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Right of return

A right of return is a right, held by members of an ethnic or national group, to assurance of immigration and naturalization into the nation of their homeland. It is a special consideration in the nation's immigrations laws to facilitate or encourage the reunion of a diaspora or dispersed ethnic population.

The Jewish and Palestinian Arab rights of return are hotly disputed topic in Middle East politics, and play an important role in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and the Arab states.

By the Arabs it is commonly understood as the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes they had possessed prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the Six-Day War. Several early UN resolutions called upon Israel to grant this right, although most parties would currently opt for a multilateral solution accepted by Israel, the Palestinians and the hosting countries.

The right of return can be seen, next to the question of the status of Jerusalem as one of the major impediments of the Peace process. Israelis fear that granting all of the current 8 million Palestinian refugees a right to return to Israel would lead to a demographic shift which would remove its identity as a Jewish state. Furthermore, if a large proportion of the exiled Palestinians were indeed to return -- which many read as likely since they are discriminated against and live in miserable conditions in their present host countries -- catastrophic overpopulation would result.

Even if a smaller number of refugees returns, as little as one million, it may still gravely alter Israel's character as a Jewish state (in addition to having a severe impact on economy, environment and other areas). This is found unacceptable by the vast majority of Jewish Israelis.

The Arab states, on the other hand, insisted over decades on this right as one of the main conditions for peace. The Oslo accords were only made possible, because both sides agreed to leave this question open for future negotiations.

Further meanings of the right of return:

  • Under Israeli law, any person of Jewish heritage can immigrate to Israel.
  • German law allows persons of German descent living in Eastern countries like Russia (socalled "Aussiedler") to return to Germany and acquire German citizenship.

These laws are sometimes critized because they give people of a certain ethnic background preference, while for other people who want to immigrate it is extremely difficult.

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