Let's start with Israel's Law of Return. The most important thing about the Law of Return in relation to the Palestinian right of return is that the Law of Return is not a right for all Diaspora Jews. A Jewish person in the United States or Germany does not have the "right" to "return" to Israel. The Israeli government, and by proxy the Israeli people, decided to make getting Israeli citizenship for Jews very easy. As we've seen from the recent controversy over the conversion law, actually moving to Israel and becoming a citizen is not as easy as it seems. Furthermore, Israel can and does deny citizenship to Jews, such as for Jews who are criminals. So even though anti-Zionists claim that Jews have a "right of return" to Israel, implying that in that case the same right should apply to the Palestinians, the Jews simply do not have a right of return either.
Now let's talk about what exactly is a "right of return" outside of the Israel/Palestinian context? Wikipedia defines the right of return as "a principle of international law, codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, giving any person the right to return and re-enter his country of origin." What this simply means is that if a person has citizenship in a country, he must be allowed to come back to it. So if I go on vacation and leave America, the US government can't arbitrarily decide not to let me come back. It's really very simple.
Except, of course, when it comes to the Israel/Palestinian situation, things get changed. For starters, Palestine is not and never has been a country, therefore even the Palestinians who left their homes in the 1948 war are not entitled to "return" to Israel, let alone their descendants. When the Palestinians left/were forced out of their homes, they were not Israeli citizens nor did they consider themselves to be. Thus, Israel cannot be considered their country of origin under the law. The only way that they can claim the right to return to Israel under the right of return is if they were to say that the current state of Israel is their home. This is problematic for two reasons: 1) They have been saying that they are Palestinian for decades, not Israelis. 2) Their fellow Palestinians might not look so fondly upon their change of heart and recognition of the "Zionist entity". To say nothing about the legal documentation involving proving citizenship.
This now intersects with the tension and hypocrisy within the Palestinian argument. On the one hand, they claim that all they want is a state of their own reflecting their national identity. But on the other, they seem to claim that "Palestine" is not their true home, but Israel is. Otherwise, why would they feel like they have the "right" to return there? If the second hand is to believed, then why should Israel end the occupation, stop building settlements, end the blockade, if all the Palestinians are in fact Israelis? Israel can build on its own land and it can use its military to police rogue elements of its own people. Now of course if this argument pans out then the apartheid analogy gains strength. But it can't be true because the Palestinians have pursued statehood and national identity too far to pretend they no longer want it.
So now I think we have pretty definitively proved that the Palestinians have no legal "right of return" the way they claim they do. But at this point some argue that Israel has a moral argument to allow the Palestinians to return. It usually goes like this:
"Don't you think it's unfair that some Palestinians, who left their homes mere decades ago, are kept out of Israel, while Jews who have never set foot in the Middle East can live there easily?"I would respond to that: "Sure, it's unfair on some level." Even if you ignore the years of suicide bombings and wars of elimination that the Palestinians supported against Israel, it's gotta sting that Jews with no personal history in the land can move there so easily. However, the question of whether Israel should let the Palestinians in from a moral point of view is fundamentally different from the question of whether Israel must let the Palestinians in from a legal point of view. The use of the term "right of return" implies a right that the Palestinians have that can never be ignored or infringed upon. If you want to try and convince Israel that they should let the Palestinians in through use of humanitarian and moral reasoning, go ahead and good luck. But don't tell me that Israel is depriving the Palestinians of their "rights" to Israeli citizenship. That "right" doesn't exist. The Palestinians are their own nation and so is Israel. That is the way we've been told it is for years.
No population can force themselves upon another that doesn't want them. Usually when such an event happens, it's called "population transfer." What's ironic is that the Palestinians demand a "right of return" but protest the settlements in the West Bank vehemently. If we assume that the way the Palestinians see the world is the absolute truth, it's practically the same situation: Unwanted Jews coming onto Palestinian land demanding that they be allowed to live there and unwanted Palestinians demanding that they be allowed to live in Israel. The Palestinians certainly don't want settlers living in Palestine and are mortified that Israel is just letting them build without Palestinian permission. They are quick to tell us that the settlements are illegal. But then they also don't mind demanding Israel accept hundreds of thousands of them over the heads of the Israeli people. If that doesn't strike you as hypocritical, I don't know what more to tell you. And forget about that argument of "The Palestinians have been there for generations, the Jews got off the plane". If we're talking about "rights" and "principles" under the law, the historical background of the people in question should not be a factor. An Israeli Jew should have the same rights as a Palestinian Arab. They are all human after all.