Nor have the Palestinians ever had a legally sound claim to the land they fled. “None of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has ever been ‘Palestinian Land,’ ” writes historian David Meir-Levi. “Before Israel’s, the last legal sovereignty over these territories was that of the Ottoman Empire. The British Mandate was a temporary caretaker control established by the League of Nations. And from 1948 to 1967, the West Bank was illegally occupied and annexed by Jordan, and the Gaza Strip by Egypt — both in stark defiance of international law, Fourth Geneva Convention, and UN resolutions 181 and 194.”
There is some irony in the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly violated both the spirit and intent of 194 — that particular UN resolution containing a reference to concept of “return” to one’s country — although two key points are characteristically ignored by those now pointing to this source as justification for their legal claim.
First, Resolution 194 was the product of the UN General Assembly and “is an expression of sentiment and carries no binding force whatsoever,” meaning that it is meant to make recommendations but not binding law.
What it did suggest, however, was that “the 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 and for loss of or damage to property which . . . should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”
Hebrew University law professor Ruth Lapidoth says this language precludes an interpretation that supports the Palestinian claim of an unqualified right of return as opposed to a suggested one. “Though the Arab states originally rejected the resolution,” she writes (specifically because it would mean giving implicit recognition of the existence of Israel), “they later relied on it heavily and have considered it as recognition of a wholesale right of repatriation.”
But according to Lapidoth, “this interpretation . . . does not seem warranted: the paragraph does not recognize any ‘right,’ but recommends that the refugees ‘should’ be ‘permitted’ to return. Moreover, that permission is subject to two conditions — that the refugee wishes to return, and that he wishes to live at peace with his neighbors,” something the Arab world, even now, has clearly never seen fit to do.
And there is another significant aspect of the “refugee” problem from the 1940s that everyone demanding rights of return and reparations for Palestinian refugees conveniently forgets: some 800,000-900,000 Jews, some of whom had lived in Arab lands for 2,000 years and were fully integrated into those societies, were expelled and all their wealth confiscated as Israel was being established.
So for observers like Professor Karsh, the recommendations of Resolution 194 “could as readily apply to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were then being driven from Arab states in revenge for the situation in Palestine,” and in fact were meant to, since the refugees mentioned in the resolution are purposely not defined as being either Arab or Jew.
In fact, many diplomats and officials had anticipated an exchange of refugees (as has happened successfully in other similar social upheavals) where Palestinian refugees would have been absorbed by Arab states and Jewish refugees by Israel — exactly what happened to some 600,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands.
(Legal scholars also point out that international law grants the right to leave or return to one’s country only to individuals; it is not, contrary to what the Palestinians claim, a collective right. More important, no population of refugees has ever presumed that the right of return — if such a right even exists — could be claimed not only by the original refugees but by all their descendants as well.)
But the Arab world has never agreed to assimilate Palestinians into its respective countries and solve the refugee problem; instead, the blame for the plight of the dispossessed Palestinians has been assigned singularly to Israel.
No one would have imagined that of the roughly one hundred million refugees created by international conflicts since World War II, only the Palestinians would not have been resettled in the million and a half square miles of Arab land; instead, they have been made to tragically languish by their Arab brethren who still hypocritically demand their right to return only to the tiny 8,000-square-mile piece of land that is now Israel.