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  • March 29, 2013

    Even if there were no right of return, the parties couldn’t agree on borders and Jerusalem

    Ted Belman. The authors postulate that “Contrary to popular belief, the core of the conflict is not borders, Israeli settlements, or the status of Jerusalem.” but the right of return. I beg to differ. Even if the right of return was abandoned by the Palestinians or they accept Obama’s demand that they accept Israel as a Jewish state, they would in fact be abandoning it. Then the chances of Israel agreeing to a divided Jerusalem and uprooting 100,000 Jews east of the greenline, are less than the chances of the Palestinians abandoning the right of return.

    Mind you, if Netanyahu could apologize for Mavi Marmara, he could agree to dividing Jerusalem and uprooting over 100,000 Jews.

    The True Obstacle To Peace Between Israelis And Palestinians

    by Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe

    With the completion of Barack Obama’s first Presidential visit to Israel, as expected there was a great deal of symbolism reinforcing the bond between the two allies. Yet still, doves on both sides acknowledge that peace is hardly around the corner.

    Understanding the true barriers to a comprehensive agreement is key to knowing where the pressure to compromise will be coming from. Contrary to popular belief, the core of the conflict is not borders, Israeli settlements, or the status of Jerusalem.


    An honest look at the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians requires Obama to understand two major things before he attempts to jump-start any peace process. One is that the two state model today is only applicable to Israel and the West Bank; there can be no contiguous Palestine state between the West Bank and Gaza with Hamas in power. This would represent a threat to both Israel and to Palestine.

    Second, the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in the Palestinian “Right of Return,” the collective belief in a legal and moral right for Palestinian refugees, and more importantly their descendents from around the world, to return to ancestral homes in Israel that were once part of Mandatory Palestine. The “right of return” is central to Palestinian national identity and is a high barrier to any peace agreement.

    This is underscored in a recent telling statement made by Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar on the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigade’s website. He said that that Israel’s attempts to end the UN classification of the Palestinian refugees is doomed to fail because of how Palestinian identity is linked to the Right of Return for eternity. “The Palestinian refugee is a citizen forcibly displaced from his land and his return is one of the constants that cannot be controlled by the occupation; it is sacred like our faith… Our grandfathers were once in their land and their grandchildren will return to it no matter how long it takes.”

    This is a quasi-religious belief that crosses all sectors of Palestinian society, and which is endlessly reproduced in Palestinian media, education and culture, and which is endorsed by UNRWA, the UN organ charged with maintaining health, welfare and education services for those it has deemed Palestinian refugees.

    But Al-Zahar is also misinformed regarding the Israeli position. Recent Israeli governments have been forthright in stating that there is no “right of return” and increasingly they point to it as one of the most formidable obstacles to making peace between the Israeli and Palestinian states, as well as peoples. But there have been no official Israeli efforts to end or even curtail UNRWA. Only recently has former Member of Knesset Einat Wilf called attention to UNRWA’s administrative decisions to extend refugee status to additional generations of Palestinians, creating more “refugees” and extending its own mandate. Wilf notes correctly that UNRWA’s endorsement of the “right of return” lies at the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict and not co-incidentally UNRWA’s continued existence. Important legislation to reform UNRWA has also come from U.S. Senator Mark Kirk but has not yet succeeded in passing through the Congress.

    But Al-Zahar understands the problem in the most fundamental way, that the “right of return” – and until then, “refugee” status guaranteed and funded by the international community – are the cornerstones of Palestinian national identity. From his perspective, of course, it is therefore necessary to put the onus entirely on Israel for the “Nakba,” the “catastrophe” of 1948 and Israel’s creation, as opposed to seeing any Palestinian and Arab responsibility or agency in the matter. If this is the core of Palestinian identity, that can be satisfied only by exercising the Palestinian “right of return” and the destruction of Israel, then there is no room for compromise.

    To understand the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Obama administration would be wise to listen to Al-Zahar, as well as Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas who stated “I have never and will never give up the right of return.” Abbas’s statement is as important as Al-Zahar’s since he was forced by Palestinian and Arab outrage to clarify an earlier comment where he had appeared to waver on the “right of return.”

    In the meantime, UNRWA will continue to support continuing generations of “refugees,” the majority of whom were born outside of Palestine, a large proportion of whom are national citizens of other states. In fact, UNRWA’s former general counsel James Lindsay has observed that “In truth, the vast majority of UNRWA’s registered refugees have already been “resettled” (or, to use the UN euphemism, “reintegrated”)” and that “only thing preventing all of these citizens from ceasing to be “refugees” is UNRWA’s singular definition of what constitutes a refugee.”

    Understanding how a UN agency is an integral ingredient of a long-term Arab strategy to perpetuate the misery of the Palestinians, and to keep this humanitarian burden at the center of the Arab-Israeli conflict is another key for President Obama to keep in mind as he visits Israel, and perhaps the West Bank. This has been the Arab world’s biggest success against Israel, only at the expense of the Palestinians. If Obama truly wants to move the peace process forward it would behoove him to look at what our taxpayer dollars are buying in UNRWA, and at those who are truly being served. Until he understands that the “right of return” is the essence of the conflict, and that we need to start changing this core Palestinian belief, President Obama should not expect any change in the near future.

