The number of Palestinians who fled Israel following its creation and their descendants now stands at around four million.
Left-wing Israelis are open to compromise on the issue, by means such as the monetary reparations and family reunification initiatives offered by Ehud Barak at the Camp David 2000 summit. However, the majority of Israelis find a comprehensive right of return for Palestinian refugees to be unacceptable. The HonestReporting organization listed the following grounds for this opposition: -Palestinian flight from Israel was not compelled, but voluntary. After seven Arab nations declared war on Israel in 1948, many Arab leaders encouraged Palestinians to flee, in order to make it easier to rout the Jewish state. This point, however, is a matter of some contention. Certain actions on the part of Jewish militias were considered to provoke Palestinians to leave Israel. Eye witness accounts from Ain al-Zeitoum and Er-Rama, for example, record that the Palmach assembled all of their residents following the villages' surrender. The Jewish militia then demanded that all Muslim residents depart for Lebanon, and leave their possessions behind, under pain of death. Still, such cases were relatively rare, and the vast majority of Palestinians fled of their own accord. Since most Palestinians chose their status as refugees themselves, some argue that Israel is therefore absolved of responsibility. In fact, a 1952 memorandum submitted to the League of Arab States by the Higher Arab Committee reveals that Arab states officially agreed to take responsibility for these refugees at the height of the Palestinian exodus, until such time as Israel would be destroyed: Arab leaders and their ministries in Arab capitals ... declared that they welcomed the immigration of Palestinian Arabs into the Arab countries until they saved Palestine. -There is no legal basis to demand repatriation of Palestinian refugees and their descendents. No international legislation, UN resolutions or agreements between Israel and the Palestinians require this. -Historical legal precedent from the Middle East supports this contention. Since none of the 900,000 Jewish refugees who fled anti-Semitic violence in the Arab world were ever compensated or repatriated by their former countries of residence—to no objection on the part of Arab leaders—a precedent has been set whereby it is the responsibility of the nation which accepts the refugees to assimilate them. -An influx of Palestinian refugees would lead to the destruction of the state of Israel. Because a right of return would make Arabs the majority within Israel, this would essentially seal the fate of the Jewish state. As Fatah explains: “To us, the refugees issue is the winning card which means the end of the Israeli state.” Palestinian and international authors have justified the right of return of the Palestinian refugees on several grounds: -Several authors included in the broader New Historians assert that the Palestinian refugees were chased out or expelled by the actions of the Haganah, Lehi and Irgun. A report from the military intelligence SHAI of the Haganah entitled "The emigration of Palestinian Arabs in the period 1/12/1947-1/6/1948", dated 30 June 1948 affirms that: "At least 55% of the total of the exodus was caused by our (Haganah/IDF) operations." To this figure, the report's compilers add the operations of the Irgun and Lehi, which "directly (caused) some 15%... of the emigration". A further 2% was attributed to explicit expulsion orders issued by Israeli troops, and 1% to their psychological warfare. This leads to a figure of 73% for departures caused directly by the Israelis. In addition, the report attributes 22% of the departures to "fears" and "a crisis of confidence" affecting the Palestinian population. As for Arab calls for flight, these were reckoned to be significant in only 5% of cases... -The traditional Israeli point of view arguing that Arab leaders encouraged Palestinian Arabs to flee has also been disputed by the New Historians, which instead have shown evidence indicating Arab leaders' will for the Palestinian Arab population to stay put. -The Israeli Law of Return that grants citizenship to any Jew from anywhere in the world is viewed by some as discrimination towards non-Jews and especially to Palestinians that cannot apply for such citizenship nor return to the territory from which they were displaced or left. -The strongest legal basis on the issue is UN Resolution 194, adopted in 1948. It states 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." UN Resolution 3236 "reaffirms also the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return". Resolution 242 from the UN affirms the necessity for "achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem," however, Resolution 242 does not specify that the "just settlement" must or should be in the form of a literal Palestinian right of return.