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Monday, January 23, 2012

The UN's 1950 interpretation of the "right to return"

Does UN General Assembly resolution 194 give Palestinian Arabs the right to return to Israel?

Not according to a document written in 1950 by the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, analyzing paragraph 11 of the resolution that is often quoted today.

The document exhaustively analyzes every phrase in that paragraph, which states:
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;

Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations;

One specific part of this 1950 UN document A/AC.25/W/45 is notable:

3. What is the meaning of the term "to their homes"?

There is no doubt that in using this term the General Assembly meant the home of each refugee, i.e. his house or lodging and not his homeland. This is indicated by the fact that two amendments using the term "the areas from which they have come" were rejected. Furthermore by implication it would appear that if the refugees not returning are to be compensated for their property, those returning would reoccupy their homes and be compensated only for losses and damages. 

The phrase "to their homes" does not mean "to their homeland."

Which means that if their houses no longer exist, there is no right to return to the area the homes used to be located in.

How many of the original homes of Arabs who fled in 1948 still exist? I'm sure there are some in Jerusalem and Jaffa, but probably not too many altogether. The majority of 1948 refugees were poor and rural, and those homes have by and large been gone for many decades now.

At any rate, the resolution that is used so often to justify the "right" of millions of Palestinian Arabs to flood Israel is very clear in calling for only the specific refugees (obviously not their descendants, but only "all persons, Arabs, Jews and others who have been displaced from their homes in Arab Palestine") to return only to their specific houses. Not land, not area, not village - but their former houses.

And if the houses no longer exist, then their only remaining claim is monetary compensation.

(Ironically, at the time Israel interpreted the resolution to mean "homeland" giving Israel the rights to relocate Arabs to other areas; the Arabs interpreted it the way the UNCCP interpreted the phrase.)

There's lots more in that document that is enlightening, and I plan to go into more detail in the future.