Commentary Magazine


Topic: right of return

Abbas Doubles Down on Right of Return

To listen to anyone in the Obama administration, Mahmoud Abbas isn’t just Israel’s best hope for a peace partner. From President Obama on down, the Palestinian Authority leader has been spoken of in almost heroic terms as a genuine moderate and a man who has shown himself willing to make real sacrifices for peace. This portrayal has always been sheer fiction but it has been bolstered by Abbas’s clever decision to speak in one manner to the Western and Israeli press while singing a very different tune to Arabic and Palestinian media. This was proved again last week when he told an Egyptian TV program (the transcript from which was published by Memri.org, that essential window into the Arab media) that not only would he never recognize Israel as a Jewish state but also insisted that “we cannot close the door to those who wish to return,” a clear allusion to a demand for the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

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To listen to anyone in the Obama administration, Mahmoud Abbas isn’t just Israel’s best hope for a peace partner. From President Obama on down, the Palestinian Authority leader has been spoken of in almost heroic terms as a genuine moderate and a man who has shown himself willing to make real sacrifices for peace. This portrayal has always been sheer fiction but it has been bolstered by Abbas’s clever decision to speak in one manner to the Western and Israeli press while singing a very different tune to Arabic and Palestinian media. This was proved again last week when he told an Egyptian TV program (the transcript from which was published by Memri.org, that essential window into the Arab media) that not only would he never recognize Israel as a Jewish state but also insisted that “we cannot close the door to those who wish to return,” a clear allusion to a demand for the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

In speaking in this manner, Abbas’s double game is effectively debunked by his own words. The so-called “right of return” is a touchstone of Palestinian rejectionism, based as it is on the notion that millions of descendants of the several hundred thousand refugees from the 1948 War of Independence should be allowed to return to pre-1967 Israel and effectively transform it into an Arab-majority nation. Such a demand is not only incompatible with the notion of peace; it is an explicit rejection of efforts to end the conflict. In effect, Abbas’s idea of a two-state solution is to have one Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of a divided Jerusalem in which no Jews will live and another inside Israel’s 1967 lines in which an Arab majority will dominate a Jewish minority.

Even more interesting is the fact that in this interview, Abbas claimed that there were “six million” such persons waiting to enter Israel. According to the Times of Israel, this was not an attempt by Abbas to echo the symbolism of the Holocaust by positing a population of so-called victims of Israel that is the same as the number of Jews killed by the Nazis. Instead, they think it is an attempt to claim that the refugees are as numerous as the current Jewish population of Israel, which amounts to approximately six million persons. They may be right about that but given Abbas’s background as a Holocaust denier (his doctoral thesis questioning the number of Jews killed in the Shoah is still being promoted by official Palestinian media), it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But no matter why Abbas spoke of “six million” refugees, the number is bogus since it exceeds even the widely inflated claims of UNRWA, which has done its best to perpetuate and promote the narrative of refugee victimhood.

Why would Abbas embrace rejectionism in this manner even though President Obama still thinks he is a champion of peace?

Abbas is locked in a competition with his Hamas rivals/erstwhile coalition partners in which the only way to gain credibility on the Palestinian street is to attack Israel and pander to nationalist sentiment about its destruction. As the interview also makes clear, he’s also attempting to exploit the controversy over Israel’s proposed law officially declaring the country a Jewish state. But, as Abbas and even some of the law’s Israeli and Western critics know, a law that restates the obvious about Israel wouldn’t change a thing about the country’s identity or in any way diminish the rights of non-Jews there. Yet the propaganda value of branding Israel as an “apartheid state” is too great a temptation for Abbas to pass up.

The talk about refugees also directly contradicts Abbas’s statements made in a 2012 Israeli TV interview in which he disavowed the right of return and alluded to his own lack of interest in going back to his family’s home in Safed. It should also serve as a reminder that an equal number of Jews were forced to flee from their homes in the Arab and Muslim world after 1948. Any talk of compensation for Arab refugees should be balanced by an equal concern for the descendants of the Jews who were dispossessed by the Arab war against Israel.

These statements ought to quiet those who continue to claim Abbas is a peace partner or, despite his repeated refusal to accept Israel peace offers, someone who is even remotely capable of signing an agreement that would end the conflict. Like his decision to blow up Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative earlier this year, Abbas’s only strategic imperative is to avoid making peace. His end-run around the negotiations and his futile decision to use United Nations agencies as a forum for Israel-bashing also demonstrate that his goal is to never again be boxed in where he will have to either explicitly turn down an Israeli offer or agree to a historic compromise.

While the Obama administration openly roots for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s defeat in the upcoming elections and issues vague threats about sanctions on Israel if he is reelected, the real obstacle to peace remains Abbas and his people’s political culture that makes ending the conflict impossible. Until the U.S. recognizes this and starts treating Abbas as the problem rather than a possible solution, U.S. Middle East policy will continue to be a clueless failure.

