Ruth Lapidot, Professor Emeritus of International Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and currently a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, has written an informative article on the legal aspects of the question of Palestinian refugees. Below is a summary. To read the article in its entirety, click on the title.
LEGAL ASPECTS OF THE PALESTINIAN REFUGEE QUESTION
The number of Arab refugees in 1949 was between 538,000 (Israeli sources), 720,000 (UN estimates), and 850,000 (Palestinian sources). By 2001, the number of refugees registered with and supported by UNRWA had grown to about 3.5 million.
The UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees does not include descendents in its definition of refugees, nor does it apply to a person who "has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality. Under this definition, the number of Palestinians qualifying for refugee status would be well below half a million.
The very broad definition under which the number of refugees constantly increases may be appropriate for UNRWA purposes in order to decide who qualifies for assistance, but it is hardly suitable for other purposes.
UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 11 December 1948 does not recognize any "right" to return, but recommends that the refugees "should" be "permitted" to return, subject to two conditions - that the refugee wishes to return, and that he wishes to live at peace with his neighbors. The violence that erupted in September 2000 forecloses any hope for a peaceful co-existence between Israelis and masses of returning refugees.
UN General Assembly Resolution 393 of 2 December 1950 recommended the "reintegration of the refugees into the economic life of the Near East, either by repatriation or resettlement."
Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 affirms the necessity "for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem. The Council did not propose a specific solution, nor did it limit the provision to Arab refugees, probably because the right to compensation of Jewish refugee from Arab lands also deserves a "just settlement." (Jerusalem Viewpoints - Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)