Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Abbas: “Right of Return” Trumps Palestinian Lives

The poll cited by Rick Richman earlier, showing that 56 percent of Palestinians oppose the “everyone knows” parameters of a two-state solution, would come as a surprise only to someone who has slept through the last 13 years, during which Palestinian leaders repeatedly rejected Israeli offers along those lines. But what polls can’t answer is whether this opposition is deep-seated and resistant to change, or shallow and easily reversible if only Israel would agree to a settlement freeze, or prisoner releases, or whatever the Palestinian demand du jour for resuming negotiations is.

Last week, however, the Palestinian Authority answered that question decisively: It announced that it would rather leave hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to rot in the hell of war-torn Syria than grant them refuge in the West Bank, because the price of doing so was for those specific refugees to renounce their alleged “right of return” to Israel. In other words, saving thousands or even tens of thousands of Palestinian lives was less important to PA President Mahmoud Abbas than preserving his dream of someday destroying the Jewish state demographically by flooding it with millions of Palestinian refugees.

The issue arose last month, after Syrian forces bombed Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. Dozens were killed, and about half the camp’s 150,000 residents fled, becoming homeless at the height of the worst winter of the past decade. So Abbas, via UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, sought permission from Israel (which controls the borders) to let these refugees enter the PA. Israel did agree, Abbas later admitted to journalists in Cairo. But it imposed one condition:

Abbas said Ban was told Israel “agreed to the return of those refugees to Gaza and the West Bank, but on condition that each refugee … sign a statement that he doesn’t have the right of return (to Israel).”

“So we rejected that and said it’s better they die in Syria than give up their right of return,” Abbas told the group.

Abbas didn’t bother asking the refugees themselves–most of whom have never set foot in Israel, which their parents or grandparents fled 64 years ago–whether they considered their families’ lives and well-being a higher priority than preserving a notional “right of return” to a country they have never seen, which they are highly unlikely ever to be able to realize. He simply decided that letting them die was preferable to giving up the fantasy of someday eradicating Israel by turning it into a Palestinian-majority state. And this is the man dubbed “the most moderate and serious” Palestinian leader ever.

In an astounding editorial two weeks ago, the Washington Post–hardly a bastion of the Israeli right–blasted the West’s “overheated rhetoric on Israeli settlements,” noting that not only is it wrong to claim “settlements are the principal obstacle to a deal,” but it’s counterproductive, because it encourages Abbas to keep “using settlements as an excuse for intransigence.” It was one of the most honest summations of the situation I’ve seen anywhere. But even an editorialist this clear-sighted couldn’t bring himself to say what the “principal obstacle to a deal” was.

Abbas, however, unequivocally answered that question last week: The principal obstacle to a deal is that Palestinians still haven’t given up their goal of destroying the Jewish state. And it’s high time the world began acknowledging that fact. For if “the most moderate and serious” Palestinian leader ever would rather see thousands of his countrymen slaughtered than give up his dream of destroying Israel, the two-state solution doesn’t stand a chance.