There is no such thing as the “Right of Return.”
In 1948-1949, during the course of Israel’s War of Independence – fought defensively by Israel after having been attacked by several Arab states – several hundred thousand Arabs living in the land left. The Israel government estimated the number as 550,000 to 600,000.
The claim from the Palestinian Arabs side is that they were all driven out by the Israelis.
In point of fact, a great many went of their own volition, or were encouraged by their own leaders to do so. They were told that as soon as the Israelis lost the war, they would be able to come back. See personal testimonies about this here: http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=157&doc_id=25624
After Israel won the war, those Arabs who had chosen to remain were given Israeli citizenship.
The further claim was then made that those Arabs who had left were refugees who all had a “right to return” to the “homes and villages” from which they had come. This “right of return” concept was promoted – most significantly and consistently by UNRWA – in order to put pressure on Israel; huge numbers of “returning refugees,” many overtly hostile, would have caused great disruption and overwhelmed the Jewish population.
The claim for this right rested upon words in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III). As it was passed by the General Assembly, however, in legal terms this resolution was only a recommendation. General Assembly resolutions are not binding in law. A UN GA resolution cannot confer a “right.”
The entire claim is actually based on one single clause within section 11 of that resolution:
“…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…”
It is possible to immediately see a catch, as it was recommended only that those wishing to live in peace with their neighbors should be permitted to return. That would have been a dubious proposition in 1949, at the end of a war between Arabs and Jews, and is undoubtedly an even more problematic stipulation today.
That it says “at the earliest practicable date” is a further indication that this was not a legal stipulation: this is too vague and amorphous to be legal.
Most significantly, when the resolution is read carefully, it becomes clear that return is not the only recommendation made with regard to the situation of the refugees. The resolution established a Conciliation Committee, which was instructed to “facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees…”
Repatriation (return), then, was only one option for resolving the situation of the refugees. Resettlement was another.
This resolution does not speak of the “right” of Arab refugees to return to Israel.
Over the years, the number of those who are allegedly “refugees” has grown enormously because of the politicized manner in which the situation has been handled.
Please see the section on UNRWA for more on how the numbers have been vastly and artificially inflated, and how the “refugee” status is retained through generations.