    Asaf Romirowsky is an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Forum. Alexander Joffe is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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  • Posted by Ted Belman @ 4:46 pm | 9 Comments »

    9 Comments to Even if there were no right of return, the parties couldn’t agree on borders and Jerusalem

    1. NormanF says:

      Netanyahu could agree to it – if the Arabs gave him something that would make a betrayal easier to justify.

      But I don’t think the apology to the Turks has been worth it. The political capital he spent on it is not going to produce political dividends that strengthen Israel in the future.

      And the Arabs are not going to give Israel’s leaders the rope with which to hang themselves.

    2. yamit82 says:

      Mind you, if Netanyahu could apologize for Mavi Marmara, he could agree to dividing Jerusalem and uprooting over 100,000 Jews.

      BB will give up Judaism’s holiest site just as he gave up Judaism’s 2nd and 3rd holiest sites

      Netanyahu gives up hebron Judaism’s 2nd most holy site:
      After:!!!

      And you got these calls [that] all hell broke loose?

      Not quite. … Hell broke, yes, but in stages. So by the time that I got to Germany, I heard that there was general fighting going on everywhere — in … Nablus, throughout Judea, Samaria, the West Bank, in Gaza. I quickly apologized to [German then-Chancellor Helmut] Kohl, got on a plane, flew back to Israel immediately.

      And they told you about the drama at Joseph’s tomb?

      I heard about it when I landed in Tel Aviv airport. They told me that there was a siege in Joseph’s tomb, that more than a dozen of our soldiers had been killed by them, that we had killed over 80 of his soldiers. … I gave an order to move our tank forces into striking positions all across the fronts, everywhere.

      Then I called up Arafat and I said, “Mr. Chairman, we are in a time of crisis, so I want to be very brief and to the point.” I said, “You have very little time … of which to effect a complete ceasefire. And if you don’t, I’ll send the tanks.” And he responded by saying, “Your Excellency, I understand.” Within the time that I said he should stop, he stopped completely.

      In parallel I also asked [Yitzhak] Molcho to call one of Arafat’s deputies and to explain that what I would do is not merely go in with tanks. I would bring down his regime because I could not accept this kind of breach. It’s totally unacceptable. These were weapons we had given Arafat to fight terrorists and he was shooting at our men, with thousands and thousands of people trying to kill our people. So I had given him a very, very stern warning and I was going to act on it. He believed it and therefore he stopped the violence. …

      Arafat said that in opening the tunnel wall, I was undermining the foundations of the Al Aqsa mosque. That’s a little difficult because it’s a quarter of a kilometer away. But nevertheless, he said it. [And] this so-called Al Aqsa intifada lasted all of two days

      You went afterwards to Gaza, and three days later … you signed the Hebron agreement. How did you feel? You’re a Likud man, yet you give now territory to the Palestinians, you give autonomy.

      … Hebron was difficult to do. … Giving up any territory is difficult, I admit it readily. It’s part of my homeland; it’s part of the place where my ancestors, the prophets and the kings of Israel and so many generations of Jews, had walked on and had dreamed of coming back to. But this was an agreement that had been ratified by Peres and I was going to carry out but with one major idea.

      The idea was essentially to trade the Arab part of Hebron for the rest of Judea and Samaria, or almost the rest of it. And I insisted on receiving in exchange for the Hebron agreement, two documents. One, a document spelling out the … 10 major commitments that Arafat had to achieve for the remainder of the negotiations about the territory beyond Hebron, which is most of the territory. And second, that we would receive from the Americans a letter that said that Israel and Israel alone would determine the extent of the security location, hence the extent of withdrawal. In effect, what I was doing was giving up the Arab part of this city and ensuring that we retain nearly all of Judea and Samaria. …

      We were supposed to ratify [the agreement] in the cabinet. … I explained that we were to get this letter from the United States. We didn’t get the letter; I stopped the cabinet meeting, folded my hands, and said, “We are now waiting. We will not conclude this agreement until the American letter reaches us.” I think that I sent Danny Naveh to call the American ambassador and tell him that unless this letter came as agreed, we will not ratify the Hebron agreement.

      I wasn’t an obstacle to peace; I was an obstacle to terror, which is the true obstacle to peace.When the letter came. It was signed by then-Secretary of State [Warren] Christopher. It was a very good letter. It was a revolutionary letter. … It says that Israel and Israel alone will determine the location and the extent of the specified security locations, which means effectively that Israel would determine how much it would withdraw.

      This was the way of flipping Oslo around without breaking Oslo. Instead of Oslo being a one way street, where Israel gives and gives and gives without any limit, all of a sudden Israel had its hands on the wheel and on the accelerator and on the brakes. We could now drive. This letter was revolutionary.

