Press Releases

(26 April 1999) A Palestinian State Cannot Replace the Refugees’ Right of Return!

26 April 1999 
BADIL Resource Center 

The Oslo Accords and the formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which now aims to establish a Palestinian state in part of the 1967 Israeli occupied Palestinian lands, have created widespread confusion – internationally and unfortunately also among the Palestinian people – about the Palestinian refugees’ right of return in this context. 

For all those sincerely concerned about and working for the protection of Palestinian refugee rights and a just peace in the Middle East - Palestinians and international partners - it is important to clarify:  

1. The Oslo Accords and all consequent negotiations represent an effort, led by Israel and the United States, to obtain – based on the unfavorable balance of power – a de facto solution of the refugee question outside the framework of international law and UN resolutions. This political project found support from numerous international legal and Middle East experts, who present refugee settlement in the Palestinian state-to-be as the implementation of the right of return. Their studies and models have since dominated the international and Palestinian debate about the future of the Palestinian refugee question.  
The declaration of the Palestinian State by the PA is seen as yet another step in this scheme by the Israeli Labor party, Israeli architects of the Oslo agreements, and by the Israeli supporters of the Oslo process. “[…] the demand to establish a Palestinian national state has in recent years replaced the demand to obtain the right of return,” writes Israeli journalist Danny Rubinstein, “and that is the important political revolution that Arafat has led his movement to. In this respect, at least, Israel should not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state and should even support it, as maintained by Shimon Peres […]” (Ha'aretz, 23 April 1999). 

2. UN Resolution 194 (right of return and compensation) is not invalidated by a PA declaration of a Palestinian state on whatever territory on May 4 (or any other date). UN Resolution 194 provides for the refugees’ right of RETURN TO THEIR HOMES. These homes are located in the territory of the Israeli state. 

3. Political negotiations and agreements between Israel, the PLO/PA (and the USA) do not invalidate international law and resolutions. The refugee demand for the right of return will remain a legitimate claim, even if the PLO/PA should renounce the right of return in a future political agreement with Israel. According to standards of international law, existing international law and UN Resolutions cannot be subordinated by a political agreement whose provisions do not grant rights equal to or beyond those defined by international law.  

4. Although UN Resolution 194 can be technically abolished by its repeal by the UN General Assembly, the right of return, solidly anchored in a wide range of international laws (e.g. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Fourth Geneva Convention, a.o.) will remain a right and legitimate claim, until surrendered by Palestinian refugees themselves. 

Feeling threatened and frustrated by the Oslo process, Palestinian refugees - living in conditions of economic, legal, and political uncertainty in their countries of exile – are determined to defend their right of return. Given the strong Palestinian public demand for the right of return and the continued legitimacy and legality of this demand, BADIL Resource Center calls upon Palestinian and international human rights organizations, media, unions, parliamentarians, governments, and solidarity committees to prevent the dismantling of Palestinian refugee rights in the current sensitive period. 

  • The right of refugees to RETURN TO THEIR HOMES is the guiding principle of international law and UN Resolutions.
  • Refugee repatriation is the solution favored by all western governments to the current refugee crises in  Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda, and other parts of the world.
  • Claims for restitution (return, re-instatement of lost property, compensation) raised by evicted and disowned worldwide have received broad public and government support.

If future turmoil and suffering in the Middle East is to be avoided, the same rights and principles must be applied to the Palestinian refugee question!