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International Law Lawyer David Matas At Symposium : Security Council 242 was intended to encompass Jewish refugees not only Arab Refugees-There is no Right of Return for Palestinian refugees to Israel

David Matas, posted here Sept 20

[Editor's note: Below is an except from David Matas's remarks on "Israel, international law and peace",given at a symposium at the Fort Garry Hotel, Winnipeg,  September 9,2018. I have chosen to give readers an excerpt David Matas's remarks about the drafting of Security Council 242 showing it was intended to encompass Jewish refugees not only Arab Refugees. I have also chosen to give readers an excerpt of his remarks about the Right of Return, indicating Palestinian refugees ought to live in a future State of Palestine  when the peace process leads to the creation of such a Palestinian state, and not return to Israel ]

Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967 which laid down principles for a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, stipulates that a comprehensive peace settlement should necessarily include "a just settlement of the refugee problem". No distinction is made between Arab refugees and Jewish refugees.


A just settlement would require reparations. A just settlement should include compensation for property seized and damage suffered. It should include an acknowledgement, in detail, of what happened.


The drafting history of the resolution shows that the generic term "refugee problem" was meant to refer to both Jewish and Arab refugees. An earlier draft of the resolution referred only to Palestinian refugees and met with opposition, because of the exclusion of Jewish refugees. [1] The generic phrasing was the result. That generic phrasing was explained as intending to encompass Jewish refugees. [2]


When it comes to Jewish refugees, one response on the Palestinian side is that this is not our problem, that it can be addressed in the later pan-Arab negotiations, after a final Palestinian Israeli peace treaty. This position ignores the fact that some of the Jewish refugees generated by the wars against the existence of Israel came from the West Bank and Gaza, about 40,000. UNRWA, using an earlier neutral refugee definition, initially took responsibility for some 17,000 Jewish refugees who had lived in and fled from the territory of British Mandate Palestine seized by Arab forces during the 1948 war.[3]


Even if negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel were limited only to refugees from British Mandate Palestine, the Palestinian Israeli peace negotiations should address the issue of Jewish refugees.


Second, and more important, the issue of refugees is central to the peace negotiations. The notion that there could be peace, even meaningful peace negotiations, without reference to refugees is not tenable. Yet, it is impossible to discuss one refugee population without discussing the other.


[Editor's note: Below are David Matas's remarks about the Right of Return]

.... Palestinian refugees, rather than seek local integration wherever they happen to be as a durable solution, claim a right of return to the territory of Israel. This is an assertion of the right of Palestinian refugees to move to Israel permanently from wherever they are, whatever their status is now in the territory in which they live, and whatever their status is or was in Israel.


If one thinks of this right being asserted generally, what is it? It would be the right of descendants to move to the country that now has jurisdiction over the territory in which their ancestors once lived or worked temporarily. Yet, one would scour the international instruments in vain looking for such a right. Palestinian rights activists assert this right for Palestinians, but neither they nor anyone else asserts this right for any other group.


Some Palestinian refugees are former nationals of British Mandate Palestine, a country which no longer exists. The successor state for Palestinian refugees is not the Jewish State of Israel. It is rather the Arab state which would be created out of the old British Mandate Palestine when the peace process leads to the creation of such a state.


Israel has a law of return which gives access to Israeli nationality to Jews around the world. The West Bank and Gaza, when they become a state with the power to enact their own nationality laws, could do the same, giving access to Palestinian nationality to Palestinians wherever they happen to be. This sort of nationality law is permitted by international law, but international law does not require it.



    [1] S/8236, discussed by the Security Council at its 1382nd meeting of November 22, 1967, notably at paragraph 117, in the words of Ambassador Kouznetsov of the Soviet Union

    [2] Goldberg, Arthur J., “Resolution 242: After 20 Years”, published in Security Interests, National Committee on American Foreign Policy, April 2002

    [3] Don Peretz "Who Is a Refugee?" 9/4/2018 Palestine-Israel Journal: Vol.2 No.4 1995

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.