Observations on the Right of Return
Few issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict are as contentious as that of the Palestinian right of return (haq al-'awda). For over forty years, the idea of "return" has been central to the Palestinian national narrative of struggle against overwhelming odds, of expulsion from the ancestral homeland, of dispersion, and of national reconstitution. Yet the very idea of the return of significant numbers of Palestinians to their villages and towns, or indeed to any part of Palestine, touches on deep-seated fears among Israelis regarding the legitimacy and permanence of the entire Zionist enterprise, as well as the Arab-Jewish demographic balance within Palestine.
Rashid I. Khalidi teaches modern Middle Eastern history at the University of Chicago, where he is director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He is author of Bntish Policy Towards Syria and Palestine, 1906-1914 and Under Siege. PLO Decisionmaking During the 1982 War; and co-editor of Palestine and the Gulf and The Origins of Arab Nationalism. This is a revised version of an essay originally prepared in the fall of 1990 as part of the Occasional Paper Series of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.