BADIL Occasional Bulletin No. 11
The Meaning of UN Resolution 194 (Right of Return)
Publisher: BADIL Resource Center, April 2002
Over the past several years an increasing amount of attention has been focused on the Palestinian refugee question and Palestinian refugees demand for implementation of their right of return in the context of a durable solution of the historical Palestinian/Arab Israeli conflict. In this context, various politicians, analysts, researchers and journalists have proffered numerous interpretations of UN General Assembly Resolution 194(III), 11 December 1948, the pre-eminent UN resolution relating to Palestinian refugees. In some cases, the interpretations proffered are incorrect due to the lack of accurate information. In other cases, incorrect interpretation of the resolution stems from deliberate attempts to minimize or limit the implementation of Palestinian refugee rights.
The Sharon governments strategic decision to terminate the process of political negotiations with the Palestinian people has brought about an unprecedented military campaign aimed at the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, leadership and popular resistance. The military assault is accompanied by an intensive propaganda campaign aimed at delegitimizing the rightful Palestinian demand for the implementation of universal principles of human rights, international law and UN resolutions. In this context deliberate misinterpretation of the Palestinian refugees right of return (UN General Assembly Resolution 194) has become fashionable, even among experts who have the means to know better.
In some cases, misinterpretations argue that UN Resolution 194 is deliberately vague and leaves open the option of financial compensation and re-settlement instead of refugee return (See, for example, Eyal Benvenisti on the Summit of the Arab League in Haaretz, 4 April 2002; and, Rex Brynen in Fofognet #2002-81). In other cases it is argued that UN Resolution 194 calls for the return of five million refugees to Israel, a misinterpretation favored by Israeli politicians and commentators in order to frighten the Israeli public. In any case, such incorrect and contradictory interpretations downplay the relevance of UN Resolution 194 and obstruct a constructive Palestinian-Israeli and international debate about a rights-based and practical solution of the Palestinian refugee question.
BADIL Occasional Bulletin No. 11 provides an overview of the meaning of UN Resolution 194(III) based on a review of the drafting history and various working papers prepared by the Secretariat of the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine. It shows, among others, that UN Resolution 194:
*Sets forth a clear hierarchy of solutions for Palestinian refugees by delineating RETURN, REAL PROPERTY RESTITUTION and COMPENSATION for loss or damage of property as the PRIMARY SOLUTION;
*Affirms the principle of INDIVIDUAL REFUGEE CHOICE between return to homes and properties now located in Israel and other options for a permanent solution (absorption/resettlement in current host countries or elsewhere). The principle of refugee choice or voluntariness requires that ALL REFUGEES must be enabled to make a free and educated choice about their preferred durable solution;
*Affirms the principle of SAFE RETURN: Resolution 194 not only imposes an obligation upon refugees choosing to return to live at peace with their neighbors, but also imposes an obligation upon Israel to ensure the peace of the returning refugees and to protect them from any elements seeking to disturb that peace.
Electronic copies of BADIL Occasional Bulletin No. 11 are available upon request. Click here to read Bulletin No. 11.
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