The core members of the Working Group include international, Palestinian and Israeli NGOs who work with Palestinian refugee and internally displaced persons (IDPs) and grassroots community based organisations. Any mention of Palestinian refugees by the Working Group always refers to refugees as well as IDPs. The working group bases its activities on the following vision, objectives and principles.
The fate of millions of Palestinian refugees and IDPs has not been adequately discussed or addressed within the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis to date. This has contributed, with other obstacles and barriers, to deterioration in their humanitarian situation, continuance of the protection gap, and a stalemate in peace talks. We believe that any talks must lead to a process that can deliver peace with justice and security and rights for all Palestinians and Israelis. For Palestinian refugees and IDPs, such a process must listen to those whose voices, so far, have been ignored as an inconvenience of history and explicitly recognize and ensure their legitimate rights.
We regard ourselves, and the wider international community, as critical partners in bringing this core issue into the discussion. We aim to become a driving force for a process that must include Palestinian refugees in the decisions that will affect their lives.
We are clear that any just solution for Palestinians and Israelis should respect and ensure the right of return for all Palestinian refugees as well as the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs); the implementation of those rights must be determined through refugee consent and participation based on their voluntary and free choice as enshrined in international refugee law. Furthermore, we consider that the on-going displacement of Palestinians, whether inside Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory or across the wider region, is part of a process that began in 1947. This policy of displacement is a root cause of injustice, impunity and instability throughout the Middle East; it is a core issue that must be addressed for any peaceful solution to be viable.
Above all, we believe in the right of all to live in peace with security and economic opportunity and to be free from any form of prejudice or discrimination.
Basis for the right of return
The right of return is enshrined in the law of nationality, customary law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and refugee law, as well as numerous UN resolutions. The obligation to respect the right of return has been a customary, legally binding norm of international law since before 1948.
The right of return is explicitly grounded in Article 12(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The right of return is both an individual right, with each refugee holding the right to return to their homes, and a collective right to be exercised by the Palestinian people as a whole. These rights are not mutually exclusive, and the fundamental right to self-determination cannot effectively be implemented without the right of return and return itself.
Specifically relating to Palestine, in December 1948 the UN General Assembly called upon Israel to respect the Palestinian refugees’ right of return and associated rights in Resolution 194 (III). This resolution explicitly states that Palestinians have the right of return to their homes of origin, and thus international law obligates Israel to receive these refugees. Since 1948, various UN bodies have regularly reaffirmed the Palestinian right of return.
Guiding Principles of Refugee and Displacement Working Group
- Adopting a rights-based approach, the Refugee and Displacement Working Group affirms that Palestinian refugees have three inalienable rights: return, restitution and compensation. Any mention of ‘rights of Palestinian refugees’ in the publications of the Working Group always refers to these three, in addition to the rights of IDPs.
- The overall vision is the respect for and ensuring of refugees rights, particularly the fulfillment of the right of return, guided by international law.
- Resolving historic injustice should not lead to a new injustice.
- The roles and responsibilities of the international community should ensure protection of Palestinian refugees and safeguard the body of international law established to protect all human rights, as enshrined in international covenants and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Hearing the voices of Palestinian refugees and IDPs is not sufficient; they must be listened to and incorporated in decision-making processes related to their lives, including the right to return.
The future of the Refugee and Displacement Working Group
The core working group has met and agreed some basic principles and objectives. However, in order to ensure that we are as representative, effective and legitimate as possible when developing, defending and pursuing those objectives, we will:
- Expand the network, including linking with other organisations, grassroots movements, networks, coalitions and individuals to maximise the voice of affected communities;
- Create, but not control, space for divergent views to be challenged;
- Explore ways of questioning a lack of or limits to debate which must include challenging mainstream discourses on refugees;
- Foster unity between existing coalition networks and groups working on issues related to Palestinian refugees and IDPs;
- Support Palestinian refugees and IDPs to be involved in securing their rights; and
- Raise awareness and profile of the right of return within international political and civil societies
Agreed key objectives
- Palestinian refugee voices are part of and influence Palestinian participation and involvement in any political process via representative bodies.
- Challenge formal and informal predispositions (Israeli, Palestinian and international) regarding the return of Palestinian refugees, and the applicability of the right of return, as well as the practicalities of return.
- Hold the ‘international community’ (governments/bodies) to account for their legal and ethical obligations in relation to the right of return.