Editor's note: Ali Abunimah wrote this article in response to a Moshe Arens
article in Haaretz. They published it in the Hebrew Edition substantially
unchanged, except for the last paragraph. Now, I know Famous Amos, the
publisher of Haaretz, would have a fit if his last paragraph was truncated.
wink. wink. nod. nod. know what we mean?
Haaretz (Hebrew Edition), March 27, 2001.
Fears of Destruction are the Obstacle
by Ali Abunimah
Moshe Arens argues that "Israel needs to seek an accommodation with
the Palestinian population in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, and not with
the Palestinian 'diaspora,' with whom a settlement is impossible."
(Crime and punishment, March 20, 2001) Such accomodation is
impossible, argues Arens, because the Palestinian insistence on the
right of return is tantamount to asking "Israel to sign its own death
warrant." Israel's "original sin," therefore was to recognize the PLO
in 1993, and thereby to allow the Palestinian diaspora to enter
negotiations and bring its "impossible" and insatiable demands. Arens
no doubt represents a broad segment of Israeli public opinion.
In fact Arens has this backwards: What Israel thought it had achieved
in Oslo was getting Arafat to agree to reduce the entire
Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the administration of the population
in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria, as Mr. Arens has it) and Gaza
Strip. Indeed, in the view of many Palestinians when Arafat went to
Oslo he did not take the Palestinian diaspora with him, but left them
It is perhaps for these reasons that Arafat occupies today a far
smaller relevance for Palestinians and role in their vision of the
future--especially in the diaspora--than he does for some Israelis and
American Zionists who demonize and inflate Arafat and his powers to
almost super-human proportions.
Even had Israel approached the Oslo Accords with the minimum of good
faith, carrying out the timely hand over of territory as agreed and
stopping the seizure of land and settlement construction, it is
doubtful that this formula would have provided a permanent solution to
the conflict. Other outstanding issues including the rights of
refugees would have remained a fundamental source of conflict.
More than half of the Palestinian population lives in forced exile.
This exile is a direct consequence of the creation of Israel in
Palestine, a country whose population and land ownership Palestinians
overwhelmingly dominated not 2,000 years ago but only a few short
decades ago. Many Israelis say they fear the 'destruction of Israel.'
If you want to know what the destruction of a country, of an ancient
society, of a settled and peaceful life means, just ask your neighbors
in Gaza. Ask the old people in the refugee camps in Lebanon what it
means to be thrown into the sea.
I can understand that this is the hardest thing for Israelis to
accept, and I have true admiration for how some Israelis--albeit too
few--have come to terms with it. But the knee-jerk reaction to any
discussion of the right of return does not bode well for the long-term
prospects of reconciliation.
No serious Palestinian expects the sudden return of millions of
refugees, as depicted in the most common Israeli scenarios. But, these
apocalyptic scenarios have the effect--perhaps deliberate--of
preventing Israelis from seriously thinking about the issue. After
all, when 'survival' is presumed to be at stake, what is there to
What Palestinians want is a recognition of their right to be in the
places which they were forced to leave, and serious negotiations on
how this right could be implemented for those who choose to return and
compensation given to those who choose not to return.
UN resolution 194 guarantees these rights for the Palestinian refugees
and was accepted by Israel as a condition of membership in the United
Nations. 194 holds that return and restitution are the essence of
peace, not its antithesis.
Refugee return as a human right must be acknowledged and cannot be
repudiated. At the same time modalities for return must be negotiated
between Palestinians and Israelis which would ensure that the
apocalyptic scenarios of those who want the Palestinians to remain in
permanent exile do not materialize. This can be imagined and therefore
it can be done.
For decades, ideological barriers, enforced by empty slogans about an
"eternal and undivided capital," prevented Israelis from even
considering the possibility of compromise on Jerusalem. The shedding
of the taboos on Jerusalem has done Israelis a service and brought us
closer to accomodation, however incrementally. Despite the best
efforts of the far right, it is unlikely that these taboos will be
resurrected. The same shedding of taboos needs to happen regarding the
rights of the refugees.
The Israeli right for many years considered the Palestinians in the
occupied territories to be merely a population to be regulated rather
than a part of a people with whom Israel must find a modus vivendi.
Arens is trying to bring Israel back to that view, but most Israelis
have realized that their peaceful future depends on accomodating the
rights of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. The same
applies to the refugees although this reality is at this time
recognized by a much smaller number of Israelis.
It offends me, not just as a Palestinian, but as a human being when I
hear Israelis say that living in the same country with other human
beings is tantamount to "destruction" just because those people are
not Jews. As a Palestinian, I find nothing repulsive about living with
Jews or Israelis, nor would I consider it the "destruction" of my
state whether it was called "Israel" or "Palestine." But the condition for
such peaceful coexistence is that we live together as equals with the same
rights and responsibilities.