The Blight of Return

The ambition to hold all the land is not the exclusive preserve of certain Palestinians

ROGER COHEN

A COUPLE of years ago I had an exchange with the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, that went like this:
“You’re working for a two-state solution?”
“Correct.”
“And Hamas is not.”
“It is true.”
This fundamental issue, at the core of the division of the Palestinian national movement, endures. As John Kerry, President Obama’s nominee to become secretary of state, prepares for office and talk stirs for the umpteenth time of a push for Middle East peace, it is critical to confront the problem, whose dimensions have recently been underscored.
First there was Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, and his awful speech on his first visit to Gaza last month. “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north,” he declared. In other words, forget compromise on the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps: Annihilation of the state of Israel remains the goal.
Then there was Mohamed Morsi. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi, now the Egyptian president, was chief of the Brotherhood’s political arm. This week it emerged that in this role in 2010, he said: “We must never forget, brothers, to nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews.” He called Zionists “bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.” And he called for all Palestine to be freed.
Morsi’s vile anti-Semitic remarks are of a piece with the old blood libel: Jews with horns, Jews with tails, goats and devils defiling Christian women. And nursing children on hatred? Instilling hatred in the innocent is tantamount to instilling self-destruction.
And so it has been. When the United Nations called in 1947 for the partition of Mandate Palestine and the establishment of Jewish and Palestinian states, the proposed Palestinian state occupied about 42 percent of the territory. Arab armies went to war and lost. Today, with the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians stand to get about 22 percent of the land under any two-state peace. The annihilation ambition has been a recipe for Palestinian defeatism, victimhood and loss.
Wide swaths of the Palestinian leadership have drawn the lesson. The West Bank, under President Mahmoud Abbas and Fayyad, has seen dramatic change over the past several years. New policies — of nonviolence, responsible governance, elimination of militias, central control of security and economic growth — have been embraced to lay the groundwork of statehood, a state explicitly envisaged as existing side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.
The achievements in Ramallah have been widely lauded, including by the World Bank, but Israel has held back, one reason for its current isolation. Rather it has pursued West Bank settlements, to the dismay of Obama, who, according to a Bloomberg column by Jeffrey Goldberg, is convinced that, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” The settlement expansion is indeed self-defeating. It precludes the two-state peace Israel needs to remain a democratic and Jewish state. But it is in line with the platform of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, which says that, “Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.”
Netanyahu may be returned to power in elections this month at the head of an even more right-wing coalition. The ambition to hold all the land is not the exclusive preserve of certain Palestinians. Extremes feed on each other; a majority in the middle is ready for a reasonable compromise that places the future above the past.
That, in part, is what the two-year-old Arab Spring has been about: the future over the past. However faltering (what revolutionary movement was ever smooth?), the awakening has been about overcoming an Arab culture of victimhood, conspiracy and paralysis in the name of agency, engagement and debate. The dinosaurs of the Palestinian movement, like Meshal, should take note.
Pursuit of all of the land, with its accompanying “right of return,” is a form of perennial victimhood, one that has spawned some 4.7 million Palestinian refugees, several times the number who were driven from their homes in the war of 1948. The right of return would be better named the blight of return. It is a damaging illusion that distracts from an achievable peace in the name of Palestinian children and grandchildren nursed on hope. There is the possibility of compensation, but there is in history no right of return. Ask the Greeks of Asia Minor, the Turks of Greece, the Germans of Danzig and Breslau (today Gdansk and Wroclaw) — and the Jews of the Arab world.
When I was in Cairo recently, I saw a senior Western official who meets regularly with President Morsi. She told me she has no doubt of his belief in Israel’s right to exist and the urgent need for a two-state peace. Power is responsibility; it can change people. The United States should test Morsi by pressing him hard to forge Palestinian unity in pragmatism. That would remove an Israeli excuse for oppression that tramples on the Jewish state’s own best interests.
Courtesy: The New York Times

Lastupdate on : Sat, 19 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 19 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 20 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST




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