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Source: Palestine Report 2, 4 (28 June 1996). [Palestine Report commentary]

The 24th Arab summit, which convened on 22-23 June in Cairo, announced the Arab world's commitment to the implementation of the Oslo accords, signed between the PLO and Israel in 1993. The agreement is based on the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which upholds the concept of a land for peace settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Following is a brief history of the UN resolutions pertaining to the Palestinian refugees' right to return.

The right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland is legitimate both historically and legally. A series of United Nations resolutions issued since 1948 have recognized Palestinian nationhood, sovereignty and right of return. A report submitted to the UN Security Council in ... 1948 held that the residents of Palestine, who left Palestine because of the nature of the struggle there, have the right to return to their country without any preconditions, and to repossess their properties. An updated version of the report, published in Paris in ... 1948, added that the UN should uphold the right of innocent people, who were displaced from their homes because of war, to return to their homes. Such refugees who do not wish to return to their homes should be compensated financially, held the report.

Based on these reports, the Security Council passed its 194th resolution on December 1948, maintaining that Palestinian refugees wishing to return to their homes, "and live in peace with their neighbors," must be allowed to do so "at the nearest opportunity possible," and that those who do not wish to return must be compensated for their lost properties. For those who do return, any damage done to their property should also be compensated by the government and authorities involved.

When Israel applied for membership in the United Nations, the UN General Assembly made the acceptance of Israel's application contingent on Israel's adherence to resolution 194. When Israel became a member of the UN, but refused to allow the return of refugees to the country, the General Assembly was forced to adopt resolution 513, based on a suggestion made by UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency, in charge of care for refugees) to rehabilitate Palestinian refugees, either by returning them to their original homes as stated in resolution 194, or by helping them build a new home in another country.

Palestinians have, and still do, oppose the latter part of the newer resolution, and remain living in refugee camps in their host countries.

When Israel waged the 1967 war, a new problem arose: that of a second wave of refugees. A new series of UN General Assembly resolutions were subsequently issued, dealing both with the right of return of Palestinians displaced from their homeland in 1947-1948, and those displaced as a result of the 1967 war. General Assembly resolution 2452, issued in December 1968, however, noted "with deep regret" that the 1948 refugees had not yet been returned to their homeland or compensated in accordance with resolution 194, nor were they relocated as specified in resolution 513.

The state of Palestinian refugees is therefore still a cause for deep concern, held the resolution, and urged the committee in charge of following up on the issue with continuing their efforts to bring about the realization of resolution 194.

In resolution 2535 issued in 1969, the General Council maintained that the greatest problem facing Palestinian refugees arose from a systematic denial of their rights, as defined in the United Nations Charter, and the International Declaration of Human rights. Resolution 2535 also included the Palestinians displaced as a result of the 1967 war.

In 1973, the General Assembly issued resolution 3089, reiterating the Palestinian refugees' right of return. The resolution maintained that the right of the refugees to return to their homeland and properties is fundamental to achieving a just settlement to the refugee dilemma, and to achieving the Palestinian right of self-determination. This resolution was the General Assembly's explanation for adopting resolution 242, which sets the concept of land for peace as the basis for a solution to the refugee issue, but did not include the practical means by which to reach such a solution. The reference to the right of return for refugees included both the refugees of 1948 and the displaced persons of 1967, and resolution 3089 applies to all Palestinian refugees without discrimination. Resolution 3089 also considers the right of return a prerequisite to achieving Palestinian self-determination.

In 1978, in an addition to resolution 3236 of 1974, the UN General Assembly added that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East could not be achieved without the realization of Palestinian legitimate rights, including the right of return. This associated the right of return with Palestinians as a nation, and not only with individual Palestinians.

Israel has still not implemented the first of the UN resolutions pertaining to Palestinian refugees, resolution 194. Israel is still requested to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, and compensate those who will not return.

The third article of the Oslo agreement, signed by the PLO and Israel in 1993, upholds the right of Palestinian return. The refugee issue has been deferred to final status talks, however, and the question that has been asked since 1948 is now being asked again: when will Israel implement UN resolution 194?

PALESTINE REPORT is a weekly news digest published by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre (JMCC).

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