Monday, March 26, 2007

Right of Return

Very interesting article in today's Times about how many Palestinians have accepted the reality that the vast majority of them will not be able to exercise their right of return to homes inside Israel.

The right of return "is my right, which I have inherited from my parents and grandparents," said Maha Bseis, 39, a Palestinian whose family comes from Jerusalem. "But if I have the right, I will not return because I was born and grew up here [in Jordan]."

In 2003, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank city of Ramallah, in one of the most comprehensive surveys conducted on the subject, found that most Palestinians would be unlikely to move if they were granted the right of return.

"Once the Palestinian narrative is assured, then the tactical issue of where they will go becomes easy to approach," said Khalil Shikaki, who directs the center. "Everybody wants the emotional question addressed; everybody is happy with the likely modalities."

He added, "The novel aspect of the survey is, once we gave assurances about the right of return, the other issues became very resolvable," meaning that many said they would take compensation and would not move.

More important to many of the refugees than returning to the land and homes that were stolen from them, homes to which the keys are often passed down as heirlooms, is recognition by Israel that al-Nakba took place, that a crime was actually committed, that the Palestinians were, in fact, driven from their homes by Zionist paramilitaries in 1948, and didn't just all happen to spontaneously flee en masse, either to the 7-11 to get cigarettes, or at the urging of fictional Arab radio broadcasts.

Add to this the polling that shows that, at least since the mid-90s, a majority of Palestinians has favored a two-state solution to the conflict, and you effectively dynamite the hasbarist claim that the Palestinians will never accept a Jewish state as their neighbor. They will, and most of them already have. In this respect, both the Palestinian and the Israeli electorates are far out in front of their respective governments, both of which are currently controlled by extremists, largely as a result of the policies and actions of the other side's extremists.

Even though most Palestinians and Israelis seem to have a similar understanding of the contours of an eventual peace agreement, it's important to grasp the moral disparity in the concessions which each side is expected to make. In the formula that is often described, Palestinians will give up the right of return, and Israel will give up the large majority of settlements on the West Bank. These are not remotely equivalent concessions. Palestinians agree to relinquish an internationally recognized legal and human right; Israel agrees to withdraw from colonies which are recognized, even among a majority of Israelis, as illegitimate and illegal from their inception. This goes to the base cynicism which has always powered the settlement enterprise, which involves the creation, through whatever means and whatever the cost to the Palestinians, of facts on the ground to serve as future bargaining chips.

That the Palestinians surely understand this, and yet a majority of them are willing to effectively reward Israel's settlement strategy by relinquishing the very same right of return which Zionists claim for themselves, speaks to the importance of having one's history affirmed. Yes, fine, keep our houses, many Palestinians seem to be saying, just stop telling us we don't exist as a people, stop telling us we voluntarily fled the homes and land on which we'd lived and raised families for generations, and, at long last, stop telling us, and the world, that this was a land without people when you arrived.