The Palestinian Right of Return is not supported by international law nor precedent. And even in the one case where a right of return was attempted in Bosnia, it wasn’t successful.
Pro-Palestinian political leaders, media outlets, and activists the world over continuously assert that the Palestinians should be granted a right of return according to international law. However, NONE of these claims hold water if one actually examines international law. For example, the Palestinians rely heavily upon the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “no one should be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his country.” Yet, can one consider Palestinians born in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and other Arab countries to be Israeli citizens and thus deprived of the right to enter their country?
Most of the Palestinians living across the Arab world were never born in Israel and have never lived in Israel. Secondly, even the minority who did live in Israel did so under the British Mandate, not under Israeli rule. They fled before they had a chance to receive citizenship rights and their Israeli blue ID cards, because their leadership was opposed to them coexisting with the Jewish people. Such peoples are about as Israeli as Turks who lived in Ottoman-controlled Greece yet left are Greek. So why should the Palestinians be any different? Based on international precedents, Palestinians are entitled to equal rights within their present countries, yet not Israeli citizenship.
Another document that pro-Palestine activists rely on when stating that there should be a Palestinian right of return is UN resolution 194, which states, “The General Assembly… resolves that 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.”
Unfortunately, UN General Assembly resolutions are never legally binding. Thus, they can be viewed as mere suggestions, which Israel can either listen to or ignore. But even if this resolution was legally binding, it states “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors.” This means that any Palestinian who doesn’t want to live at peace with their neighbors shouldn’t be given a right of return, thus implying that the decades of terrorism orchestrated by the Palestinian leadership and supported by the majority of the Palestinian population means that the Palestinians lost their “right of return.”
Furthermore, the resolution states at the “earliest practicable date.” This means that so long as this proposal cannot be practically implemented, it doesn’t need to happen yet. Because there have been decades of animosity and hatred between Israelis and Palestinians and since the cultural gap between Israelis and Palestinians is gigantic, the idea of a Palestinian right of return seems impractical and it will continue to be so in the foreseeable future.
Given what has happened in Bosnia since the signing of the Dayton Agreements, where ethnic animosity and violence has prevented most refugees from returning to their homes despite the existence of such a right, it seems that a right of return isn’t a good solution for ethnic conflicts. Most Holocaust survivors didn’t want a right of return to Europe, preferring to be resettled in a new country that was free of the traumas that they experienced. Jewish refugees from Arab countries also generally have no desire to return to Arab states, for similar reasons. Given this, is it really in the Palestinians best interest to come to a foreign country whom they have been engaged with in a violent conflict for decades? While the Palestinian refugee crisis needs to be solved, it should be solved in the Arab world, not in Israel.
By Rachel Avraham