The 55th anniversary of Resolution 194

By GARY ZATZMAN*

LEFT: The evacuation of Palestinian village of Faluja in March 1949.
RIGHT: Palestinian refugee camps were originally established under canvas in 1948 as temporary emergency measures. More than 50 years later they remain as witnesses, with their tin-roofed offspring, to the uprooting and exile of a whole nation.

December 11th marks the 55th anniversary of United Nations Resolution 194, upholding the right of return to their homes and property for Palestinians who were driven out as a result of Zionist military operations in 1948 that culminated in declaring the State of Israel.

Adopted 11 December 1948, the text of Resolution 194 reads:

"That the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible"

In the context of upholding the UN Charter, and those acts of significance for international law and world community which were undertaken in accordance with the UN Charter, Resolution 194 continues to hold great symbolic as well as practical significance and stands out as a signal event.

It marked the first time, with regard to a specific conflict and irrespective of anyone's opinion or sentiments about the merits or demerits in establishing the State of Israel, that an international body of sovereign states resolved that acts in violation of fundamental human rights, such as the right of return, could not be permitted to stand as a so-called collateral damage or incidental cost of armed conflict. The world community asserted in effect that, as a matter of principle, individual and collective human rights should now stand above the claims of individual states.

Uniquely in the history of the United Nations, Resolution 194 has been reaffirmed more than 25 times and confirmed more than 130 times. The number of refugees at the time numbered more than 700,000 or about 60 per cent of the population of historic Palestine.

Only 12 days earlier, Resolution 181, which defined Israel's borders in the form of a "Partition Resolution" that assigned approximately 56 per cent of the land mass of historic Palestine exclusively to the 5.6 per cent of the resident population adhering to the Jewish religion, was adopted. At practically the same moment, then, the world community was declaring that Israel could exist and enjoy recognition under the condition that it comply with international law. In Israel's case, there would be no legalising "after the fact" of acts of conquest or what the Zionists liked to call "recognition of new facts on the ground"

At the time, these were not just words or cosmetics. Seven months later, on May 11, 1949, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 273. This admitted Israel to a seat in the assembly on the condition that it implement Resolution 194 and abide by the boundaries set out in Resolution 181.

Notwithstanding anything the State Department or Israeli governments have claimed ever since, this was and remains the condition under which Israel enjoys any standing whatever in international law. It is a matter of historical fact as well as simple justice that, although denied, by force of Israeli arms backed by U.S. strategic and financial support, the ability to fully exercise their rights, the Palestinians have and retain rights to a definite territory on the earth's surface by dint of being Palestinian. Israeli claims, by contrast, exist only by way of very specific exceptions created within customary, accepted international law. Regardless of how far this continues to cast Israel's subsequent behaviour as that of a "rogue state", Resolution 194 and its reaffirmation are the reminder and benchmark of this essential reality.  

For some time, the Palestinians' struggle has stood in the way of the schemes of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and the so-called "war on terrorism" for all-round retrogression on the world scale. The 55th anniversary of Resolution 194 comes, therefore, at yet another very dangerous moment for the Palestinian people and their unceasing struggle for self-determination;

In recent weeks, a narrow self-interested group claiming to represent a broad spectrum from liberal Zionist opinion in Israel to "moderate nationalism" in Palestine to the State Department in Washington has cooked up a so-called "Geneva Accord". This is being advanced as an unofficial peace plan under the hoax of declaring the so-called "Road Map" of 2002 just about moribund. In fact, these elements have merged their efforts in order to resuscitate the Road Map's dismissal of the right of return.

Their "Accord" represents yet one more attempt to finish off the Palestinian struggle for self-determination once and for all as the single greatest obstacle to their schemes. Article 17 of the draft Geneva Accord stipulates includes a final clause providing for a "UN Security Council-UN General Assembly Resolution endorsing the agreement and superceding previous UN Resolutions". In other words Israel would no longer be under the obligation of fulfilling the terms of Resolutions 181, 194 or 273. This confirms the deeply reactionary and sinister character of the real aim of this "Accord", which is to launder to lily-whiteness Israel's lengthy list of war crimes and crimes against humanity as a brutal occupier in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and excuse and reduce an equally long and sordid record of the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, and others involved in instigating and-or supporting these activities to mere accidents of state-to-state relations.

Other recent developments also serve to make this intention more than clear:

- On 1 December, a gala studded with Nobel Peace Prize laureates and other notables, from Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel to Bill Clinton, lauded the Accord specifically for its sacrifice of any further claim to right of return for Palestinian refugees. However, far from having disappeared, or become reduced to some remnants in a few refugee camps on the West Bank, in Syria, or in Lebanon or in Jordan, the numbers of Palestinians and their descendants around the globe, reduced to refugee-hood and hence statelessness, have over the intervening 55 years grown four and one-half times -- to more than 3 million people;

- On 2 December, US Secretary of State Colin Powell invited the architects of the Geneva Accord to Washington for exploratory talks.

December 11th is a day on which all progressive humanity declares as one that another world is possible: Palestine is possible, and the Palestinians can prevail by upholding the right of return as both a collective and individual right. For the Palestinian people, this remains today part and parcel of exercising their right of self-determination. It is something that cannot be hijacked by any other agenda. It is not for sale.

*Gary Zatzman is a contributing writer to shunpiking magazine