This paper shows that despite the close relationship between the
issues of citizenship and of return, this relationship has not been
fully utilized within the proposals presented for dealing with the
right of return to Palestine-Israel. It also shows that the close
relationship between these two issues could provide the basis for
solutions that have not yet been conceived, or presented, for
The Human Rights Convention
The framework defining the relationship between return and
citizenship is the International Human Rights Convention, along
with other documents related to international human rights.
According to Article 13 of the International Human Rights
Convention, "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including
his own, and to return to his country."
This context has many meanings, not least of which are firstly,
that the right of return is a guaranteed right to return to one's
country. The International Human Rights Convention did not mention
return to a "state", as states could change, while countries remain
stable, which means that even if an established state within a
country were to change after an individual leaves it, this
individual's right to return does not diminish. Secondly, the right
to return is an individual right.
Following international experience within several countries around
the world, citizenship is acquired according to a person's place of
birth, or according to kinship (the mother and father), some
countries add a third criterion which is that of residency.
Nevertheless, there are differences between citizenship and
nationality which we will not elaborate here.
The Palestinian-Israeli Case
Concerning the Palestinians, recognition of their citizenship
within this country did not arise only as a result of the
international human rights documents which recognize this
citizenship, or as a result of the continuous and historic
existence of the Palestinians upon the lands of this country over
thousands of years. This citizenship has also been consolidated
through official laws issued by the British mandate in Palestine in
1925, their ammendment in 1931 and the two UN resolutions 181 and
Resolution 181 referred to the Palestinian citizens who had the
right to register for elections within the state of Palestine
whether they reside within the state of Palestine or the
neighbouring state of Israel, or the city of Jerusalem; resolution
194 granted the refugees and displaced persons amongst these
citizens the right to return to their "homeland" and "homeland"
means "country" regardless of the state established in that
country. As for the Israelis, resolution 181 recognized their
citizenship within the prospective state of Israel, regardless of
their place of residence whether in that state or the neighbouring
state of Palestine. The Palestinian Nationality Law of 1925 and its
ammendment of 1931 hads also recognized Jewish right to citizenship
within the country. Thus each Jew who had been in Palestine for two
years of the three years previous to the date on the application
was granted this right.
Later on, the UN recognized the state of Israel (resolution 273)
and thus Israeli citizenship within this state. This resolution
also included a condition, namely Israel's implementation of
resolutions 181 and 194. Thus the establishment of the state of
Palestine and the return of the refugees represent the condition
that is considered the twin of recognition of the state of Israel
and of its individuals' right to citizenship within this
What about Jewish Immigration?
Regardless of the ideological discussion over the legality or
illegality of the Israeli law of return, which was issued
especially for return of the Jews to Palestine, previous UN
resolutions recognize the existence of a Jewish state, thus it has
the right, as other states in the world to organize immigration
into or out of it. But here we should be careful to add, as
mentioned before, that the UN stipulated that this right concerning
Israel should be implemented along with the Palestinians' right to
a state and also to return. Their state should be next to that of
Israel, as for return, it should be to their country regardless of
the state established within it.
Towards a Framework for a Solution
The laws and resolutions mentioned above could constitute a
muti-faceted framework for dealing with the problem. One
possibility is for two states, one of them Palestinian and the
other Israeli, whereby each would be a modern, democratic state
that is open to immigration into or out of it, and which grants
nationality to whoever resides in it or immigrates to it.
Second, the two democratic states of Palestine and Israel would
grant resident status and not citizenship to the citizens of the
other state, residing in each of the two states (like the settlers
for example). Residency would also be granted to the returnees to
each of these two states and especially if these refugees or
returnees are citizens or prospective citizens of the other
state(such as the Palestinian refugees).
This second alternative will preserve the Jewish character of the
state of Israel, upon which this state insists. This alternative
also includes the possibility for residents of each state to carry
the citizenship of the other state. Third, a Palestinian state and
an Israeli state, with permission for dual nationality granted to
citizens or residents of both states who wish for it.
Fourth, establishing a combined Israeli/Palestinian state,
according to the state for all its citizens paradigm or a
binational state. In the latter case arrangements for matters such
as citizenship or nationality will be made according to suggestions
on citizenship and nationality within the first, second and third
The suggested alternatives will have an effect on various issues
including the status of Palestinian Israelis. The alternatives
should not, in any fashion, have any effect on their status as they
are suggestions that should be put forward to deal with issues that
have not yet been tackled. The suggestions should not be
retroactively implemented. Issues such as the issue of Palestinian
Israelis have been previously finalized. They have already acquired
Israeli nationality and are citizens within the state of Israel.
There is only one alternative that could be applied to them and
that is the choice of binationality, whereby whoever wishes to
demand Palestinian citizenship alongside Israeli citizenship will
be allowed to do so.
The Israeli Law of Return requires radical amendment, whereby
immigration to Israel is not restricted to Jewish immigration only.
The amendment of this law should be according to the alternative
proposed in order to tackle the issue of return and
Refugees, displaced persons, deportees, those who have lost their
identity cards and refugees within their own country: the suggested
alternatives include the necessity for discarding all these
nomenclatures and universal recognition of the fact that they all
represent cases of refuge that need to be dealt with within a
framework established on the principle of equality between all
citizens whether they are residents or prospective residents of
this country. This is in addition to the need to agree upon a
unilateral definition of refuge and who can be considered a
refugee, which is according to the criteria of the international
human rights conventions and other international documents.
Arrangements with Arab Countries: a solution of the Palestinian
/Israeli issue of return and citizenship could also require
arrangements in coordination with the Arab states concerning
residency within these states and return from them, and also for
the issues of dual nationality, i.e. Palestinian nationality along
with that of some other Arab states. This would call for inevitable
amendment of the agreement made on 5/4/1954 between the Arab
countries, which prohibits dual nationality among them.
The suggested alternatives are congruent with a solution that will
be based on the principle of the existence of two neighbouring and
cooperating states (Palestinian and Israeli) and not two states
that have a Great Wall of China between them due to segregation,
enmity, apprehension and war. Thus we should start laying the
foundations for these suggested alternatives today, and encourage
discussion of the refugee issue. In all events, if this issue is
not solved, the Palestinian-Israeli problem will never reach the
shores of a secure existence for both peoples.