by Walid Salem
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 discussion.
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 194.
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 country.
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 alternatives.
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 citizenship.
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.