October 24, 2011

UNGA 194 and the Denied Right to Resettlement and Compensation

Get into a discussion with an anti-Israel advocate about UN General Assembly Resolution 194, and invariably will come "proof" there is a legal "right to return" for Palestinian Arab refugees of 1948 and the millions of their descendants.  It makes me wonder how much these advocates actually know about history, or the lengths some will go to forget.

Setting aside the obvious, that UNGA resolutions are soft law and not legally binding, and the conditional nature of the Resolution's text, it's interesting to delve deeper to see how implementation was understood at the time by the Conciliation Commission it established.  This helps to show context and that little has changed.

Of course, the part of UNGA 194 always cited to emblazon the "right of return" is from Paragraph 11:

Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours 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;

However, the second clause of Paragraph 11 instructs the Conciliation Commission "to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation...."

The Commission's first goal was to complete formation of the Refugee Office.  Once done in mid-1951, it started a new mediation effort to assist the parties in seeking solution of questions outstanding between them, offering to suggest specific solutions to specific problems for consideration.  The parties agreed and a conference was held in Paris from 13 September to 19 November.

The Commission reported its progress to the Secretary General on 20 November 1951. The Chairman noted from experience that "concentration on one or the other isolated paragraph of the resolution out of context had not helped promote peace." The necessary elements were "only useful if linked together according to an over-all plan."  As an example, the Commission referred to the mandate to facilitate "repatriation, resettlement and rehabilitation of refugees" that guided its proposals at the conference.

In its words:  "The interrelation of all the aspects of the problem was too obvious to be overlooked."

The proposals recognized that any solution of the refugee question would involve important commitments by Israel, but these required concurrent reasonable assurances from her neighbours as to her national and economic security. The solution proposed by the Commission envisaged the repatriation and integration of some of the refugees in Israel and the resettlement of others in Arab countries.
Discussion of the comprehensive set of proposals was to be preceded by a declaration of peaceful intentions by the parties in the form of a preamble.  The Commission's suggested text read as follows:
In accordance with the obligations of States Members of the United Nations and of signatories to Armistice Agreements, the [parties] solemnly affirm their intention and undertake to settle all differences, present or future, solely by resort to pacific procedures, refraining from any use of force or acts of hostility, with full respect for the right of each party to security and freedom from fear of attack, and by these means to promote the return of peace in Palestine.

The two sides submitted alternative language and there was no agreement.  The Commission found that the Israeli formulation "went beyond the preliminary statement the Commission considered practicable," while the Arab formulation "fell short of the intention as set forth in the preamble."  In spite of extensive discussions, formal and informal, the Arab delegations would not accept the Commission's proposed text.

Some of the relevant proposals affecting the refugees:
That an agreement be reached concerning war damages by mutual cancellation of claims.

That Israel agree to repatriation of a specified number of Arab refugees which can be integrated into the economy and who wish to return and live in peace with their neighbours.

That Israel accept an obligation to pay a global sum as compensation for property abandoned by refugees not repatriated, to be determined by the Commission's Refugee Office.
The wishes of the refugees required coordination with the practical possibilities of any proposed solution because "concrete conditions of repatriation and resettlement would undoubtedly influence the wishes of the refugees, and the expression of these wishes would in turn determine the extent of any repatriation plan."

The Commission acknowledged that the General Assembly operated under an assumption that refugees could without great difficulty return and resume their lives on the intact and unoccupied land and houses they had abandoned in their flight. The Commission was instructed to facilitate such movement, but it did not come to pass because of the well-known deadlock over the question of repatriation.

The Arab States insisted on a solution, at least in principle, of unconditional acceptance by Israel of the right of refugees to be repatriated, before agreeing to discuss other issues. For Israel no solution involving repatriation could occur outside an over-all settlement, nor could the right of return involve a repatriation operation of unknown extent.

The Commission's indicated that its proposals could only be successful if both parties, having the best interests of the refugees in mind, were willing to depart from their original positions in order to make possible practical and realistic arrangements towards the solution of the refugee problem.

Israel offered to accept a portion of the refugees, in full compliance with the resolution, but in context of the other parts of the resolution necessary to solve the questions outstanding and reach a full peace.  Conversely, the Arab solution required unconditional acceptance by Israel of the "right of repatriation" or no further discussion.

Sound familiar? In the meanwhile, to protect a "principle" of conflict, the Arabs leave the refugees to languish and suffer without choice as pawns in a larger conflict, supposedly in their "best interest."  Which response is more consistent with the Commission's words?  I have no problem understanding the difference in these two approaches to peace and promotion of human dignity.

One would think if re-settlement and compensation had been offered to the refugees themselves in 1951 that many thousands would have accepted and integrated into the other Arab societies.  There would not be this intractable issue today.  But Arab leaders chose to let them suffer to further conflict.

To conclude, the idea that Arab leaders are less rigid today is ludicrous, except in a world turned upside down.  Yet why today is there so little mention that Palestinian Arab refugees who want to live in Arab countries have the right to resettle in those countries?  Why are there no protests against these human rights violations by Palestinian and Arab regimes?  Do Palestinian supporters of “return” believe it is fair to make ALL the refugees return?  Is this illustrative of a double standard?

(Tip to EoZ)

No comments:

Post a Comment