Global Policy Forum

Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories:


The Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees

In 1948 the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194 on the Question of Palestine, which "resolves that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return..."

Today there are more than 3.7 million Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps throughout the Middle East and many more exiles worldwide. Their right of return is clearly and unambiguously guaranteed by international law under the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The refugees have a claim to citizenship, financial settlement and, in some cases, return to former homes and property in what is today Israel. The government of Israel, however, opposes Palestian immigration, in order to maintain the Jewish character of the state. Whatever the details of any future agreement, a lasting and effective settlement must find a solution for Palestinian refugees that recognizes and accommodates their "right of return" and their claim to full citizenship in a state they can call home.


Documents on the Refugee Right of Return



Palestinian Negotiating Paper on Refugees (January 22, 2001)

An important document from the Taba talks that reflects the Palestinian negotiating position on refugees and their rights in a settlement with Israel.

Israeli Negotiating Paper on Refugees (January 23, 2001)

The Israeli response to the Palestinian refugee paper sets out the Israeli negotiating position on refugees in the Taba talks.

This resolution calls on a Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of Palestinian refugees in Israel.

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951)

The landmark UN document that specifies the rights of the refugee. The Convention also established a framework of basic refugee rights – for example, the right to identity papers, access to courts and education.
The 1967 Protocol implemented the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

The right to return has a solid foundation in international law. Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states, "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country".

Articles & Analysis


The Palestinians' Right of Return (Winter, 2001)

This article argues that a just resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict means that Israel must accept the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Israeli concerns and questions about the right of return are understandable and must be addressed, but Israel's absolute rejection of the rights of refugees cannot be the final word. (Human Rights Brief)

Full Text of the National Conciliation Document of the Prisoners (June 28, 2006)

To end division between their various factions and to establish a common front, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails produced this "National Conciliation Document." It seeks to secure the right of return for refugees, calling on the "international community" to implement UN General Assembly Resolution 194 that resolved that refugees should be able to return to their homes at the earliest moment and should receive compensation by the "governments or authorities responsible." (Translation by Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre)

Disengagement and the Politics of Post-National Realism (August 17, 2005)

The Gaza disengagement is a "smokescreen" for freezing the peace process, and the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict will intensify instead of pacify racial injustice, contends ZNet. Additionally, the author says Palestinian right of return must include authority over laws and allow for Palestinian cultural identity to flourish. This "fundamental change in the political orientation" of the Palestinian solidarity movement, aligning it more with the successful South African anti-apartheid movement, may be "the only viable alternative to either the cultural death of the Palestinian people or a repeat of the catastrophe that befell them in the war of 1948."

Abbas to Declare Not All Refugees to Return to Israel (March 15, 2005)

At a meeting in Cairo, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will announce that not all refugees will be able to return to their former homes in Israel and the Occupied Territories. According to Palestinian sources, Abbas will forego the collective right of return for all refugees "to strengthen the Palestinians' position with regard to other final-status issues such as Jerusalem, the prisoners and the settlements." (Haaretz)

Why a 'Right of Return' Is Necessary (September 27, 2004)

International law and previous UN resolutions all protect the Palestinian refugee right of return. This article asserts that "refugeehood" is a "fundamental aspect" of Palestinian identity, and calls the refugee issue "essential" to any settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The author argues that Israel and the international community cannot consider the status of refugees secondary to the peace process and that there will be "no solution to the land issue without coupling it with the refugee issue." (Bitterlemons)

A Long Way from Home (May 6, 2004)

The prospect of a "right of return", though frustrated by the unpromising Geneva Accord, is still dear to the heart of many Palestinians. This right, argues a Palestinian refugee advocacy group, does not contradict the two-state solution and must be the core issue for any future agreement between Israel and Palestine. (World Press Review)

1948 Refugee Issue Still Plagues Peace Efforts (January 29, 2004)

The Geneva Accords have generated lengthy debate on how to solve the Palestinian right of return issue. Some opponents of the plan claim that it effectively denies the right of return granted by UN General Assembly resolution 194. Supporters see the initiative as the first and only peace plan to address in detail the Palestinian refugee issue, giving the refugees a choice as to where they would like to live. (Daily Star)

The Sacrifice: Palestine's Coveted Right to Return (October 14, 2003)

The Independent provides the details of a new Israeli and Palestinian-brokered plan to bring peace to the troubled region. The controversial plan includes Palestinian refugees ceding the right to return in exchange for Palestinian control over Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.

On the Right of Return (June 23, 2003)

Legal and political factors structure the debate surrounding the Palestinian right to return to Israeli-owned territory. Raja Halwani argues that the question of morality has an important place in the debate, because morality provides the legitimacy for legal and political arguments. (Electronic Intifada)

A Bridge Too Far (February 14, 2001)

The Israeli left urges Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians on many issues, but it staunchly opposes the Palestinians' right to return to Israel. Like Israel's extreme right, they believe that that the "right of return" is a ploy to destroy Israel "stage by stage." (Al-Ahram)

Human Rights Watch Policy on the Right to Return

Any agreement between Israelis and Palestinians should include the right of return for Palestinian refugees. This inalienable right is held not only by those who fled a territory initially but also by their descendents. (Human Rights Watch)

Right of Return: Palestinian Dream? (February 2, 2001)

There are more than 3.7 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East and many more worldwide. This BBC article provides a snapshot of the plight of Palestinian refugees from 1947 onward. (BBC)

Right to Return (January 16, 2001)

Although many of the Palestinians evicted from Israel in 1948 have died, the desire to return is passed on to succeeding generations. This fervent desire may be the biggest obstacle to a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. (Guardian)
One hundred prominent Palestinian personalities (from Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Arabian Gulf, Europe, the UK and the US) have issued a declaration affirming the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. (Al-Ahram)

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