Friday, April 20, 2007

Dershowitz: The Palestinian 'right of return'

from the Christian Science Monitor

the major barriers to peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis
is the so-called right of return. In its broadest formulation, this
"right" belongs to some 4 million alleged descendants of the 700,000 or
so Palestinian Arabs who left what is now Israel as the result of the
war that began when Israel declared statehood in 1948.

Palestinians say the Israeli government used the war as an excuse to chase a significant percentage of its Arab population
out of the newly formed Jewish state. Palestinians call this war and its aftermath "al Nakba" – "the catastrophe."

insist this catastrophe was self-inflicted. By attacking Israel in a
genocidal attempt to push the Jews into the sea, the combined Arab
armies created the refugee problem. Israel acknowledges that it forced
out some local Palestinians who lived in areas critical to the defense
of the new state. But Israel insists that many other Palestinians left
of their own volition or at the behest of Arab leaders who promised
that the Palestinians would return triumphantly after Israel was

What is beyond dispute is that many of the refugees – regardless of how they became refugees – were placed in miserable camps
and kept there for half a century by the Arab nations in which they sought refuge.

millions of other refugees who were forced to leave their homes in the
decades following World War II – the Sudeten-Germans, the Greeks and
Turks, Pakistanis and Indians, and the 700,000 Jewish refugees from
Arab countries – have all been integrated and normalized. Only the
Palestinian refugees have been kept in camps by their Arab hosts. The
reason was and is entirely political: to maintain resentment and to
hold open the empty promise of a triumphant return that would achieve
demographically what the Arab nations have been unable to achieve
militarily – destruction of the Jewish state.

Israel sees the right not as an
individual, humanitarian claim, but rather as a collective, political
assertion designed to turn Israel into another Arab state. In 1949,
Egypt's foreign minister candidly acknowledged: "It is well known and
understood that the Arabs, in demanding the return of the refugees to
Palestine, mean their return as masters of their homeland, and not as
slaves. More explicitly: they intend to annihilate the state of

That is why Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert may have been correct in principle when he announced recently
that he would never accept a right of return by Palestinian refugees
and their descendants. His argument was simple: The Palestinians, aided
by the surrounding Arab countries, started a war against the new state
of Israel in an effort to destroy it; had they instead accepted the
partition – the two-state solution – Israel would have accepted the
presence of significant numbers of Palestinians in the new Jewish
state. But once the Palestinians started a genocidal war, the
inevitable consequence was the creation of refugees. Even if some were
in fact forced to leave by Israeli military commanders, such actions
were in response to the attack by the Arabs.

The best proof of the correctness of Mr.
Olmert's view is to imagine what would be happening today if the shoe
were on the other foot. Imagine if the Palestinians had won and many
Israelis had been forced to leave, while others left of their own
volition or as the result of fear. Now imagine those Jews seeking a
right of return, either in the immediate aftermath of the war or 60
years later. It is inconceivable that a Palestinian state would grant
Jewish refugees a right of return. Certainly that would be true if the
number of Israeli refugees and their descendants threatened to
outnumber the Palestinian population. How can a right of return go only
one way? Has Yemen offered its Jewish refugee population any right of
return or compensation? Has Egypt? Has Iran? Has Iraq? Has Syria? Of
course not.

Of all the post-WWII refugee claims, the Palestinian claim is the weakest, and yet it has received the widest and most vocal
support from the United Nations and the international community.

concluded that Olmert was right as a matter of principle, I also
believe that he may have been wrong as a matter of tactics. The
Palestinian narrative, whether factually correct or incorrect, is a
reality in the minds of most Palestinians. Earlier Israeli prime
ministers recognized that and were prepared to compromise principle for
a pragmatic peace. They indicated a willingness to accept some symbolic
right of return coupled with compensation. As current Israeli Vice
Premier Shimon Peres once put it: Don't destroy our enemies' dream;
just don't let them turn it into our nightmare.

This issue is of great importance in light
of the Saudi peace plan, which is ambiguous on the issue of refugees:
demanding a just resolution, but not specifying the details of such a
resolution. A just resolution could include a guaranteed right of all
refugees and their descendants to return to this newly established
Palestinian state, while also allowing those actual refugees – but not
their relatives – who can prove they were ejected, to be reunited with
families that now live in Israel or to be reasonably compensated for
their financial losses. A numerical cap would have to be placed on the
number of refugees allowed to move to Israel and their entry would be
subject to security requirements. A reciprocal right should be accorded
to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

For peace to be achieved, pragmatism must be balanced with principle. The right of return should be implemented so as to protect
Israel against demographic annihilation without denigrating the Palestinian narrative.

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