The PLO called for the right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel during a debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

Israel must “recognize the right of return of refugees to their homeland, without selectivity or conditionality, including to the cities they were ejected from,” Imad Zuhairi, the PLO’s deputy charge d’affairs of its UN Observer Mission in Geneva, told the UNHRC.

He spoke during Agenda Item 7, in which the UNHRC is mandated at every session to debate Israeli actions against the Palestinians over the pre-1967 lines.

Monday’s debate comes in the midst of a renewed effort by US Secretary of State John Kerry to re-kindle direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, which have been largely frozen since 2008.

Kerry had been expected to return to Israel and the Palestinian territories this week, but as of press time, it appeared that his trip had been delayed.

The UNHRC debate showed that wide gaps still remain in the public discourse on conflict.

Israel has cut its ties with the council and was not present at the debate. But it has claimed that the concept of the right of return for Palestinians to the State of Israel undermines the basic principle of a two-state solution.

It has explained that Palestinian refugees should have a right of return only to a newly created Palestinian state, in keeping with the concept that a twostate solution is based on the idea of a Palestinian state as a homeland for Palestinians and Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people.

Similarly, Israel has rejected the idea of a two-state solution on pre-1967 lines or halting settlement activity as a pre-condition for talks.

But Zuhairi told the council that “We call on Israel to stop its occupation of the occupied state of Palestine.”

He explained that this meant that Israel must stop settlement activity, the “Judaization” of Jerusalem and the excavation under al-Aksa Mosque.

Israel should return to “direct negotiations that would recognize the borders of ’67 as the borders of the sovereign Palestinian state, with al-Quds as its eternal capital,” Zuhari said.

He urged Israel to stop “its terrorism as a state, the terrorism of settlers and the terrorism of the occupation army.

“The future of Israel is directly linked to the future of the sovereign independent state of Israel,” Zuhari said.

He added that “The Palestinian leadership still believes in the two-state solution. We must give another chance to current international efforts that would lead to achieving aspirations of the Palestinian people in order to exercise its right to an independent state, the return of the refugees and the release of all prisoners.”

Many of the 31 countries that followed issued statements that similarly called on Israel to halt settlement activity, lift its military blockade of the Gaza border, release all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, and remove the security barrier it had built in the West Bank.

A number of countries, including Syria, also called on Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria.

On behalf of the IBSA bloc – which also includes India and South Africa – Brazil said that freezing settlement activity was not a pre-condition to talks, but rather an obligation under international law.

It added that it supported a contiguous and democratic Palestinian state. It reminded the UNHRC that IBSA has welcomed the Palestinian request for full UN membership, as a key step toward statehood. •

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