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Jonathan D. Halevi

The Palestinian “Right of Return” Law Leaves No Room for Political Flexibility

Jonathan D. Halevi, posted March 7, 2012

In the long-standing debate regarding the Palestinian political strategy and the prospects of reaching a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some argue that the Palestinian Authority (PA) will ultimately relinquish its demand for the “right of return” of five million Palestinian refugees and their descendents to the sovereign territory of the State of Israel.
Others believe that the Palestinian consensus is intransigent on the issue. They predict that after an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, a future Palestinian state will pursue its struggle for full implementation of the “right of return,” which means resettling the Palestinians in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and many other communities, and in fact bringing about the destruction of the State of Israel.
In 2008, the uncompromising Palestinian adherence to the “right of return” was anchored in legislation passed by the Palestinian Parliament and ratified by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. (The stances of the Fatah movement, the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO], and the PA regarding the “right of return” were analyzed in detail in The Palestinian Refugees on the Day after Independence.1)
The provisions of the “Right of Return” Law block any possibilities of compromise and political flexibility for Palestinian negotiators and prohibit even the slightest amendment of this right. Understanding the Palestinian political stance is highly important for shaping future Israeli policy.
The following is a translation of the Palestinian “Right of Return” Law, which clearly indicates what the Palestinian leadership really means when discussing the rights of refugees and demanding the implementation of UN Resolution 194:
The Law of The Right of Return of the Palestinian Refugees2
No. 1 of year 2008
Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization
President of the Palestinian National Authority
After reviewing the Basic Law and its amendments and in particular Article 41 thereof; after reviewing the rules of procedure of the Legislative Council, and in particular Article 71 thereof; based on decisions of the Legislative Council at its meeting on November 22, 2007; having considered the letter of transmittal of the Legislative Council to the President of the Palestinian National Authority on December 8, 2007 and on behalf of the Arab Palestinian people, we have issued the following law:
Article 1
The below-mentioned words and phrases in this law have the following meanings unless the context indicates otherwise:
The Palestinian refugee: Any Palestinian, and/or his/her descendents, who was deprived or is being deprived by the Zionist occupation from permanent residence in his/her original community in historic Palestine, and is being deprived from receiving full citizenship rights in it [historic Palestine], regardless of the date in which his right was denied, the way it was denied, immigration, displacement, deportation, expulsion, absence, naturalization, deprivation or any other measures denying his right of return.
Right of return of the Palestinian refugee: This is the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, who reside inside and outside Palestine, to their homes, property and rights in any part of historic Palestine, and [right] of compensation for the refugees and their descendants for past and future moral and material damages and/or damages to their property, houses and rights, [damages] which occurred directly or indirectly due to becoming refugees starting at that time until their return.
Article 2
The right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes and property, and receiving compensation for their suffering, is an inalienable and enshrined right that cannot be compromised, replaced, reconsidered, interrelated or posed to a referendum.
Article 3
The right of return is natural, personal, collective, civil, political, inherited from father to son; it is not prescribed by passage of time or by signing any agreement and it cannot be abolished or waived in any way.
Article 4
A- The Zionist occupation bears full responsibility for the political, legal, humanitarian and moral suffering of the Palestinian people and the lack of recognition of its right to self-determination.
B- Britain bears historical responsibility for the suffering of the Palestinian people.
C- The international community bears full responsibility for the lifting and removal of the suffering of the Palestinian people.
D- The Palestinians have the right to sue the Zionist occupation and all who inflicted suffering to the Palestinian people and to demand compensation for physical or moral damages.
Article 5
The Palestinian refugees shall not be resettled or displaced as an alternative to the right of return.
Article 6
Anyone who violates the provisions of this Act shall be guilty of the crime of treason and will be subject to all criminal and civil penalties prescribed for this crime.
Article 7
Anything that contradicts this law is considered null and void, and any legislation or agreement that will derogate the right of return or contradict the provisions of this Act shall be deemed null and void.
Article 8
All competent authorities – each in his own jurisdiction – have to implement the provisions of this Act, and to act according to it as of the date of its publication in the Official Gazette.
Issued on: January 8, 2008 AD
Corresponding to: 29/Dhu al-Hija/1429 AH
Mahmoud Abbas
Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization
President of the Palestinian National Authority
* * *
* * *
Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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