Restitution: a major component in durable solutions

Housing and property restitution for Palestinians is absent from the draft of the so-called Geneva accord currently being discussed despite the fact that restitution has become a main component of durable solutions to long-term conflicts worldwide.

Israel maintains that property restitution for Palestinian refugees and Palestinians internally displaced in Israel is unnecessary and impossible, and only financial compensation can be offered. But provision for restitution has taken a major role in resolving conflicts including long-term conflicts in Cyprus (40 years) and South Africa (90 years).

As the beneficiary of restitution for 55 years, it will be difficult for Israel to object to Palestinian restitution claims, concluded a recent BADIL seminar on Housing and Property Restitution in Durable Solutions for Palestinian Refugees. As well, seminar participants point out that Israel has been an advocate of the law of restitution for victims of gross human rights violations. Israel and Zionist organizations have progressively and actively participated in developing property restitution law.

Post-conflict Restitution

“While the individual right to property restitution in post-conflict situations may be subject to limitations in the public interest, limitations must be non-discriminatory and proportionate. This means in Cyprus, for instance, that the Turkish Cypriot proposal that no dispossessed property owner would ever receive reinstatement goes too far and would be considered illegal by the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations.”

These conclusions were drawn during the second BADIL Expert Forum hosted and co-organized by the Institute of Graduate Development Studies in Geneva 2-5 October. More than 30 international and Palestinian experts attended, many of them involved in the design and implementation of housing and land restitution in the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, South Africa and Rwanda.

The seminar examined law and strategies available for advancing the Palestinian right to restitution as well as prospects of future restitution claims against Israel. Before Israel was established in 1948, Palestinians owned or had access to roughly 90 per cent of the land in British Mandate Palestine. Most was confiscated by Israel from Palestinian refugees without due process or compensation. In addition, Palestinian citizens of Israel today are left with no more than 3 per cent of the land.

Additional information on the BADIL Expert Forum 2003-2004 and the Geneva Restitution Seminar, including working papers and a Summary of Proceedings, will be available at in early November.

The next seminar, Regional and International Protection for Palestinian Refugees, will be hosted by the Al Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies in Cairo, 5-10 March 2004. BADIL Expert Forum is supported and sponsored by: Graduate Institute for Development Studies (IUED), University of Geneva; Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (PD IV); Stichting Vluchteling/Netherlands; ICCO/Netherlands; CFD and Swiss Human Rights Forum; Oxfam Solidarity; Flemish Palestine Solidarity Committee and the APRODEV NGO Network.

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