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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 18, 2003

 Right of Return - the “Palestinian” View

If there is one issue about which virtually all Israelis speak with one voice, it is the “Right of Return”. There is also agreement about the principal reason for objecting to the “Right of Return”, namely, that the ensuing influx of “Palestinian refugees” will spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

As in all issues, it is important to know what the other side thinks, and in the case of the “Right of Return”, there is no better time to learn about the other side than around the time of the Nakba tantrum. Indeed, the official “Palestinian” outlet, Palestine Media Center (PMC) posted today [17 May 2003] two articles on the topic, in addition to the permanent FAQ. ( Concerning the PMC and its official status, see this About Us statement.)

The object of this article is to highlight some of the “official” arguments presented by the “Palestinians” in these three sources, underscoring why the Roadmap can never lead to peace, as long as the official “Palestinian” position is congruent with these arguments.

The first quotations come from an article summarizing comments made by Aratrash. It should be emphasized that the article paraphrases for an English-speaking audience, and it is well known that such paraphrasing often differs from the actual text delivered in Arabic. The article is entitled, ”Arafat Stresses ‘Right of Return’, Palestinian Strategic Peace Option” and reads in part as follows [bold font added]:
In commemoration of the 55th anniversary of Nakba, the Palestinian memorial marked on May 15, President Yasser Arafat on Thursday stated that Palestine “is our country, to which every Palestinian refugee has the right to return.”
Israel must withdraw from all the land it occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War and Palestinian refugees must be allowed to return to their homes, he insisted.
In the first paragraph quoted, Aratrash talks about “Palestine” and the right of refugees to return to it. What "Palestine" is he talking about? In the second paragraph Aratrash talks about the right to “return to their homes”, which in most cases are within Israel. Putting the two together, it is clear that his “Palestine” is the entire Palestine according to the borders of the British Mandate, i.e., no Israel. All the subsequent talk about the PLO accepting two states is obviated by this statement, which reveals his real intentions.

It may be argued that Aratrash has been sidelined, but that is clearly not the case. Even had he been sidelined, Abu Mazen adheres to the Aratrash position on the “Right of Return”, which no Israeli, let alone an Israeli leader, would ever accept.

A second article posted today on the PMC site is entitled ”Are Palestinians Too Radical for Wanting to Return Home?” The article repeats the standard “Palestinian” line but adds this element to the argument about the Jewish refugees who escaped from Arab lands:
Others raise the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, as if it is a bartering card. ‘We'll give up our claims if you give up yours.’ But Jews who were forced out should be compensated or repatriated. This hardly negates Israel's responsibility in ethnically cleansing Palestinians.
The point the author evades and avoids is the Israeli argument that, in fact, a two-way population transfer took place, just like the one between India and Pakistan circa 1947.

The most comprehensive presentation of the “Palestinian” position is given in the FAQ document, which should be read in its entirety. A few excerpts are particularly instructive:

1. Who are the Palestinian refugees?

The Palestinian refugees are approximately 726,000 Christians and Muslims (amounting to 75% of the Arab population of Palestine) who resided in what is now Israel and who fled or were expelled prior to, during and after the 1948 War to create a state for Jews in Palestine. They and their descendents [sic] are often referred to as the “1948 refugees.”

In 1967, an additional 200,000 Palestinians fled their homes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip when Israel launched a war against Jordan and Egypt, capturing and occupying the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip (the Occupied Palestinian Territories). They and their descendents [sic] are often referred to as the “1967 displaced persons.”
The falsification of history is clearly evident in the second paragraph, in the words shown in bold font, “b>when Israel launched a war against Jordan”. Some accuse Israel of attacking Egypt, on account of Israel’s preemptive strike, but nobody can accuse Israel of attacking Jordan. With this blatant falsification, the entire article loses all credibility.

Furthermore, as pointed out in Part 21 of the series “23 reasons to oppose the creation of a second Palestinian-Arab state in Yesha”, the figure quoted by the PMC is grossly exaggerated; more important still is the fact that it includes a large group of Arabs that migrated into the “Palestine” because of the favourable conditions created by the Jewish settlement. Some estimate that the actual number of “Palestinians” who lived for many generations in what became Israel is closer to 150,000 persons.

3. How many Palestinian refugees are there?

Today, the original Palestinian refugees and their descendents are estimated to number more than 6.5 million [4] and constitute the world’s oldest and largest refugee population, making up more than one-fourth of the entire refugee population in the world. [5] They include:

* 4 million 1948 refugees who are registered with the United Nations;
* 1.5 million 1948 refugees who are not registered by the United Nations either because they did not register or did not need assistance at the time they became refugees;
* 773,000 1967 displaced persons; and
* 263,000 internally displaced refugees (see question 5 below for more on the internally displaced).
These figures alone are sufficient to render the “Right of Return” demand an absurdity. Can Israel indeed grant such a right to 6.5 million of its sworn enemies? And what would become of Israel as the Jewish National Home if even one million “Palestinians” are allowed entry into Israel? Well, the PMC has a view about that too:

10. Doesn’t the right of return threaten Israel’s “Jewish character”?

The end of religious/ethnic discrimination with respect to the right of return threatens nothing other than discrimination itself. Allowing Christians and Muslims to return to their homes does not negate Jewish historical attachment to Israel nor does it deny the rights of Jews to immigrate to Israel. The right of return seeks only to address historic injustices and affirm the rights of the indigenous non-Jewish population.
And finally, the bottom line:

14. How can the 55-year plight of the Palestinian refugees be resolved?

There can be no comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without honoring the rights of Palestinian refugees. Palestinian refugees must be given the option to exercise their right of return, though refugees may prefer other options...

15. How was the issue of refugees addressed in negotiations with Israel?

At Camp David, Israel refused to discuss the issue of refugees, arguing that it bore no responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem or its solution. In December 2000, US President Clinton, through the “Clinton Parameters,” adopted the concept of choice but by excluding the most fundamental option of allowing refugees to choose to return to Israel, the Clinton Parameters effectively negated the legal rights of Palestinian refugees. At the Taba negotiations, Israel continued to press for an abandonment of the right of return. Palestinians should not be the first people in history forced to abandon their right of return.
Let us ignore the “first people” falsification (the Sudeten Germans have no right to return either); the point is that if according to the official line “there can be solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” without the right of return, then the Roadmap is an exercise in futility and Sharon is absolutely right in demanding the abandonment of this claim as a pre-condition.