The subject of “The Right of Return” continues to haunt us and is a persistent topic of discourse. The various diverse Palestinian organizations are united in their demand to realize their ROR, without which the bloody conflict between the two nations cannot be resolved. A part of the radical Israeli left supports this demand. Everyone refers to Resolution 194 of the General Assembly of the United Nations from December 11th 1948, and this resolution is the internationally accepted requirement of Israel to allow entry to millions of Palestinian refugees, should they wish to return to their villages, cities and houses in which they lived before the war.
Resolution 194 has many clauses and it has been many years since I last looked at it. I decided to reread it thoroughly and much became clear to me. The treatment of refugees is negligible, only one clause (clause 11) out of 15 clauses of the resolution deals with refugees. A careful reading reveals that the ROR is not presented as an independent issue, but rather as a request to ‘governments and relevant authorities’ to allow refugees who are willing to live in peace with their neighbors to return to their homes or to pay compensation to those who wish to return but whose property was lost or damaged and have no place to return to.
It is known that the resolutions of the General Assembly are presented as recommendations, as opposed to those of the Security Council, which are obligatory and accompanied by sanctions (Israel has proved that with powerful backing, the Security Council resolutions can also be ignored).
I won’t go into a detailed legal interpretation of the resolution. Suffice it to say that there is disagreement among legal experts about the interpretation of clause 11. I refer the readers to a discussion (can be found on the internet) that took place between the representative of the Palestinian organization “BDIL” (which concentrates on refugee rights) and attorney Michael Sfard, a leading figure in the struggle for human rights, in which Sfard explained why the Palestinian interpretation of clause 11 is legally very problematic, to say the least. Resolution 194 proves the importance of the factor of time. The Resolution from 1948 links the ROR to the intention of Peace.
Since the entire Arab world of that time, categorically rejected the UN Partition Plan of 1947, did not recognize Israel, rejected its right to exist, the ROR of refugees at that time would have been impossible.
Since then almost 60 years have passed and a new reality has been created. The number of Israeli citizens rose from 650 thousands to over 6 million, and there is almost no country in the world, including most Arab countries, that demands of Israel to realize clause 11 of Resolution 194 according to the severe Palestinian interpretation.
As we can see, the factor of time has already affected the demand that Israel withdraw to the borders of the 4 of June 1967. 37 years of occupation and settlement have, regrettably, led to the fact that even the Palestinian Authority is willing to be flexible and to recognize the Jerusalem neighborhoods built on lands occupied and stolen in June 1967 as irreversible fact that must be accepted in the framework of a peace agreement. The U.S.A. has already, regrettably, recognized the future annexation of so called ‘Settlement Blocs.
Among those who forecast the future, there are some who anticipate a peace treaty formula with Syria that will return the Golan Heights to Syrian sovereignty without requiring, unfortunately, that Israel evacuate the settlements it has built there.
The factor of time allows injustices to occur as a byproduct. Thus it is in the world, thus it is in our region.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Resolution 194 were indeed compulsory.
The refugee clause is only one of 15 in Resolution 194. I found others to be interesting. Clause 7 is about international rule over Jerusalem. Clause 8 clearly delineates the borders of the international domain of Jerusalem and its environs: in the East Abu Dis, in the South Bethlehem, in the West Ein Karem (including the built section of Moza), in the North Shoafat.
One thing that amazes me is that while the Palestinians complain about Israel defying Resolution 194 regarding the refugees, they are complicit with Israel’s defiance of clauses 7 and 8 relating to Jerusalem and the holy places. Both Israel and the Palestinians hold onto Jerusalem as their capital. Arafaat was willing to enter Jerusalem with millions of Shahids and argued that he and his authority were responsible for the holy sites in Jerusalem. (Moderate) Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as their capital and demand its return by Israel, whereas Israel has no intention of ever relinquishing the city to international rule and insists on global recognition of Jerusalem as its capital. In short, both sides disagree over thousands of issues but are in complete agreement over the defiance of clauses 7 and 8 of Resolution 194.
I wholeheartedly support clauses 7 and 8 of Resolution 194 since it would uproot the religious fanaticism from the conflict. My advice to all those who see themselves as the protectors of the pure left and fanatically support the ROR of Palestinians to Israel, to change their priorities. Let us gather the strength to impose international rule over Jerusalem as stated in clauses 7 and 8 of the Resolution, and let us see how Jews and Arabs and other nations of other religions live together under the international authority of the United Nations. If co-existence in Jerusalem turns out to be successful, al other issues will become less threatening.