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Implementation of the Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees

A Condition for a Just and Durable Peace in the Middle East
A Joint Statement issued by Organizations and NGOs of Internally Displaced Palestinians and Palestinian Refugees in Palestine and Lebanon

51 years after the massive eviction of the Palestinian people by the Zionist forces, the Palestinian refugee question remains unresolved. Israeli governments, past and present, have obstructed the return of the Palestinian refugees and maintained exclusive Jewish control of refugee lands and properties by means of racist laws and policies. As a result, some five million Palestinian refugees, i.e. some 70% of the Palestinian people, have been forced to remain in exile. Others have remained in their homeland as internally displaced persons, deprived of access to their homes and properties by Israel. Lacking social and political security, Palestinian refugees continue to demand their right to return home, regain access to their properties, and receive adequate compensation for material losses and damages, as well as for the psychological suffering inflicted upon them.

51 years ago, the international community accepted full responsibility for the implementation of a just solution of the Palestinian refugee question. UN Resolution 194 (11 December 1948) calls for the Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their homes and properties and to receive adequate compensation. It provided for the establishment of the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), the international body mandated with the implementation of a just solution for the refugee question.

In the course of the past five decades, the international community provided additional and special assistance and protection to Palestinian refugees via the establishment of the special UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees/UNRWA (UN Resolution 302/1949). The rights of refugees, including Palestinian refugees, are also enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949); the UN High Commission on Refugees/UNHCR (1950), and the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Since 1948, UN Resolution 194 has been confirmed over 110 times, and the Palestinian refugees’ right of return was recognized as a central component of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.

Despite the strong support of the Palestinian refugees’ individual and collective rights by international law and UN resolutions, the international community has failed to undertake serious efforts towards the implementation of a solution to the Palestinian refugee question based on the international principles and laws. Policies of ethnic cleansing were forcefully opposed and corrected in other parts of the world; concerted international efforts at refugee repatriation were launched in Vietnam, Guatemala, El Salvador, Rwanda, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova – but not in Palestine-Israel. In our region, the international community decided to support a "peace process" guided by the unequal balance of power between Israel and the Palestinian people, rather than international law, UN resolutions and universal principles of justice.

Deeply concerned about the current Israeli effort to cancel the internationally recognized rights of the Palestinian refugees and internally displaced in the framework of a final status agreement with the Palestinian leadership, we call upon the international community, policy makers, human rights organizations, and the solidarity movement, to:

Insist on the applicability of international law and principles, as well as UN resolutions, in any future final status agreement between Israel and the PLO in general, and to a future solution of the Palestinian refugee question in particular.

Reaffirm the international commitment to a solution of the Palestinian refugee question based on international law and UN resolutions, especially UN Resolution 194, providing for the refugees’ right of return, restitution of property and compensation.

Undertake an immediate and special effort at solving the structural crisis of UNRWA's budget, in order to stop the deterioration of education, health, and welfare services for Palestinian refugees in this politically sensitive period, and to enable the Agency to offer adequate services to the growing refugee population until a just and durable political settlement is reached.

Adapt residency and asylum policies towards Palestinian refugees outside the area of UNRWA's mandate to meet the standards of the 1951 Refugee Convention and UNHCR, as well as international agreements on the rights of stateless persons in order to provide Palestinian refugees with legal and social protection until the achievement of a just and durable political solution.

A durable peace in the Middle East is not possible without I sraeli recognition of the rights and demands of the five million Palestinian refugees in exile and in the homeland. A final status agreement that will not provide for the refugees’ right of return will not be a historical settlement, but rather the opening of a new round of the historical Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict and instability in the Middle East.

Palestine and Lebanon, November 1999

Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts, Lebanon
Association Najdeh, Lebanon
BADIL Friends Forum,West Bank
Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation, Lebanon
Inaach (Association for the Development of Palestinian Camps), Lebanon
KG Resource and Training Center, Lebanon
National Committee for the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel
Norwegian Peoples' Aid-Lebanon
Popular Aid for Relief and Development, Lebanon
Popular Service Committees in Palestinian Refugee Camps-West Bank