newsIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

At UN Security Council meeting, Erdan quashes Palestinian ‘right of return’

“Let me be clear: There is no ‘right of return,’” the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations said. “You all know this.”

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan at the U.N. General Assembly Hall in New York, Jan. 16, 2023. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.
Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan at the U.N. General Assembly Hall in New York, Jan. 16, 2023. Photo by Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations had a blunt message for the Security Council on Thursday during its quarterly open debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Let me be clear: There is no ‘right of return.’ You all know this,” Gilad Erdan told the council, which he accused of perpetuating the Palestinian refugee issue.

“The demand of returning millions of descendants of refugees is a demand to obliterate the Jewish people’s right to self-determination,” he added. “This will never happen.”

The meeting marked the council’s 14th this year on the Israel-Palestinian file. Ordinarily, it meets monthly under this single agenda item.

Erdan blasted the United Nations and Secretary-General António Guterres, in particular, for criticism of Israeli counterterrorism operations in Jenin earlier this month. All 12 casualties were confirmed terrorists.

“The fact that the secretary-general chose to condemn Israel, a law-abiding democracy, as opposed to the bloodthirsty Palestinian terrorists seeking to murder innocent Israelis, is a disgrace,” Erdan said. “Such remarks only embolden the terrorists.”

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, 2023. Credit: Christophe Licoppe, Audiovisual Service, European Commission via Wikimedia Commons.

Part of the international body’s critique of Israel centered on damage in what the United Nations calls a “refugee camp.” Erdan mocked that label.

“How can it be that after so many decades there are still refugee camps inside Palestinian cities?” posed Erdan. “Have you ever stopped to ask yourselves why the descendants of Palestinian refugees are still living in refugee camps? Why have they not been integrated into Palestinian society?”

“We are talking about camps in Palestinian cities,” he added.

Erdan called the scheme, which the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) perpetuates, a “brainwashing” of “generation after generation of Palestinians.” The latter is led to believe that they might annihilate Israel by eventually making their homes in Israeli cities, rather than settling permanently in Palestinian Authority territory.

Descendants of original Palestinian Arab refugees are the only people to which the United Nations grants refugee status. It uses no such identification for second- and third-generation descendants of refugees of any other conflicts around the world.

The United States noted that while the number of Palestinian deaths in conflict this year has already surpassed 2022’s total, “the number of Israelis killed by terrorism this year is quickly approaching that of the whole of 2022.” (Washington did not appear to differentiate between Palestinian terrorist and civilian deaths.)

Gilad Erdan
Gilad Erdan, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a Security Council meeting on July 27, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of the Israeli mission to the United Nations.

Counter all forms of violence and incitement

Also at the meeting, Robert Wood, U.S. alternative representative for special political affairs, said that Washington expects the Palestinian Authority to clearly denounce terrorist attacks against Israelis. 

“We urge all parties to take proactive measures to counter all forms of violence and incitement and to ensure accountability and justice are pursued with equal rigor in all cases of extremist violence,” Wood said.

Washington is concerned by the number of injuries and property damage in Jenin but recognizes “that Israel took steps to avoid civilian harm during its operation,” Wood said.

Wood also applauded the Israeli government’s security cabinet decision this month to consider steps to prop up the faltering P.A. and steps the P.A. has taken to try to bring Jenin—a Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad hotbed—back under control.

“We encourage Israeli and Palestinian security forces to increase their cooperation to improve the security situation,” in Judea and Samaria, “including in Jenin and other areas that have been loci of violence,” he said.

Meanwhile, Egypt requested a conference to generate fresh political and financial support for UNRWA, which is struggling financially under the weight of decreased donations, inflation and the burden of adding to its “refugee” rolls each time a Palestinian is born.

Zhang Jun, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, affirmed the “just cause” of the Palestinians, best served through the creation of an independent Palestinian state, and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, which prevents funding, weapons and materials for terrorist activity to enter the Strip.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk. Source: Twitter.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Beijing later this year to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Separately, a senior U.N. official urged the Israeli government on Thursday to “heed the calls” of citizens protesting proposed judicial reforms and “preserve civil rights and maintain checks on power.”

Volker Türk, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, stated that he has been “following developments closely” in Israel and described the protests as an effort to “preserve the democratic space and constitutional balance so painstakingly built in Israel over many decades. It demonstrates the extent of public disquiet at the extent of fundamental legislative changes.”

Türk, who doesn’t typically express concern for the rights of Israeli citizens, also spoke out against the proposed judicial reforms in February.

At the time, he drew a rebuke from Netanyahu, who called the concern an “absurdity” and the U.N. Human Rights Council “a biased and ineffective body.”

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