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The Other Refugees and the Path to Peace

Today Canada’s foreign minister proved once again why the Great White North is one of the world’s outliers with regard to the Middle East. Foreign Minister John Baird said that the Canadian government stated that the fate of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries should be both recognized and taken into account in discussions about Middle East peace. The statement followed Canada’s parliament adopting a report on the subject and though Baird was careful to say that he didn’t want the issue to become a point of contention in the talks between Israel and the Palestinians sponsored by the United States, the mere raising of the topic is enough to cause some of Israel’s critics to claim the Canadians are trying to sabotage the negotiations. While the Israelis have repeatedly raised the issue of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled or were forced to flee their homes throughout the Arab world in the months and years following Israel’s birth in 1948, the Palestinians not only refuse to discuss the matter, they regard it as a distraction from the “nakba”—or disaster, as they refer to Israel’s creation. But in doing so they make it plain that this issue is central to understanding why peace has eluded the region.

The argument about competing sets of refugees is not an abstract historical puzzle. To even talk about Jewish refugees with their own history of suffering undermines the narrative that the only result of Israel’s War of Independence was the dispossession of a Palestinian refugee population whose descendants continue to demand a “right of return” to the homes they left 66 years ago. For the same reason that the Palestinian Authority refuses absolutely to recognize that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, so, too, do they and their supporters close their ears to any discussion about Jewish refugees. Palestinians fear that both subjects undermine their sense of themselves as victims who must be compensated by the world. But while they believe that any diminution of that victimhood, either to recognize the claims of other refugees or the state where most of dispossessed Jews found a home, would deprive them of their identity as a people, the truth is just the opposite. Discarding this mindset is the only way that they—or the Israelis—will ever find peace.

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Today Canada’s foreign minister proved once again why the Great White North is one of the world’s outliers with regard to the Middle East. Foreign Minister John Baird said that the Canadian government stated that the fate of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries should be both recognized and taken into account in discussions about Middle East peace. The statement followed Canada’s parliament adopting a report on the subject and though Baird was careful to say that he didn’t want the issue to become a point of contention in the talks between Israel and the Palestinians sponsored by the United States, the mere raising of the topic is enough to cause some of Israel’s critics to claim the Canadians are trying to sabotage the negotiations. While the Israelis have repeatedly raised the issue of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled or were forced to flee their homes throughout the Arab world in the months and years following Israel’s birth in 1948, the Palestinians not only refuse to discuss the matter, they regard it as a distraction from the “nakba”—or disaster, as they refer to Israel’s creation. But in doing so they make it plain that this issue is central to understanding why peace has eluded the region.

The argument about competing sets of refugees is not an abstract historical puzzle. To even talk about Jewish refugees with their own history of suffering undermines the narrative that the only result of Israel’s War of Independence was the dispossession of a Palestinian refugee population whose descendants continue to demand a “right of return” to the homes they left 66 years ago. For the same reason that the Palestinian Authority refuses absolutely to recognize that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, so, too, do they and their supporters close their ears to any discussion about Jewish refugees. Palestinians fear that both subjects undermine their sense of themselves as victims who must be compensated by the world. But while they believe that any diminution of that victimhood, either to recognize the claims of other refugees or the state where most of dispossessed Jews found a home, would deprive them of their identity as a people, the truth is just the opposite. Discarding this mindset is the only way that they—or the Israelis—will ever find peace.

The Canadian report will undoubtedly be ignored by the international press that tends to treat any mention of Jewish refugees as somehow an illustration of Israel’s lack of contrition about the suffering of the Palestinians. But the more that one learns about the topic, the easier it is to understand that there was no monopoly on suffering in this conflict. Just as hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or, in a few cases, were told to leave their homes in the former British Mandate for Palestine, almost an equal number of Jews throughout the Arab and Muslim world experienced the same fate.

The difference between the two populations was that the Jews were taken in and resettled by their brethren, either in the newborn state of Israel or in Western countries. Though their journeys and adjustment to their new homes was not always easy, none were allowed to languish in limbo. Today, they and their descendants in Israel or in the United States and other Western countries are members of successful communities where they enjoy equal rights.

By contrast, the Arabs who left the territory that would become the State of Israel were deliberately kept in camps to this day and denied any resettlement or citizenship in the countries where they found themselves. The reason for this was that they were useful props in the Arab world’s ongoing war to reverse the verdict of that war. Their future was held hostage to the struggle to destroy Israel, and the refugees and their numerous progeny have been kept apart and in squalor in order to further that effort. Their plight merits the sympathy of the world. So, too, does the way they have been exploited and abused by their own leaders and other Arab countries.

Unfortunately, many of those who wish the Palestinians well, including many Jews, have accommodated their nakba narrative demands and sought to pressure Israel to apologize for winning the war of survival in 1948. But the Palestinian decision to cling to this narrative of suffering rather than embracing one of nation building in the West Bank and Gaza, where Israel has repeatedly offered them an independent state, is the primary obstacle to peace. As Rick Richman noted earlier this week, the point of insisting on the so-called “right of return” is not really the refugees but to keep the war against Israel’s existence alive. Not until they realize that they were not the only ones who suffered and that the war that led to their dispossession was the result of their own unwillingness to compromise and share the land will the Palestinians be prepared to accept the current compromise that has been on the table from Israel for many years, and finally move on.

