Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the Right of Return

November 8, 2013 10:12 am 1 comment

Protestors in the West Bank, April 2013. Photo: Youtube.

As the current negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians lurch forward, the burning question is: will Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank put an end to Palestinian claims? According to an Israel TV scoop, the Palestinians in the current peace talks seem not to have budged an inch on their “right of return.”

Even if Israel is negotiated back to the 1967 lines, will the Palestinians renounce their “right of return”? This issue cannot be brushed aside as rhetoric: it is intimately bound with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Addressing the Knesset recently, Netanyahu dismissed voices in Israel – among them his own Finance Minister Yair Lapid – arguing that Palestinian Authority recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was unnecessary, saying, “The question is not why we are raising this point, but why the Palestinians continue to delay an agreement over this.”

Not content with a Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza which they have already declared will be Jewfree, even “moderate” Palestinians reserve the right to turn the Jewish state into a second Arab state, by overwhelming it with millions of returning Palestinian refugees.

“The first act of such a Muslim-majority state would be to repeal Israel’s Law of Return, which entitles Jews, wherever they may be, to automatic Israeli citizenship.

In a 2011 poll 89.5 percent of Palestinians refused to renounce their “right of return.” More recently a Palestinian outcry forced Mahmoud Abbas to backtrack on his offer to an Israeli audience to renounce his personal “right of return” to Safed.

A peace deal foundered in 2000 because the Palestinians did not agree to the principle that their refugees should be repatriated to a state of Palestine.

That’s why Netanyahu is right to make Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state the quintessential issue.

(PA negotiator Saeb Erekat has said flippantly that Israel can call itself what it likes – but does the Arab side accept Israel’s right to call itself what it likes?) If successive Israeli governments did not insist on this point in the past, it is because Netanyahu has realized that the much vaunted “two-state solution” leaves room for ambiguity. A peace settlement requires “two states for two peoples.”

On the matter of refugees, however, the Israeli government is being less reassuring.

Here the question is not only about ending claims, but ensuring that refugees on both sides get recognition and redress.

Last week, a representative of an association of Jews from Egypt asked chief negotiator Tzipi Livni in a public forum if Palestinian refugee claims were being linked to Jewish refugees in negotiations.

Livni’s answer was disconcerting: “there is no connection between Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees.”

Lest Livni be suffering from a bout of amnesia, let us remind her that the single largest group of refugees created by the Arab-Israeli conflict was not Palestinian.

Almost a million Jews were forced out, not just from east Jerusalem and the West Bank, but Arab lands.

Their pre-Islamic communities were destroyed and their property seized without compensation.

Although over 200,000 Jews were resettled in the West, two sets of refugees exchanged places between Israel and the Arab world. Half the Jewish population are in Israel not because of the Nazis, but the Arabs.

In its conduct of peace negotiations, the Israeli government needs to recall that it is bound by a Knesset law passed in 2010. This statute requires that, as a matter of law and justice, recognition of the Jewish plight and compensation for seized assets many times greater than Palestinian losses must also be included on the peace agenda.

Only by balancing the claims of rival sets of refugees might a deal be struck.

Neither set should return to their countries of origin. Both should be compensated through an international fund, as proposed by Bill Clinton in 2000.

Historically, the Arab side initiated linkage between the two sets of refugees.

Arab states branded their innocent Jewish citizens members of “the Jewish minority of Palestine.” Jews were conflated with Zionists – and became fair game for persecution. The result was the almost complete ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Arab world.

Ironically, Arab leaders were the first to talk of an “exchange of populations,” but while they eagerly expelled their Jews, schemes to absorb Palestinian refugees in Arab lands were never carried out. The latter remain to this day bereft of civil rights, except in Jordan.

If the Palestinians reply that they hold no responsibility for the Jewish refugee problem, Livni must remind them that the Palestinian leadership – notably the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini – played a key part in stirring the anti-Semitism that led to the mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries.

Israel took responsibility for successfully resettling its Jewish refugees; it’s time that the Arab side took responsibility for theirs.

It is not enough for Netanyahu to insist on “two states for two peoples.”

The Israeli negotiators must display equal robustness on the question of refugees, and insist that an irrevocable exchange took place. Netanyahu’s strategy must be: two states, and two sets of refugees.

The author is a journalist and co-founder of Harif, a UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.

This article was originally published by The Jerusalem Post.

1 Comment

  • The return of Palestinian refugees is possible.

    Watch the following documentary on the Practicalities of Return:
    https://vimeo.com/77599843

    The documentary was produced by BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.

    BADIL is an independent, community-based non-profit organization mandated to defend and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees and (Internally Displaced Persons) IDPs. Our vision, missions, programs and relationships are defined by our Palestinian identity and the principles of international law, in particular international human rights law. We seek to advance the individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people on this basis.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Jewish former CNN host Larry King asked a Saudi Arabian fan if taking pictures with Jews is allowed in his country, before agreeing to pose for a photo with the man, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The world-famous interviewer was leaving the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C. with a New York Times reporter when a “dark-skinned man” approached and asked to take a picture with him, according to the publication. Whereupon, King asked the fan where he was from. When the man said Saudi […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    British-Jewish business tycoon Lord Alan Sugar joked on Wednesday that London synagogues will likely be empty during Yom Kippur with congregants fleeing to watch the match-up of two leading English soccer teams known for having hordes of Jewish fans. “Spurs V Arsenal cup game drawn on most important Jewish festival,” Lord Sugar pointed out on Twitter. “Both teams have loads of Jewish fans. Conclusion Synagogues will be empty.” North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC will go head-to-head in the Capital One Cup third-round […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Two Jewish men were the only unwitting participants in a social experiment conducted by Jimmy Kimmel, for his popular TV show. As part of a candid-camera-like sketch featured Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host devised different street scenes to observe human behavior — in particular, to see how long it would take people walking down California’s bustling Hollywood Boulevard to notice and interact with others in distress. One scene involved a man in a Spongebob Squarepants costume who had “fallen down” on the sidewalk and needed help […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    A major Jewish organization rebuked actress Natalie Portman on Monday for saying in a recent interview that Jews put too much emphasis on teaching about the Holocaust relative to other genocides. The Israeli-born movie star told the U.K.’s Independent that the Jewish community needs to examine how much focus it puts on Holocaust education over other issues. She said she was shocked when she learned that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda while she was in school learning only about the horrors of the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    JNS.org – A new book that draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba (the Arabic term for the displacement of Palestinian refugees during Israel’s War of Independence) has sparked outrage ahead of an official book launch, to be hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on Sept. 7. The Zionist organization Im Tirtzu wrote a letter to the institute demanding that it cancel an event it planned in honor of the book’s authors, under the title The Holocaust and […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Famed actress Natalie Portman warned on Friday against the use of Holocaust education to evoke fear and paranoia. In an interview with the U.K. Independent she added that the trauma should make Jews more empathetic to others who have also experienced hatred. “Sometimes it can be subverted to fearmongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen,’” the Israeli-American star said. “We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, antisemitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    The Tribalist, by Louis Marano, is ostensibly a work of fiction but at its core a kind of love song by a gentile journalist for the State of Israel, and especially its secular Zionist core. (Because of the relentless attacks by left-wing polemicists on Israel’s allegedly “messianic” fringe, it’s often forgotten that most of Israel’s founders and all its leaders have been secular Zionists.) The author, the product of an Italian-American family in Buffalo, served two tours of duty in […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    JNS.org – Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved traditional Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though parve rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings. Pastry chef Paula Shoyer—author of the books “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” and […]

    Read more →