The state of Israel refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to exercise their right to return citing three main arguments; first, that there is no space in Israel for the refugees to return, second, that the return of Palestinian refugees would threaten security and lead to conflict, and finally, that the return of the refugees would jeopardize the Jewish nature of the state. With regards to the first argument recent research shows that 80% of the Jewish population of present-day 'Israel' resides on 15% of the land. The areas where Palestinian villages were demolished lie mainly uninhabited. Hence there is space. As for security concerns, Palestinian refugees broadly accept that exercising their right to return would not be based on the eviction of Jewish citizens but on the principles of equality and human rights. The final argument though is a testament to Israel's false claim that it is the only democracy in the Middle East. Israel is a democracy for Jews only, and this religion-based discrimination or oxymoron should not be confused with real democracy.
When the UN adopted the Refugee Convention and established the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, it excluded those falling within the UNRWA mandate from coverage under UNHCR's mandate. In effect, this has meant that UNHCR does not concern itself with (or count) Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, or the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although the agency assists Palestinian refugees outside the UNRWA-mandate area. Although unintended, the effect has been that Palestinian refugees have enjoyed fewer protections than other refugees because UNRWA only has a mandate to provide Palestinian refugees with humanitarian assistance, and, unlike UNHCR, does not have a specific protection mandate.
The majority of Palestinian refugees live not far from their homes of origin either in their own homeland or in neighboring countries. More than half the refugee population lives in Jordan. Approximately 37.7% live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, comprising about 50 percent of the population in those areas. About 15% live in almost equal numbers in Syria and Lebanon. About 260,000 internally displaced Palestinians reside in present-day Israel. The remaining refugee population lives throughout the world, including the rest of the Arab world. Of the 3.8 million refugees registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), 33% live in UNRWA's 59 refugee camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
According to international law, refugees have the right to return to their homes of origin, receive real property restitution, and compensation for losses and damages. The UN General Assembly set forth the framework for resolving the Palestinian refugee case in UN Resolution 194 (III) which provides: repatriation for those refugees "wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors," or compensation for those choosing not to return. On November 22, 1974, Resolution 3236 clarified the right to return as an "inalienable right". In Res. 302 (IV), the UN General Assembly created UNRWA and assigned the agency the task of caring for Palestinian refugees. UNRWA defined Palestinian refugees as persons who resided in Palestine two years prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1948 and who lost their homes and livelihoods as a result of that war.
Palestinians are the largest and longest suffering group of refugees in the world. One in three refugees world wide is Palestinian. There are about 6.5 million Palestinian refugees worldwide. More than 3.8 million Palestinian refugees and their descendents displaced in 1948 are registered for humanitarian assistance with the United Nations. Another 1.5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendents, also displaced in 1948, are not registered with the UN. About 263,000 Palestinians and their descendents are internally displaced i.e. inside present-day "Israel".