Far from harming the cause of peace, the best thing those who wish to promote a resolution of the Middle East conflict can do is to remind the Palestinians that they were not the only ones who lost their homes and that the Arab world has as much apologizing to do as the Israelis. If one group of refugees must be compensated, so must the other. Just as two states for two peoples is the only possible formula for peace, let the Palestinians recognize that they aren’t the only 1948 refugees. Until they do and acknowledge the legitimacy of a state for those Jewish refugees, peace will be impossible.

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“Right of Return” Is Not About “Refugees”

In A Jewish State,”the Wall Street Journal notes that “the right of return, with its implicit promise to eliminate Israel, is the centerpiece of the conflict” between Israelis and Arabs. The Journal observes that it is a “right” recognized “for no other refugee group in the world,” and that its acceptance by Israel would risk “a demographic time bomb that could turn the country into another Lebanon, sectarian and bloody.” The Journal explains the Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state as follows: “As to why Mr. Abbas won’t accept a Jewish state, it’s because doing so means relinquishing what Palestinians call the ‘right of return.’”

The Journal’s otherwise excellent editorial confuses a tactic and a goal. The reason the Palestinians won’t accept a Jewish state is not because it means relinquishing the “right of return.” It is the other way around: they won’t relinquish the “right of return” because it would mean accepting a Jewish state. Nor is this simply a matter of substituting the converse for the Journal’s formulation. Rather, it reflects a fundamental point that Ron Dermer (then one of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s closest aides and currently Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.) made in a May 2009 AIPAC presentation. Dermer’s point was that the “core issue” in the conflict was not refugees, but recognition:   

The half of the Palestinian polity that is not openly dedicated to Israel’s destruction is unwilling to recognize Israel as the Jewish state … For those of you who think that this has anything to do with the refugee issue — you’re wrong. In 1947, there wasn’t a single refugee, and the Palestinian and the Arab world was not willing to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people. That is a core issue, the core issue …

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In A Jewish State,”the Wall Street Journal notes that “the right of return, with its implicit promise to eliminate Israel, is the centerpiece of the conflict” between Israelis and Arabs. The Journal observes that it is a “right” recognized “for no other refugee group in the world,” and that its acceptance by Israel would risk “a demographic time bomb that could turn the country into another Lebanon, sectarian and bloody.” The Journal explains the Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state as follows: “As to why Mr. Abbas won’t accept a Jewish state, it’s because doing so means relinquishing what Palestinians call the ‘right of return.’”

The Journal’s otherwise excellent editorial confuses a tactic and a goal. The reason the Palestinians won’t accept a Jewish state is not because it means relinquishing the “right of return.” It is the other way around: they won’t relinquish the “right of return” because it would mean accepting a Jewish state. Nor is this simply a matter of substituting the converse for the Journal’s formulation. Rather, it reflects a fundamental point that Ron Dermer (then one of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s closest aides and currently Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.) made in a May 2009 AIPAC presentation. Dermer’s point was that the “core issue” in the conflict was not refugees, but recognition:   

The half of the Palestinian polity that is not openly dedicated to Israel’s destruction is unwilling to recognize Israel as the Jewish state … For those of you who think that this has anything to do with the refugee issue — you’re wrong. In 1947, there wasn’t a single refugee, and the Palestinian and the Arab world was not willing to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people. That is a core issue, the core issue …

The Palestinians use a definition of “refugee” that makes their “refugeehood” hereditary. Other refugees get resettled; Palestinian refugees get born. They may have never lived in Israel, but they are classified as “refugees” at birth, on grounds that their grandparents (or great grandparents) were refugees 65 years ago. This is why each year the number of Palestinian refugees increases, while the number of other refugees in the world decreases. The Palestinians have been repeatedly offered a state to which their refugees could “return,” but they repeatedly reject it, clinging to a specious “right” of “return” to Israel not because it is necessary for the “refugees,” but because it is a tool in the fight against the Jewish state.

The latest tactic is the Palestinian assertion (swallowed whole by the New York Times) that recognition of a Jewish state is a new issue, allegedly raised by Netanyahu to prevent peace. It is a Big Lie. Last Wednesday Ambassador Dennis Ross, speaking on “Israel, America, and the Middle East: Challenges for 2014,” summarized the Israeli position (my transcription and italics):

From the Israeli standpoint, they say look, if you believe in two states, why is it that Israel being the nation-state of the Jewish people is something that you can’t accept? Why is it that self-determination for the Jewish people in a part of historic Palestine is something that you can’t embrace? And it’s pretty fundamental.

When I hear it said that this is the first time this issue has been raised – the people who say that think that no one knows history.  Now maybe it’s true that most people don’t know history. But they should never say it to me. When we were at Camp David, this issue was raised. In the period after Camp David, before we did the Clinton Parameters, this issue was raised. This issue has been raised for obvious reasons. From the Israeli standpoint, there is a need to know that the Palestinians are committed to two states, meaning in fact that one state is Palestinian and one is the state of the Jewish people. They need to know the Palestinians are not about two states, one Palestinian and one bi-national.

