Washington DC, 25 April 2000/P/K/16798c-is

At a press conference held in Washington DC on 21 April, the former head of the Palestinian negotiating team asserted the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.  Dr. Haidar Abdel Shafi, who led the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid and Washington talks said that Palestinians "evicted out by terrorism and force" should be allowed back to their homes.  "This is a matter that should go to the conscience of the world -- and the democratic world especially." Saying that "the refugee issue is the heart and the core of the problem," Abdel Shafi, a physician from Gaza and widely-respected Palestinian leader, called on the Palestinian Authority to include "the issue of the Palestinian refugees on the basis of resolution 194" in the negotiations.

Abdel Shafi was joined by Francis Boyle, professor of International Law at the University of Illinois, who served as legal advisor to the Palestinian delegation. He is a member of the International Progress Organization's International Committee for Palestinian Human Rights and has repeatedly served as legal expert of the I.P.O. on issues of human rights and international law. Prof. Boyle also cited UN Security Council resolution 194, passed in 1948 and calling for the return of the refugees at the "earliest practicable date."

In response to a question, Abdel Shafi replied that the current Palestinian leadership "will disqualify itself" if it were to sign away the right to return.

Buttressing his case for the right of Palestinians to return to their homes, Boyle cited U.S. policy favoring family reunification of Soviet Jews and compensation for losses resulting from the Nazi holocaust.  He also noted that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts "everyone has the right to return to his country."

Boyle, who provided legal assistance to the Bosnians and Kosovar Albanians, also cited the precedent of "Bosnian refugees to return to their homes in the aftermath of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. "The Palestinians should have the same right to go back to their homes". Citing Yugoslavia and apartheid South Africa as examples, Boyle warned that "if Israel refuses to implement resolution 194, it will jeopardize its membership in the United Nations" and risk various sanctions. Boyle called the current circumstance "a remarkable opportunity for peace in the Middle East -- if the U.S. and Israel show a commitment to international law."

Palestinians are the largest refugee population in the world, many continue to live in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and the occupied territories. Approximately 750,000 were driven from their homes in 1948.  Remarks were made at a news conference organized by Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation (CPRR).