conflict is about equal to the number of Arab Palestinian refugees.

Bernadotte had recommended a much stronger resolution, but his reference to a “right” of return was rejected. The original wording of his report included this wording:

    “the right of the Arab refugees to return to their homes in Jewish-controlled territory at the earliest possible date… and their repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation, and payment of adequate compensation for the property of those choosing not to return…”

(Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator on Palestine, UN Doc. A/648 (18 September, 1948)

As this wording was rejected, the framers of resolution 194 apparently rejected the notion of a “right” of return. Likewise, reference to “Arab refugees” was omitted. It could not have been accidental.

All Arab states voted against Resolution 194, because it did not establish a “right of return,” and because it implicitly recognized Israel. Arab governments and Palestinians continued to reject resolution 194 until 1988. In that year, Yasser Arafat made a speech Recognizing Resolution 242 and implicitly accepting resolution 194. Until then, Arab Palestinians were officially not willing to “live in peace with their neighbors.” Arab governments are still unwilling to repatriate or compensate Jewish refugees, nor is such a solution contemplated in Palestinian peace proposals.

To deal with the refugee problem, the UN created the UNRWA agency, which was thought to be a temporary measure until a permanent resolution of the refugee problem could be effected. Because Arab states refused any constructive solution, the “temporary” solution became permanent.

Resolution 194 is not International Law

Resolutions of the UN General assembly are not binding in international law, and therefore resolution 194 does not establish any principle of international law. Palestinian Arab advocates point out that Israel agreed to accept resolution 194 as a condition of its admittance to the UN, under Resolution 273. However, Israel accepted the resolution under its own interpretation. In any case, Resolution 273 is likewise a resolution of the General Assembly and therefore not international law.

Status of the Palestinian Refugees in International Law

Advocates of the Palestinian cause claim support from international laws and conventions applicable to refugees in general. However, examination of refugee conventions shows that precisely the opposite is true. For example, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951, states:

    This Convention shall not apply to persons who are at present receiving from organs or agencies of the United Nations other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees protection or assistance.

That excludes Palestinian refugees who are receiving aid separately from the UNRWA. The same convention states:

    E. This Convention shall not apply to a person who is recognized by the competent authorities of the country in which he has taken residence as having the rights and obligations which are attached to the possession of the nationality of that country.

Palestinian refugees in Jordan have obtained Jordanian nationality. About 1.5 million such “refugees” are included in official UN tallies of Palestinian refugees. Numerous Palestinians living in the United States have obtained United States citizenship, but claim “right of return.” None of them would be eligible for refugee status under ordinary international law.

The convention does not mention a “right of return,” but only mentions that refugees may not be forcibly returned to a country where they are liable to persecution.

In their treatment of Palestinian refugees, Arab states do not generally respect provisions of the treaty dealing with economic rights of refugees:

    Article 21. Housing

    As regards housing, the Contracting States, in so far as the matter is regulated by laws or regulations or is subject to the control of public authorities, shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory treatment as favourable as possible and, in any event, not less favourable than that accorded to aliens generally in the same circumstances.

    Article 22. Public education

    1. The Contracting States shall accord to refugees the same treatment as is accorded to nationals with respect to elementary education.

    2. The Contracting States shall accord to refugees treatment as favourable as possible, and, in any event, not less favourable than that accorded to aliens generally in the same circumstances, with respect to education other than elementary education and, in particular, as regards access to studies, the recognition of foreign school certificates, diplomas and degrees, the remission of fees and charges and the award of scholarships.

    Article 23. Public relief

    The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment with respect to public relief and assistance as is accorded to their nationals.

In Lebanon, the entire responsibility for education and housing of Palestinian refugees is placed on UNRWA. Refugees are confined to the UNRWA camps insofar as possible, and given as little assistance as possible in integration within Lebanese society.

No international convention deals with the status of third generation refugees or “refugees” by intermarriage. This case is unique to the Palestinians.

A search of the Internet for terms refugees “Right of Return” will display exclusively or almost exclusively Web pages that deal with Palestinian refugees. “Right of Return” is never discussed for Germans expelled from the Sudetensland or Silesia in 1945, for Poles who fled the Soviets when they annexed parts of Eastern Poland, for Russians who fled from former Soviet Republics upon the breakup of the Soviet Union. Right of Return was discussed but never implemented in solution of the Cyprus problem. Return of refugees is being implemented in part in breakaway parts of former Yugoslavia, but in these cases there is no doubt that the returnees are willing to recognize the existing government and “live in peace with their neighbors.” The claim that Right of Return is a universally applied principle of international law has now basis.

Palestinian supporters claim that the right of return is recognized in international in human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights However the applicability of these provisions to Palestinian Arab refugees is in doubt.

According to Article 12(4) of the 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

    “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”

To whom does the article apply? Stig Jagerskiold, an early interpreter, wrote:

    This right is intended to apply to individuals asserting an individual right. There was no intention here to address the claim of masses of people who have been displaced as a byproduct 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 Palestinians from what became Israel, or the movement of Jews from the Arab countries. Whatever the merits of various “irredentist” claims, or those of masses of refugees who wish to return to the place where they originally lived, the Covenant does not deal with those issues and cannot be invoked to support the right to “return.” These claims will require international political solutions on a large scale.” (Freedom of Movement, in The International Bill of Rights 166, at 180 (Louis Henkin ed., 1981).

Likewise, another expert has noted:

    “There is no evidence that mass movements of groups such as refugees or displaced persons were intended to be included within the scope of article 12 of the Covenant by its drafters”

    (Horst Hannum, The Right to Leave and Return in International Law and Practice (1987) p.59)


I am greatly indebted to Ami Isseroff for this excellent exposition of the law. There is more to read before and after the part extracted.

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