Opinions of Peter Belmont
Speaking Truth to Power

Right of return and the Palestinian State

by Peter A. Belmont / 2011-09-14
© 2011 Peter Belmont


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If the Palestinians manage, this week of September, 2011, to advance the idea (or reality) of a Palestinian State, especially if they gain (against all indications of a USA veto) the UNSC’s blessing on UN membership as a state member, then—then—then—what of the right of return, enshrined for all people in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 13[1] and enshrined especially for the refugees of the 1948 Israeli/Arab war in UNGA-194, Art 11[2]

Here are some sticky questions:

[1] If refugees of the 1948 war (including their progeny) are entitled to be repatriated to pre-1967 Israeli territory (presumably to be ruled by Israel as sovereign) or in the alternative to be repaid for the land, will they retain this right if they become the citizen of some other state (for instance, of Palestine)?

[2] Assuming that accepting citizenship in any state erases one’s rights under UNGA-194,[3] will creation of a State of Palestine, perhaps particularly as a UN member, impose citizenship on people (Arab Palestinians in particular) then living within the declared territory of that State? Will the refugees from 1948 now living in Gaza and the West Bank automatically become citizens of the new state, or will they have an option to remain stateless refugees if they prefer? Will Israeli settlers, although present illegally in OPTs, become automatic citizens of the new Palestine?

[3] After a new Palestine comes into sufficient existence, will 1948-refugees now living in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and perhaps farther afield automatically become citizens of the new state? And if so will they lose their status as retariable refugees under UNGA-194?

[4] Can the new Palestine create a citizenship law which makes clear that there are NO automatic citizens of the state and that everyone who wishes to be a citizen must apply for citizenship—thereby making it clear that although all Palestinians are welcome (as I trust they will be), none are coerced into automatic citizenship?

[5] Can the new Palestine make a citizenship law that allows for dual (or multiple) citizenship? So USA citizens, for example, may apply for and obtain Palestinian citizenship?

[6] There must be good elections, somehow, and in spite of the Gaza/West Bank difficulties, and in spite of the occupation, and the new laws, and especially the new citizenship laws, must be created by well-elected people.

[7] The old system of the PLO as the sole spokesman for all the Palestinian people, wherever they may reside, was (in principle) a good one. Can it be retained after there is a new Palestine? If so, there could be a new Palestinian State, but also a Palestinian people, and, like Israel, the new Palestine could be “a” state, even “the” state FOR the Palestinian people (everywhere), but nevertheless the state OF its (voluntary) citizens, leaving to the PLO the representation of all Palestinians who are NOT citizens of new Palestine.

What other questions are there, of this sort?


[1] The term right of return refers to a principle of international law, codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, giving any person the right to return to, and re-enter, his or her country of origin. This principle is sometimes reflected in special consideration in a country’s immigration laws (called “repatriation”) which facilitate or encourage the reunion of a diaspora.see wiki


[2] Resolves 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, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible. * * *


[3] On this assumption, Jewish refugees who arrived in Israel from Arab states in 1948 and after, and who accepted Israeli citizenship, would no longer be “refugees” (having become “citizens”) and would no longer enjoy rights under UNGA-194 Art. 11.


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