On 22 April 2020, a delegation from the UK board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council had a virtual meeting with the British Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy. Among other matters raised, the Board of Deputies President Marie Van der Zyl thanked Ms Nandy for ‘clarifying that her support for a Palestinian right of return was on the understanding of making this work in the context of a viable two-state solution.’
‘Making a right of return work in the context of a viable two-state solution? ‘
This phrase is perplexing and disturbing. It implies that the Jewish leadership has swallowed the Palestinian ‘narrative’ hook, line and sinker.
A ‘right of return’ to Israel proper is a Palestinian demand which runs counter to the concept of a two-state solution. There is no such right in international law. Conceding this demand will only drive the Palestinians to ask for more, insisting on the return of all five million descendants of the original refugees. Even admitting a token number of Palestinians will be the thin end of the wedge. Apart from introducing a hostile component into Israeli society, such a move would not end the conflict – it would add fuel to the fire.
Without any supporting evidence, the UK Jewish leadership takes for granted that the Palestinians support a two-state solution – a Jewish state and an Arab state. However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said, on the record, that he will never recognise a Jewish state. Allowing a Palestinian right of return to Israel puts the Jewish state on the slippery slope to becoming bi-national, and eventually an Arab state.
Notably absent from the discussion with Lisa Nandy was the issue of Jewish refugees. There were 850,000 driven from Arab countries, a greater number than Palestinian refugees who fled Israel. Why did the Jewish leaders not defend the rights of communities which now make up more than half the Jews of Israel?
There were more Jewish refugees than Palestinian Arab refugees – but roughly equal numbers exchanged places in the Middle East. The Jews do not want to return to their countries of origin, which remain as hostile as before. They only want recognition and compensation. Any solution that calls for a return of Palestinian refugees, even in paltry numbers, without taking into account Jewish refugees, perpetuates the injustice to Jewish refugees.
What the Jewish leadership should have done:
*Educate Lisa Nandy about the Jewish refugees. She most likely has never heard of them.
* Get her to acknowledge that an irrevocable exchange of populations took place, no different from other exchanges – for example, the Greek/Turkish and the Indian/Pakistani exchanges of population arising out of earlier 20th century conflicts.
* Get her to agree that Palestinian refugees should be fully absorbed in a Palestinian state or in Arab host states and given full rights of citizenship.
* Ask her to support a just solution for BOTH sets of refugees as set down in UNSC 242, the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, the 2002 Road Map, the Trump Peace Plan.
Anything less would be a travesty of truth, history and justice.