In 1947, the Jews accepted the UN two-state resolution; the Arabs not only rejected it, but started a war the next day. In 1948, when Israel declared itself a state, the Arab states sent their armies in, seeking to destroy it. Instead, they created a “catastrophe” for themselves. More than 65 years later, the Palestinians and their Arab allies still reject a Jewish state. They need to recognize it, not only for Israel’s benefit but their own: it is the necessary first step on their long road back from the self-created “catastrophe.” For the reasons succinctly stated in Ambassador Ross’s summary, no “two-state solution” is possible until they take that first step. But the Palestinians appear to have already made it clear they will not miss the opportunity to say “no” once again.

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Spain, Portugal and the Right of Return

Ali Jarbawi, a former Palestinian Authority minister, regurgitated several standard Palestinian talking points in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. Jonathan Tobin has already ably dissected most of them, but I’d like to focus on one he didn’t address: Jarbawi’s claim that the “right of return” is “guaranteed to refugees by international law.” Unfortunately for Jarbawi, this is a bad time to try to make that particular claim, because two European Union members, Spain and Portugal, are currently decisively refuting it.

Both countries recently announced plans to offer citizenship to descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews they expelled 500 years ago. At first glance, this might seem as if they had recognized a “right of return” – were it not for the fact that they’ve simultaneously refused to offer citizenship to descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Muslims expelled at about the same time.

 This has infuriated Muslim organizations, which are demanding equal treatment for their co-religionists. And if, as Palestinians claim, “return” were indeed a right guaranteed to all descendants of refugees in perpetuity, regardless of circumstances, these organizations would be justified. But in reality, it’s no such thing. And the arguments raised against it in Spain and Portugal apply to the Israeli-Palestinian case as well.

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Ali Jarbawi, a former Palestinian Authority minister, regurgitated several standard Palestinian talking points in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. Jonathan Tobin has already ably dissected most of them, but I’d like to focus on one he didn’t address: Jarbawi’s claim that the “right of return” is “guaranteed to refugees by international law.” Unfortunately for Jarbawi, this is a bad time to try to make that particular claim, because two European Union members, Spain and Portugal, are currently decisively refuting it.

Both countries recently announced plans to offer citizenship to descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews they expelled 500 years ago. At first glance, this might seem as if they had recognized a “right of return” – were it not for the fact that they’ve simultaneously refused to offer citizenship to descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Muslims expelled at about the same time.

 This has infuriated Muslim organizations, which are demanding equal treatment for their co-religionists. And if, as Palestinians claim, “return” were indeed a right guaranteed to all descendants of refugees in perpetuity, regardless of circumstances, these organizations would be justified. But in reality, it’s no such thing. And the arguments raised against it in Spain and Portugal apply to the Israeli-Palestinian case as well.

First, according to the legislator who drafted Portugal’s law of return, the circumstances of the Jewish and Muslim expulsions were completely different. “Persecution of Jews was just that, while what happened with the Arabs was part of a conflict,” Jose Ribeiro e Castro said. ”There’s no basis for comparison.”

That, of course, is equally true of Palestinian refugees: Far from being the victims of persecution, they fled and/or were expelled during a bloody conflict in which five Arab armies, aided by large contingents of local Palestinian irregulars, invaded the newborn state of Israel and tried to eradicate it. Thus Israel owes no moral debt to the refugees comparable to that of Spain and Portugal to their Jews.

Second, as noted by Egyptian-Belgian journalist Khaled Diab, there’s the demographic issue: While “only a few thousand” Jews are considered likely to apply for Spanish and Portuguese citizenship, “unknown millions of Arabs and Muslims” might be eligible. And that creates a real problem:

If only a fraction of these were to apply, it could significantly and rapidly alter Spain’s demographic make-up. And in a country that was devoid of Muslims for half a millennium but lies on the fault line separating the two “civilizations,” this could well spark civil strife or even conflict.

That, of course, is far more true of tiny Israel, with only 8 million people, compared to Spain’s 47 million. If you believe UNRWA’s figures, the original 700,000 Palestinian refugees now have 5 million descendants. If substantial numbers of them relocated to Israel – and given the choice, they probably would, since Israel offers a better economy and more civil rights than the Arab countries where most now live – that could convert Israel’s Jewish majority into an Arab one. In short, it wouldn’t just risk “civil strife”; it would completely eradicate the Jewish state.

To be clear, nobody thinks Spain and Portugal have a legal obligation to offer citizenship even to descendants of their Jewish refugees: There is no such obligation under international law. But to the extent that one might posit a moral obligation, the Spanish and Portuguese cases clearly show that this obligation applies only to victims of persecution, not to those of armed conflict – and only if the demographic consequences won’t endanger the recipient country.

