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Fact Sheets: The Palestinian “Right of Return”

(Updated June 2002)

The Zionists always knew they would have to live with their Arab neighbors and made every effort to reach an agreement to live in peace; however, most Palestinian Arabs were unwilling to live as equal citizens in a Jewish state and abandoned their homes.

Prior to Israel's declaration of independence the Jews of Palestine urged the Arabs to remain in their homes, but most were afraid to be caught in the crossfire of the fighting provoked by the invading Arab armies, or chose to listen to their leaders' promises that they could leave their homes temporarily and then return when the Jews were driven into the sea.

Israel's declaration of independence explicitly called on the Palestinian Arabs to participate in building the state and pledged that they would be accorded equal rights. This promise was fulfilled for the 150,000 Palestinian Arabs who chose to remain in their homes and became Israeli citizens.

For all their rhetorical support for the Palestinians, the Arab states have contributed less than 5% of the budget of the UNRWA. The United States is the largest funder of this international welfare program for Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority has received billions of dollars in international aid, but has made a tactical decision not to build permanent housing for the refugees, preferring instead to keep them in camps as political tools to breed terrorists and serve as symbols of suffering.

The UN resolved that only those refugees willing to live at peace should be repatriated and that others should be compensated and resettled. The Arab states rejected Resolution 194 because the war had not yet ended and they still expected to destroy Israel. Only after losing the war did they reinterpret the resolution as requiring the return of the refugees.

The UN recognized that Israel could not be expected to repatriate a population that might endanger its security and that the solution to the problem, like all previous refugee problems, would require at least some Palestinians to be resettled in Arab lands.

In the interest of peace, Israeli leaders since 1948 have repeatedly expressed a willingness to accept some refugees as part of a peace agreement, and Israel has already allowed approximately 200,000 to return; however, the Arabs have refused to negotiate and made clear they consider the refugees a weapon in their war against Israel.

Israelis across the political spectrum have made that clear acceptance of a "right of return" would be suicide. If every refugee was allowed to move to Israel, the population would be nearly 10 million and more than 40% Arab. Given the higher Arab birth rate, it would not be long before the Palestinians would be a majority.

Resolution 242 does not mention the Palestinians at all. It calls for "a just settlement of the refugee problem." The use of the generic term "refugee" was a deliberate acknowledgment that two refugee problems were products of the conflict – one Arab and the other Jewish.

Approximately 800,000 Jews fled persecution in Arab countries at about the same time the Palestinians became refugees. The Jews never received any compensation for the property Arab governments stole from them and no international welfare agency was established on their behalf. They were all resettled while the Palestinians were confined to camps by the Arab governments.

When Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip it did not allow the Palestinians into Egypt or permit them to move elsewhere. Today, Palestine refugees in Lebanon do not have social and civil rights, and have very limited access to public health or educational facilities.

Most Palestinian refugees live in the historic territory of Palestine; i.e., Jordan and the West Bank. When they talk of the right of return, they mean to the homes they lived in before they left. A fraction of the 3.7 million refugees on the UN rolls can claim any direct connection to those homes.

The UN repeatedly tried to persuade Arab nations to solve the refugee problem by resettling the Palestinians, but they refused. Modern neighborhoods that were built in the areas of Jenin and Nablus during the 1990's still remain unoccupied because the Palestinian Authority will not allow the refugees to move out of the camps.

To this day, only two Middle East nations grant Palestinians citizenship – Jordan and Israel.