The majority of the Jewish public knows quite well and follows with interest the vicissitudes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, there is an important point that is central to the conflict’s permanence, and that few people know in depth. I am referring to the so-called “right of return” and what this Palestinian demand actually means for the viability of the two-state solution.
While Hamas is largely considered a terrorist organization that denies Israel’s right to exist and therefore rejects the idea of a two-state solution, Fatah is generally seen as a “moderate” group that would be willing to accept such a solution. But is this really true?
To answer this question it is necessary to analyze the so-called right of return, because this is a demand that Fatah refuses to give up. Compliance with this requirement would mean in practice that not only the surviving refugees from the 1948 war but also their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren could settle in Israel. We are talking here about more than five million people, whose massive migration would naturally end the existence of Israel as a majority Jewish State.
Many people believe that this is a demand that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would eventually be willing to give up in a negotiation process. But the facts simply contradict that assertion. The Clinton Parameters of 2000 established that the refugee issue had to be resolved outside of Israel (with Israel absorbing only those refugees it wanted to admit). And President Bill Clinton offered to raise funds in order to help with the resettlement effort. This was not accepted by Arafat and was the central point that thwarted any possibility of agreement. Something similar happened when Mahmoud Abbas failed to accept the generous offer made by then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
As wisely noted by Ambassador Richard Schifter—with whom B’nai B’rith has been working closely for several years now—while Hamas clearly aims to destroy Israel through violence and terror, Fatah intends to achieve that same result through diplomatic means. What we are confronting is a two-stage strategy. The first stage involves the creation of a Palestinian state. The second stage involves the destruction of the Jewish state through the full implementation of the right of return. This is a result that could not be achieved through direct negotiations with Israel, and this is why Fatah prefers to go to the United Nations instead and have the U.N. impose that result.
Any doubt that one might have about this goes away when reading the set of recommendations that Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator of the PA, who has recently been appointed secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) by Abbas, issued last June. His recommendations, among other things, set up a plan for action at the U.N., imposing a right of return and rejecting the possibility of recognizing Israel as a Jewish State.
Saeb Erekat is one of the leading spokesmen of the PA, so it is clear that the PA and its current leadership are only “moderate” in terms of the “means” they have chosen to use but not in terms of their “ultimate purpose,” which is the destruction of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
The Palestinians base their claim to the right of return on a U.N. General Assembly resolution of 1948. This resolution (known as Res.194) created a Conciliation Commission aimed at helping end the war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. And it stated, among other things, that those refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors “should” be allowed to do so, and that those choosing not to do so should be compensated for their property. In addition, it stated that the Commission should facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and social rehabilitation of the refugees.
Despite the fact that all Arab states voted against this resolution at the time, and that the resolution did not refer to Arab refugees only but to all refugees in the area of the Mandate of Palestine, throughout the years the Palestinians have interpreted this resolution as establishing the so-called “right of return” for Palestinian refugees (including not only the original refugees of 1948 but the almost five million descendants that—inexplicably—still qualify as refugees today under the provisions of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)).
It is important to clarify though that Res. 194 is merely a “recommendation” of the General Assembly and, therefore, it cannot establish a binding obligation. The resolution specifically stated the need to facilitate the resettlement of refugees, but the U.N. agency that should have done so (UNRWA) never had resettlement as its goal, giving the Palestinians a completely different treatment than the rest of the world’s refugees. The condition of refugee is therefore indefinitely passed from generation to generation, which not only deprives these people of adequate social rehabilitation but also ensures that they become an increasingly growing threat to the Jewish State.
Last December, the Palestinians introduced a resolution to the U.N. Security Council (through Jordan) that failed to reach the necessary majority to be approved (or force a U.S. veto), thanks to the last minute abstention of Nigeria. This resolution, which was supported by France, demanded that Israel withdraw from the so-called occupied territories in a fixed deadline and did not provide adequate security guarantees. But what many people did not notice is that the resolution also contained the demand of the right of return in a “camouflaged” way. It called for a solution of the refugee question “on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative (which explicitly denies the possibility of resettlement outside Israel), international law and relevant United Nations resolutions, including resolution 194 (mentioned above).”
This is, of course, as Ambassador Schifter puts it, a smart strategy to turn a mere “recommendation” of the General Assembly into a “right” created by the Security Council. And it is important to understand how dangerous this would be.
In recent months, the French government (perhaps encouraged by recent statements made by the Obama administration about the possibility of “rethinking” its support for Israel at the U.N., and by the new composition of the Council) has been trying to introduce a new resolution to the Security Council. However, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius apparently decided not to continue with this effort because of the difficulty of finding a text that is acceptable both to the Palestinians and the United States.
But a similar initiative will most likely be submitted to the Council soon. Erekat has announced in his set of recommendations, that the Palestinians will put forward their own plan in the next few months, calling on the U.N. Security Council to impose the Palestinian demands for a peace settlement. Responsibility for supervising the implementation of the Security Council’s peace program, as proposed by Erekat, is to be given to an international group, which will include, in addition to the permanent members of the Security Council, representatives of Arab States, the European Union, Brazil, India and South Africa.
In addition, soon after signing the nuclear deal with Iran, the European Union announced its intention to play a more important role in reviving the peace talks. European foreign ministers reportedly plan to seek approval of the General Assembly in September to form a “support group” that would replace the United States as the main broker of the talks. And the next step would be a resolution of the Security Council establishing the parameters of a peace agreement.
Whatever initiative takes preeminence, it is critically important for the American Jewish community and the interested public to realize how dangerous it would be for a Security Council resolution to include the right of return, and help spread the word, as America should oppose any attempt to give the Palestinians the legal power to end the existence of the Jewish state through a program of mass migration.
This post was originally published in English and in Spanish on the B’nai B’rith website