So the next time you hear someone claim Palestinians have a “right of return,” just refer them to Spain and Portugal for a brief lesson in what that “right” really means: exactly nothing.

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Abbas and the False Hope of Peace

The dynamic of the Middle East peace process hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. Americans and Israelis long for Palestinian leaders to enunciate moderate positions that might make peace possible but tend to misinterpret the mixed signals that are sent from Israel’s negotiating partners. They seize on ambivalent statements that give some inkling of a desire for peace but ignore those utterances that make it clear the Palestinians still have no interest in ending the conflict, especially those made in Arabic to very different audiences. That was what happened every time Yasir Arafat spoke in English when meeting with Americans or Israelis and the same is true for Mahmoud Abbas, his more presentable successor.

This dynamic was on display this weekend when Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president currently serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected, met with a group of Israeli students. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas told the delegation of Israelis that he didn’t want to flood Israel with refugees or to re-divide the city of Jerusalem. Taken out of context and ignoring contrary statements from Abbas and other Palestinian leaders and you get the impression that this is a man ready to make peace. No doubt that will be the interpretation placed on these remarks by those seeking to push the Israeli government for more concessions to the Palestinians or to blame it for the ultimate failure of the current negotiations championed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But a clear-eyed look at Abbas shows just how misleading that would be. Rather than moving closer to peace, Abbas is repeating the routine Arafat perfected in which Israelis and Americans are told what they want to hear while Palestinians get a very different message from their government.

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The dynamic of the Middle East peace process hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. Americans and Israelis long for Palestinian leaders to enunciate moderate positions that might make peace possible but tend to misinterpret the mixed signals that are sent from Israel’s negotiating partners. They seize on ambivalent statements that give some inkling of a desire for peace but ignore those utterances that make it clear the Palestinians still have no interest in ending the conflict, especially those made in Arabic to very different audiences. That was what happened every time Yasir Arafat spoke in English when meeting with Americans or Israelis and the same is true for Mahmoud Abbas, his more presentable successor.

This dynamic was on display this weekend when Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president currently serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected, met with a group of Israeli students. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas told the delegation of Israelis that he didn’t want to flood Israel with refugees or to re-divide the city of Jerusalem. Taken out of context and ignoring contrary statements from Abbas and other Palestinian leaders and you get the impression that this is a man ready to make peace. No doubt that will be the interpretation placed on these remarks by those seeking to push the Israeli government for more concessions to the Palestinians or to blame it for the ultimate failure of the current negotiations championed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But a clear-eyed look at Abbas shows just how misleading that would be. Rather than moving closer to peace, Abbas is repeating the routine Arafat perfected in which Israelis and Americans are told what they want to hear while Palestinians get a very different message from their government.

A shift on the Palestinian stance on refugees would mean a lot. As long as the PA holds onto its demand for the so-called “right of return” for refugees and their descendants, it means their goal remains Israel’s eradication. Similarly, recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn would also herald a redefinition of Palestinian nationalism from a creed rooted primarily in rejection of Zionism to one oriented toward developing their own nation.

But even in this seemingly positive statement, Abbas left himself plenty of wriggle room. Saying that he doesn’t wish to “flood” Israel doesn’t mean he’s renounced the right of return. How many Arabs constitute a flood? The answer is amorphous much in the same way previous comments by Abbas have hinted at a change without really delivering it. The point being that nothing short of a concrete renunciation of this longstanding demand means anything.

But let’s assume for a moment that Abbas is actually interested in giving up the right of return. If he were to make such an earth-shaking turnabout, is it remotely possible that he would do so while speaking to an Israeli audience rather than to a gathering of his own people in their own language? The answer is no.

As it was with Arafat, who would say to Western reporters he had chosen peace with Israel while telling Palestinians that all he had done was to sign a temporary truce that would be followed by more conflict, Abbas is also playing a double game. Far from echoing Abbas’s moderate statements to the Israeli students, the Palestinian media continues to broadcast and publish a never-ending stream of incitement against Jews and Israel in which terrorism is praised. Indeed, as Palestine Media Watch noted, Abbas has recently personally praised acts of terror against Israeli students.

The same point applies to his pledge not to divide Jerusalem since in the same address he told the Israelis that he would never allow Israel to control the Western Wall, let alone the Temple Mount in the capital’s Old City. In other words, even in the unlikely event of a peace treaty, worship at Judaism’s most sacred places would be dependent on Fatah goodwill rather than Jewish rights.

Another key obstacle to peace is the same one that deterred Kerry’s predecessors from attempting to revive the talks with Israel: Hamas. Though Abbas pretends that the terrorist rulers of Gaza will go along with any agreement he strikes with the Israelis, they continue to exercise a veto over peace that will deter him in much the same way Arafat knew that his signature on a treaty would be a death warrant.

So what is Abbas doing?

It’s not much of a mystery. The Palestinian leader is orchestrating a campaign aimed at diverting Western attention from a negotiating stance based on intransigence rather than moderation. Just as Arafat’s occasional statements about peace distracted both the Western media and the government of the United States from the actual policies he was pursuing as well as the rejectionist culture he had further entrenched via his media and the schools run by the PA, Abbas is trying to do the same thing. In this case, it is part of a game of chicken he’s been playing with Israel’s government to avoid blame for Kerry’s inevitable failure.

