On 11 December 1948, seven decades ago this year, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 194, the United Nation’s second “peace plan” for Palestine. The resolution effectively superseded the Assembly’s first plan, namely, Resolution 181, otherwise known as the partition plan, adopted just over a year earlier. It was the recommendation to divide Palestine into politically distinct but economically linked Arab and Jewish states against the express will of the country’s indigenous majority that sparked hostilities leading to the first Arab-Israeli war.
The UN’s new peace plan, approved months before the state of Israel and neighbouring Arab states signed armistice agreements marking the official end of hostilities, not only had to address issues which had nearly led to the failure of the Assembly’s first plan even before its adoption, it also had to contend with an entirely new situation which had arisen during and as a result of the war, namely, the forcible displacement of around half of Palestine’s Arab population. In those areas held by Israeli military forces only 15 percent of the pre-war Arab population remained by the time hostilities came to an end.
While much of the substantive content of Resolution 194 seems to have been forgotten, the Assembly’s resolve that
the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible
continues to be a lightening rod of sorts for debate, not only in relation to a solution to what has become the world’s most protracted refugee situation, but also with regard to a solution to broader struggle over self-determination in Palestine/Israel.