With all this talk of refugees and 194 and whether the Saudi "peace plan" does or does not call for the "right of return," it's easy to lose track of the fundamentals behind the sound bites. So here, for those of us who can always use a little memory refresher from time to time, is the actual language pertaining to refugees in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III) (December 11, 1948):
The General Assembly,
Having considered further the situation in Palestine,
.....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;
Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations;.....
It's important to remember that Israel has never accepted the legitimacy of this non-binding resolution and that it was specifically omitted from both the Oslo Accords and the Declaration of Principles. Instead, refugee issues were to be part of the permanent status negotiations to be conducted at the successful conclusion of the now-defunct Oslo process.
Why has Israel so steadfastly resisted application of this Resolution? Well, it's clear that the "return" to Israel of millions of Arab Palestinians would quickly tilt the demographics in such a way as to bring an end to any semblance of a Jewish state -- at least a democratic one. It's not going to happen. On the other hand, the following quote from Fattah's official website, written during the Netanyahu administration, seems to propose the use of the "right of return" as a negotiating tool rather than a real goal. Or does it?
To us, the refugees issue is the winning card which means the end of the Israeli state. They have, therefore, refused to solve it this way. Meanwhile, we should not seek negotiable solutions. And as we see netiniaho up the tree, we should neither help him down nor send him a safeguardrope. Adherence to the principle regarding the refugee issue and Jerusalem is what may enable us to exercise pressure in the future to remove settlements. Netiniaho is trying to expedite solving the three issues in order to impose his own solution. Our real power rests in our abiding the PLO which together with the cabinet will not resume negotiations unless a real revolutions in the settlement principle takes place and settling in Abu Ghuneim Mount [Har Homa] is stopped. Thus, we will kill two important birds in one stone.
The status of Jerusalem is negotiable and resolution 225 states that it is an occupied land. Besides, settlements, including Abu Ghuneim, are built on occupied lands and should therefore be removed. As we should not agree on leaving the settlements where they are, we cannot impose the return of the huge number of the refugees. But we can utilize the refugees' card politically to establish the independent Palestinian states in the territories occupied in 1967. The transitory solution of the refugees issue in the future is through confederation with Jordan. I visualize the future in establishing a democratic state by peaceful means. This will come true when the Zionist illusion comes to an end, the thing that has begun to occur in the Labor Party and Merits. To Netiniaho, on the other hand, Zionism has witnessed resurrection, and we consequently need the support o other Israelis to wage a new war against Zionism if they want to live peacefully in the Arab and Islamic context......
The gist of this article seems to be that, regardless of how many "refugees" actually "return," Israel must abandon its character as a Jewish state if it is ever to "live peacefully in the Arab and Islamic context." And that, I think, is the ultimate bottom line.