Israel should remain open to the possibility that someday the Palestinians will undergo the sort of sea change that will enable their leaders to embrace peace with Israel. But until that actually happens, both the Jewish state and its American ally should ignore Abbas’s deceptions.

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Obama’s Plan Won’t Persuade Palestinians

Anyone who thought the Obama administration is concentrating so much on its push for détente with Iran that it can’t simultaneously launch a new push for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians was wrong. As the New York Times reports this afternoon, a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan that is currently serving as an advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to the Middle East to brief the Israelis on a detailed plan for the West Bank that the U.S. envisages will be implemented in the wake of a peace agreement. Though President Obama has repeatedly pledged that he would not seek to impose a U.S. plan on the parties, the Times’s friendly sources at the State Department say retired Marine General John Allen will be bringing with him a specific scheme for the future of the West Bank.

The sources say it won’t be presented to the Israelis as a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. But there’s little question that the general’s arrival must be seen as part of an effort to strong arm the Israelis into abandoning the West Bank and specifically giving up most of its demands that a future Palestinian state be prevented from posing a military or terrorist threat to its Jewish neighbor. More to the point, it may be part of an effort to impose an international military presence in the region that would replace Israeli forces.

It’s possible that Israel will agree to some of the elements of the American plan even though they are loath to put themselves at the mercy of Western powers that will, as with other peacekeeping forces, be more interested in preserving the status quo than in preventing terror. But the real obstacle to the administration’s hubristic push for an agreement will come from the Palestinians. The same article that spoke of Allen’s mission discussed the remarks of chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat at a dinner last week in Jerusalem in honor of the United Nations’ annual “day of solidarity” with the Palestinians. Erekat’s remarks in front of a friendly audience made it clear that if President Obama is serious about achieving Middle East peace, he needs to be concentrating on pressuring the Palestinians to see reason rather than expending so much effort on trying to strong arm the Netanyahu government.

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Anyone who thought the Obama administration is concentrating so much on its push for détente with Iran that it can’t simultaneously launch a new push for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians was wrong. As the New York Times reports this afternoon, a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan that is currently serving as an advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to the Middle East to brief the Israelis on a detailed plan for the West Bank that the U.S. envisages will be implemented in the wake of a peace agreement. Though President Obama has repeatedly pledged that he would not seek to impose a U.S. plan on the parties, the Times’s friendly sources at the State Department say retired Marine General John Allen will be bringing with him a specific scheme for the future of the West Bank.

The sources say it won’t be presented to the Israelis as a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. But there’s little question that the general’s arrival must be seen as part of an effort to strong arm the Israelis into abandoning the West Bank and specifically giving up most of its demands that a future Palestinian state be prevented from posing a military or terrorist threat to its Jewish neighbor. More to the point, it may be part of an effort to impose an international military presence in the region that would replace Israeli forces.

It’s possible that Israel will agree to some of the elements of the American plan even though they are loath to put themselves at the mercy of Western powers that will, as with other peacekeeping forces, be more interested in preserving the status quo than in preventing terror. But the real obstacle to the administration’s hubristic push for an agreement will come from the Palestinians. The same article that spoke of Allen’s mission discussed the remarks of chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat at a dinner last week in Jerusalem in honor of the United Nations’ annual “day of solidarity” with the Palestinians. Erekat’s remarks in front of a friendly audience made it clear that if President Obama is serious about achieving Middle East peace, he needs to be concentrating on pressuring the Palestinians to see reason rather than expending so much effort on trying to strong arm the Netanyahu government.

While lamenting his lack of military leverage over Israel, Erekat stated again that despite even the Obama administration’s acceptance of the idea of territorial swaps that would accommodate Israeli settlement blocks, the PA’s idea of a two-state solution remained the “1967 border.” But aside from inflexibility on territory rooted in a desire to ethnically cleanse the West Bank and much of Jerusalem of hundreds of thousands of Jews and refusing to disavow the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees, Erekat also signaled that any peace deal would not end the conflict:

Mr. Erekat told the diplomats that the Palestinians could never accede to Israel’s demand that they recognize it as the nation-state of the Jewish people. “I cannot change my narrative,” he said. “The essence of peace is not to convert each other’s stories.”

Why is Erekat’s stance so crucial?

Palestinian apologists dismiss Israeli demands that the Palestinians simply accept that whatever territory is left to the Jews after a theoretical deal is a Jewish state as irrelevant to a deal. What difference, we are asked, does it make whether the Palestinians accept Israel as the Jewish state so long as they accept the concept of peace and take what is offered them? But it does matter so long as the Palestinian leadership continues enable a political culture that is rooted in rejection of Israel’s legitimacy.

