Scott Leckie is Executive Director of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evcitions, Geneva (COHRE).
There can be no prospect of a workable peace agreement until the return and property restitution question is properly addressed. Indeed, this is a major lesson of all post-conflict situations throughout the world: address restitution issues head on, and more likely than not peace will hold. Ignore it, and the war that was so hard to stop in the first place will be much more likely eventually to re-ignite.
The Palestinians are hardly trying to break new ground. The right to return and the right to restitution of property have a long legal history, and have been most recently actualized in such places as Bosnia, Kosovo, Mozambique, South Africa, Tajikistan and throughout eastern and central Europe. The US has often provided political and financial backing for restitution. Nobody has done more to enshrine the establishment of the right to restitution of property than Jewish groups of Holocaust victims. Through phenomenal organization and determination they have helped ensure that hundreds of thousands of people have been rightly allowed to return to, regain control over or to be compensated for property illegally confiscated during the Second World War.
In August, the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights endorsed the UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons and encouraged their application and implementation by all States, intergovernmental organizations, and other relevant actors. The ‘Pinheiro Principles’ are directly relevant to all refugee and displaced persons, including Palestinian refugees and IDPs.