Before we begin, make sure your opponent is aware of what the Palestinian "right" of return demands: Free passage into Israel for all Palestinians who fled during the 1948 war and their descendants. In other words, every single person who identifies as a Palestinian must be allowed to move to Israel whether Israel wants them or not.
1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The first step in any argument about this is to demand a citation from your opponent as to why they believe the Palestinians even have a right of return to anywhere. One citation is the 4th Geneva Convention, which we'll get to later, but another is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The UDHR states quite clearly that:
"[e]veryone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.""Pretty straightforward right? There's only one problem: Israel is not the Palestinians' country. That is literally all you have to say. The Palestinians' country at the time of partition was the British Mandate of Palestine, and that doesn't exist anymore. The Palestinians are not Israelis, they don't hold Israeli citizenship, they have never lived in the state of Israel, and they don't even consider themselves to be Israelis. In fact they claim to be a proud, noble nation of "Palestinians" that has exited for 1,400 years. How can anyone make the legal argument that Israel is now the Palestinians' "country"?
If you want to get technical, the UDHR is also a General Assembly resolution and therefore not legally binding.
2. Living in Palestine, still a refugee
What is a refugee? A refugee is, according to international law,
"individuals who:What is the Palestinians' country of nationality? Ever since November of 2012, it's clearly Palestine! It's right there in the name: "Palestinian." So all Palestinians living in "Palestine," the West Bank and Gaza Strip, are in fact living INSIDE the country of their nationality. For a Palestinian apologist to make the case Palestinians are even refugees, much less a return of return to some other country besides their own, they need to legally prove Palestinians are not Palestinian. Good luck with that. Furthermore, their place of habitual residence has been the West Bank and Gaza for going on forty years now, so even if you claim that Palestinians are actually Israelis, it doesn't matter.
- have a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and
- are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution."
Keeping that in mind, there is a plethora of refugee law that could help the Palestinians "return" somewhere, but none of it is applicable because they aren't legally refugees.
And don't worry if UNRWA and the UN still considers them to be refugees, that just shows how biased and corrupt the UN is. Nor are the opinions of UNRWA legally binding.
3. Principle of states "getting" the population on them when they form
Some Palestinian propagandists will claim that when one state dissolves and another takes its place, that state "gets" the population of the first state automatically. There is nothing in international law that I have found to support this, but even if it's true, when the state of Palestine was created in November 2012, by that same principle it should get the population in the territory it controls. After all, we wouldn't expect Palestine to have different standards of behavior than Israel, right?
Furthermore, the Palestinians rejected the creation of Israel with violence. There is not the slightest indication, even today, that they consider themselves to be citizens of Israel who just want to return to the State of Israel.
4. Law of "state succession"
Other propagandists recently have attempted the claim that the law of "state succession" applies and that is why the Palestinians have a right of return. There is a Wiki article about state succession, and there is an international convention about it, but Israel has not signed onto the convention. Without clearly stated international law that applies to Israel, this argument has no legs.
5. Geneva Convention
A favorite of those making the case for the RoR is the 4th Geneva Convention. But the Geneva Convention has never been applied to any other group of people like this, so there is legal precedent set. The GCs were signed after the Palestinians became "refugees," so Israel cannot be expected to obey an ex post facto law.
But here's what the GC actually says:
"Article 49, which allows a “belligerent occupant” to temporarily evacuate occupied areas but requires that the evacuees:... be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased."If this is the article that the Palestinians are trying to use, then first of all hostilities in the area have not ceased. Second, they would not be considered refugees, they would be considered evacuees. Third, "evacuee" status does not transfer to descendants, so only the people who were evacuated by Israel, not the ones who ran away, not the ones who are their descendants have a right of return. Not good enough.
But even if the Geneva Conventions applied, the Palestinians are the last people to be demanding someone else follow them, since they themselves have treated the Geneva Convention like toilet paper since day one. Nor have they even signed up to the Geneva Convention, so have no legal right to demand its protection.
At the end of the day, Israel simply won't allow the Palestinians back in, no matter what international law says. There's a higher law in effect, the law of survival, that Israel has to follow first. But it's nice to take down these arguments anyway and deflate the haters' sense of self-righteousness.