Sanity Injection

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Posts Tagged ‘Ehud Olmert’

Memo to Israeli PM: Rejectionism is not helpful

Posted by sanityinjection on August 14, 2008

ABC News reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has denied rumors that he had proposed allowing a small number of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel as part of a final peace settlement, in keeping eith the “right of return” which has always been a fundamental demand of the Palestinians. However, his office went a step further and said that, “under any future agreement, there will not be any return of Palestinian refugees to Israel in any number.” While this may play well politically in Israel, that kind of categorical denial hurts peace efforts and encourages similar rejectionism from the Palestinian side.

The issue concerns large numbers of Palestinian families who either (depending on your point of view) fled or were forced out of Palestine in 1948 when Arab armies attacked the newly-declared State of Israel. Since that time, they have been housed in run-down, squalid refugee camps in Arab countries, some the size of small cities. The Palestinains have consistently demanded that the right of these refugees to return to what is now Israel be recognized – the so-called “right of return”.

Of course, there are tons of problems with this. Most of the houses, and in many cases, the villages the Palestinians left no longer exist. There is nowhere for them to return to. The refugees, now almost all elderly, have bred large families who would all want to return along with them. In addition to arguing that the Palestinians left voluntarily, Israel rightly points out that the refugees are still in the camps because the Arab countries (with the notable exception of Jordan) have consistently refused to allow them to integrate into their countries, fearing that would be a symbolic acceptance of the Israeli victory.

Allowing the “right of return” in any significant numbers would be impossible for Israel. It would create a huge Arab population with a high birthrate that would eventually swamp the Jewish population and have the political power to destroy Israel as a Jewish state through democratic means. Olmert’s statement is grounded in this understanding, and Palestinian negotiators are well aware of it.

On the other hand, the “right of return” is so fundamental to the Palestinian cause that it is impossible to imagine a peace settlement that does not address the issue in at least a symbolic way. And the Israelis are aware of that also. Olmert’s categorical rejection of even a symbolic right of return is basically a slap in the face for Palestinians, and that’s not how you negotiate.

Olmert will be stepping down as Prime Minister, so a new government will not be bound by his statement. But it is dismaying to see an Israeli leader deliberately sabotaging the atmosphere of peace talks for cheap political gains.

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