September 18, 2020
With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in mind, this Article asks whether there is a human right to return to one’s country, and if so what justifies it. Although such a right is widely recognized in international law, who can claim it and on what basis remains ambiguous; the ambiguity is revealed by asking what “country” means in “return to one’s country.” I argue that to treat the right simply as an adjunct of citizenship is too narrow an approach, even though the right has a role to play in managing inter-state relations. As with other human rights, personal autonomy might be proposed as a justification for the right of return. But although the autonomy interest in developing long-term life-plans may explain the right not to be forcibly displaced from the place where you live, it cannot explain why there is a right to return once displaced, particularly in the case of people who enjoy an adequate set of options elsewhere. Instead we need to invoke the need to belong to a homeland, access to which the right of return protects. The Article explores a homeland’s different dimensions and considers various respects in which the need to belong might be thought too indeterminate to ground a right. Finally it distinguishes and evaluates the return claims of Jews and Palestinians to Israel/ Palestine; only Palestinians whose homeland this remains can claim a human right of return as analyzed and defended here.