      When we got it, everybody was very pleased, but I said, “No, there is one other thing that has to happen. I want Arafat to receive exactly the same letter. It has to be an agreed-upon American position that is communicated and accepted not only by us but also by Arafat.” And we waited until we had confirmation that Arafat received exactly the same letter. That is the point in the Hebron agreement. For the sake of the larger control, we had in fact given up Hebron, or the Arab part of Hebron, but now we’re able to ensure that Israel would not be reduced to indefensible boundaries. …

    3. NormanF says:

      Netanyahu was the true father of the September War.

      He is an idiot and a blind fool.

    4. Bernard Ross says:

      @ yamit82:I read your link re BB inteview. He comes across weak, almost an american stooge. He certainly does not appear to seek a grand plan for the Jews but rather try to maintain a status quo. It really looks like the american relationship is not good for Israel. they are the meddlers, Without them things would have been decided for the victors. The americans have deprived the Jews of their hard fought victory. I would really love to see a leadership that throws out all the old agreements, after all they have been repeatedly broken and have no reason to be followed. The US should back out of the meddling.

    5. Abdul Ameer says:

      Despite pretensions to the contrary, the authors did not even hint at the real source of the conflict over Israel or the single most important obstacle to peace. They write:” the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in the Palestinian “Right of Return,”. NO!!! The crux of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is NOT rooted in the “Right of Return”. In fact, we are not dealing with an “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict! The Arabs made war on Israel long before there were any “Palestinians”. The conflict used to be called the “Arab-Israeli” conflict because all of the Arab countries pursued that conflict. But, even that is not a correct conception of the conflict. After all, Iran is not “Palestinian” and not “Arab”, yet Iran is Israel’s deadliest enemy. Why is that?
      For anyone who listens carefully to Israel’s enemies, the answer is clear. The fact is that no Moslem country recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and the reason for that is to be found in the sacred doctrines of Islam as set forth in the Koran and the sayings of Muhammad.

      There are two fundamental Islamic doctrines which prohibit peace with Israel.
      FIRST: there is the doctrine of “waqf” whereby any territory that was once conquered by Moslems is considered to be Moslem territory forever. This includes the entire territory of British Mandate Palestine.
      SECOND: There are commands from Allah, in the Koran, and from Muhammad, in the sunna, which call for war against Jews, the subjugation of Jews to Islamic authority and the murder of Jews. Thus, Jewish sovereignty is prohibited by Allah and Muhammad. This is all spelled out in the Hamas Charter. To anyone who is familiar with Islamic doctrines, it is clear that we are dealing with an Islamic religious holy war against the Jews whereby recognition of Israel’s right to exist is considered a violation of Allah’s and Muhammad’s commandments.
      Therefore, no religious Moslem can accept Israel’s right to exist without giving up his religion. And, no analysis of the conflict over Israel is worth much if it does not deal with the Islamic doctrines which are the true crux of the issue.

    6. Ted Belman says:

      @ Abdul Ameer:Thank you Abdul for making this point. I totally agree that for Moslims this is a religious conflict. They are not permittedc to make peace with us. I didn’t mention it because I was playing off the writer’s postulation.

    7. catarin says:

      The right of return for Arabs? By extension, should there not be a right of return for Jews and Christians who once lived among them in Arabia? Maybe a commemorative plaque indicating the People of the Book were once present? As I understand it, the Jews were in Arabia 1000 years before being murdered, their property stolen and then tossed out of the country.

      Arab Muslims, we are on to you. You owe the Jews reparations, but here you are trying to steal the land from the Jews and Christians of the world. You won’t make peace. If you can’t have it all, you’ll go to war trying to steal it. We will have to kick your butts.

      Emir, go away.

    8. yamit82 says:

      catarin Said:

      The right of return for Arabs? By extension, should there not be a right of return for Jews and Christians who once lived among them in Arabia? Maybe a commemorative plaque indicating the People of the Book were once present? As I understand it, the Jews were in Arabia 1000 years before being murdered, their property stolen and then tossed out of the country.
      Arab Muslims, we are on to you. You owe the Jews reparations, but here you are trying to steal the land from the Jews and Christians of the world. You won’t make peace. If you can’t have it all, you’ll go to war trying to steal it. We will have to kick your butts.
      Emir, go away.

      Dem are fighten words.

      “the People of the Book” That’s the name given to the Jews by the Muslim Arabs.

    9. yamit82 says:

      Bernard Ross Said:

      @ yamit82:I read your link re BB inteview. He comes across weak, almost an american stooge. He certainly does not appear to seek a grand plan for the Jews but rather try to maintain a status quo. It really looks like the american relationship is not good for Israel. they are the meddlers, Without them things would have been decided for the victors. The americans have deprived the Jews of their hard fought victory. I would really love to see a leadership that throws out all the old agreements, after all they have been repeatedly broken and have no reason to be followed. The US should back out of the meddling.

      Correct!!! That’s what I’ve been saying for years. America does not want peace, they need the conflict to assert their influence and to sell weapons which gives them more influence over the Arabs and Israel. They have it both ways, peacemaker and the main supporter of the conflict. Conflict management is their game for fun and profit.

      Has America ever made peaceful relations with Israel as a condition for American aid or purchase of American weapons? Like in Iraq or the Gulf Emirates? Saudi Arabia etc?

      American policy is devilish.

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