If Israel is to accede to U.S. demands that it give up the bulk of the West Bank, let alone compromise on Jerusalem, it cannot be on any terms but on those that conclusively end the conflict. And that can only happen once the Palestinians give up the dream of eradicating the Jewish state, either immediately or in stages. A peace deal that only sets the stage for future violence on more advantageous strategic terms for the Palestinians is not a rational option for Israel no matter what the United States says now or what guarantees it makes. Right now, the Palestinian “story” is one that is based on the idea that Israel’s existence, not its policies or post-1967 borders, is a crime. Until that changes, there is no way to argue that peace is possible.

That’s why all the U.S. pressure on Israel is utterly misplaced. Even if Israel bowed to Obama’s dictates, the negotiations into which Secretary Kerry has invested so much effort will inevitably run aground on the shoals of Palestinian intransigence. PA leaders know that so long as the culture of intolerance they have promoted is in place and so long as its Islamist Hamas rivals run Gaza, they cannot sign off on a peace deal that recognizes Israel’s legitimacy and ends the conflict. Like Kerry’s talks, Allen’s mission is a fool’s errand. If President Obama wants an outcome that differs from every other attempt to make peace with the Palestinians he will have to something different. A place to start means telling the Palestinians that they must do exactly what Erekat says they will never do.

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Palestinian Terms Leave Little to Talk About

The silence couldn’t last forever. The one thing that was conspicuously successful about the peace negotiations initiated by Secretary of State John Kerry was the way the Israelis and the Palestinians managed to keep their mouths shut about what’s been discussed since they agreed to start meeting again in July. While some reports have surfaced indicating that there has been no progress, today’s scoop by Israel’s Channel 2 gives us a lot more insight as to where the parties stand. And what we’ve learned makes it obvious that the meetings are every bit the fool’s errand that most observers thought they would be all along. According to the Israeli TV station, a “disgruntled Palestinian official” has leaked the Palestinian proposals offered for peace. As the Times of Israel reports:

According to the report, the Palestinians are also insisting that they gain control over water, and control at their sides of the Dead Sea and border crossings; that a Palestinian state be able to sign agreements with other states without Israeli intervention; that Israel release all Palestinian prisoners it holds; and that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants be granted the right to choose to live in Israel or the Palestinian territories as part of a final agreement.

Let’s digest that for a minute. Not only did the Palestinians arrive at the peace table not prepared to compromise on their ability to militarize their putative state or join in offensive alliances against the smaller and more vulnerable Israel that would result from a peace treaty authorizing the birth of “Palestine.” They are also insisting that the millions of descendants of the Arab refugees of the 1948 War of Independence be allowed to “return” to Israel and effectively end the existence of the Jewish state. If that’s peace, what’s their idea of war?

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The silence couldn’t last forever. The one thing that was conspicuously successful about the peace negotiations initiated by Secretary of State John Kerry was the way the Israelis and the Palestinians managed to keep their mouths shut about what’s been discussed since they agreed to start meeting again in July. While some reports have surfaced indicating that there has been no progress, today’s scoop by Israel’s Channel 2 gives us a lot more insight as to where the parties stand. And what we’ve learned makes it obvious that the meetings are every bit the fool’s errand that most observers thought they would be all along. According to the Israeli TV station, a “disgruntled Palestinian official” has leaked the Palestinian proposals offered for peace. As the Times of Israel reports:

According to the report, the Palestinians are also insisting that they gain control over water, and control at their sides of the Dead Sea and border crossings; that a Palestinian state be able to sign agreements with other states without Israeli intervention; that Israel release all Palestinian prisoners it holds; and that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants be granted the right to choose to live in Israel or the Palestinian territories as part of a final agreement.

Let’s digest that for a minute. Not only did the Palestinians arrive at the peace table not prepared to compromise on their ability to militarize their putative state or join in offensive alliances against the smaller and more vulnerable Israel that would result from a peace treaty authorizing the birth of “Palestine.” They are also insisting that the millions of descendants of the Arab refugees of the 1948 War of Independence be allowed to “return” to Israel and effectively end the existence of the Jewish state. If that’s peace, what’s their idea of war?

To those who will argue that this is just an opening bargaining position that ought not be construed as their final offer, let’s imagine what the Israeli moral equivalent of these demands would be. It’s more or less the same thing as the Israelis saying the Palestinians could have an independent state alongside Israel provided that they accept that Jews would rule it.

Leaving aside the refugee question for a moment, the land-swap question is no minor technical dispute. Peace process advocates have estimated that 80 percent of the Jewish communities in the West Bank including the overwhelming majority of the settler population could be incorporated into pre-June 1967 Israel with a swap of 4 percent of West Bank land. But according to this report, the Palestinians won’t budge past 2 percent.

While the Palestinians may not like the Israeli positions on land swaps, they do not compromise the basic premise of land for peace. Such demands are subject to negotiation and if there was a genuine commitment to make a deal on the part of both sides they could, albeit with difficulty, be resolved. The Israelis, even this so-called “right-wing” government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has accepted the legitimacy of a two-state solution and agreed to the principle of territorial withdrawal from almost all of the West Bank. But the Palestinians are still stuck on what is, in essence, among the first principles of any peace deal: recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Part and parcel of that would mean discarding the right of return. Without doing that, what they are demanding is a Jew-free Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside an “Israel” inside the 1949 armistice lines with what would potentially be an Arab majority.

