Does a Palestinian "Right of Return" Exist in International Law?

(Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Amb. Alan Baker and Lea Bilke - On Nov. 9, 2021, the Fourth (Special Political) Committee of the UN General Assembly adopted by a 160-1 vote a draft resolution on Palestinian refugees. The U.S. abstained, although all previous administrations, apart from the Obama administration, had voted against this resolution. In 1999, the U.S. representative (representing the Clinton administration) stated, "This delegation could not support unbalanced resolutions which attempted to prejudge the outcome of negotiations; lasting peace would come from agreements reached among the parties themselves, not from any action taken by the Committee." The international media pounced on the latest change in the U.S. voting pattern, erroneously claiming that it signified "support by the Biden administration for a right of return for Palestinian refugees to sovereign Israel." In fact, the U.S. vote-change signifies no such thing, and the resolution does not mention any right of return for Palestinian refugees. Several international legal and political documents try to tackle the question of return of refugees, but they do not establish any right of return for Palestinian refugees. UN General Assembly Resolution 194 states that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so," but no resolution of the General Assembly has the capacity to determine laws or establish rights. The term "should" underlines that this is solely a recommendation. Moreover, a "right of return" does not appear in resolutions of the UN Security Council, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), or in Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process documentation. Alan Baker, former legal counsel to Israel's foreign ministry, heads the international law program at the Jerusalem Center. Lea Bilke is a law student at the Free University of Berlin in Germany.

2021-11-22 00:00:00

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