It’s true that Kerry’s blueprint for the talks calls for them to stretch out for nine months and we are only three months into that schedule. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading the Israeli delegation in the negotiations, is still making optimistic noises even while keeping mum about details. But such terms being offered by Palestinians make it hard to believe they are doing anything but going through the motions.

Peace is not just about pressuring parties to come to the table, though it must be conceded that Kerry’s efforts in this regard were impressive. In order for the diplomatic process to succeed there must be a desire to reach some sort of accommodation. But any discussion that involves terms that basically mandate the end of Israel illustrates that the Jewish state’s alleged peace partner is not genuinely interested in ending the conflict.

Given the Palestinian Authority’s culture of incitement and fomenting of hatred, this should come as a surprise to no one. And even if we accept the proposition that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wants peace, the fact that Gaza is ruled by his Hamas rivals makes any agreement unlikely since signing it might give the embattled Islamists a major boost at his expense.

Meanwhile Israel is still acting as if peace is a real possibility and keeping its promise to release Palestinian terrorists, the price Kerry asked Netanyahu to pay in order to entice Abbas to participate in the talks. Israeli right-wingers continue to fret about the possibility that the Palestinians will take yes for an answer from Netanyahu.

By the same token, many in the United States still continue to talk as if it is Israel that must be pressured to make more concessions to the Palestinians. But so long as the Palestinians are still talking about the right of return, it’s painfully obvious there is nothing to talk about.

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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.

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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.

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Violence and Rejectionism at the Heart of Palestinian “Land Day” Show

Today’s “Land Day” demonstrations at various places in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza border, as well as a march on the Israeli-Lebanese border, are all intended to bring attention to the Palestinian campaign against Israel and to increase international sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. But the violent nature of the protests and the demands raised by those participating give the lie to the notion that any of this has anything to do with the cause of Middle East peace.

By flinging rocks at Israeli forces in the hope that they will respond with deadly force, the Palestinians are playing their usual game in which they hope to sacrifice some of their youth in exchange for damaging the reputation of the Jewish state. More to the point, should anyone actually be listening to what they are screaming, the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders are also making it clear their goal is Israel’s destruction.

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Today’s “Land Day” demonstrations at various places in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza border, as well as a march on the Israeli-Lebanese border, are all intended to bring attention to the Palestinian campaign against Israel and to increase international sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. But the violent nature of the protests and the demands raised by those participating give the lie to the notion that any of this has anything to do with the cause of Middle East peace.

By flinging rocks at Israeli forces in the hope that they will respond with deadly force, the Palestinians are playing their usual game in which they hope to sacrifice some of their youth in exchange for damaging the reputation of the Jewish state. More to the point, should anyone actually be listening to what they are screaming, the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders are also making it clear their goal is Israel’s destruction.

“Land Day” is an annual event that commemorates a dispute over the property of some Arab villages that turned violent in the 1970s. But it is no civil libertarian holiday. As today’s demonstrations have once again reminded us, the goal of the Palestinian street as well as those foreigners who parachute into the country to help stir the point on the issue, is to promote the “right of return” by which Arabs hope to flood the Jewish state with the descendants of the 1948 refugees.

Many of Israel’s critics — including those Jews who pose as Zionists while preaching boycotts and sanctions that give cover to a rising tide of anti-Semitic incitement around the globe — ignore what the Palestinians say they want and instead, pretend that the dispute is about borders and settlements. But as today’s events illustrate, they have but minimal interest in the Jewish communities in the West Bank, the vast majority of which are near the 1967 lines. Instead, they are focused on the nature of the Jewish state itself. The Land Day extravaganza is about an attempt to reverse the verdict of 1948, not to place an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Moreover, despite the fact that the Palestinians are constantly talking about transforming the conflict by adopting the non-violent protest methods of Gandhi, the nature of their political culture is such that they appear incapable of doing so. Violence is always a given at these events.

That is due in part to the desire of the organizers to create a new batch of martyrs to be celebrated so as to blacken Israel’s name. As accounts of today’s events make clear, the whole point is to create theatre for the cameras of the international press.

But the violence is also a function of Palestinian politics that has unfortunately always valued the spilling of blood over anything else. This is also related to the plain fact that Palestinian nationalism came into existence in the 20th century as a reaction to Zionism rather than as part of a national cultural revival as was the case with other modern national cultures. This negative impulse is why recognition of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state is something no Palestinian leader can accept. It is also why violence against Jews and Israel is still the only way for such leaders to establish their own bona fides.

The “Land Day” show will accomplish nothing for the Palestinians except to further confirm the dead-end path of violence and confrontation in which they are stuck. If their foreign friends wish to help them, they could do so by ceasing to support these pointless exercises in violence and to begin coming to terms with the permanence of the Jewish state.

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