The Orthodox Union Public Affairs blog has recently published a statement by presidential candidate Barack Obama on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict:
“I start with the premise that Israel is a stalwart ally of ours and their security cannot be compromised. I also start with the premise that the status quo is unsustainable and that what would be good for Israeli security will be the kind of two-state solution that allows the Palestinians to live and prosper in their own state and allows Israel to maintain the security of its state.”
“I think everyone knows what the basic outlines of an agreement would look like. It would mean that the Palestinians would have to reinterpret the notion of right of return in a way that would preserve Israel as a Jewish state. It might involve compensation and other concessions from the Israelis but ultimately Israel is not going to give up its state.”
This is carefully worded and nuanced, and it’s worth thinking about what it means. The first paragraph represents the conventional wisdom on the two-state solution, and is true in a tautological way: obviously a solution that “allows Israel to maintain the security of its state” will be good for Israeli security.
However, the implication is that a two-state solution is necessary for Israeli security, because the status quo is unsustainable. What Obama does not deal with is the fact that the Palestinians do not want — in any way, shape or form — a state alongside Israel in which they can live and prosper. Forcing Israel to make concessions that are intended to lead to a two-state solution in this situation could certainly compromise Israel’s security.
The second paragraph is even more interesting. Shmuel Rosner, writing in Ha’aretz, suggests that it means that “Barack Obama backs Israel remaining a Jewish state“. Well, it means that he does not think that the Palestinians should be able to flood Israel with ‘refugees’, but it also does not mean that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“Compensation and other concessions from the Israelis” implies that the Palestinian nakba story is legitimate, that Israel created the refugees, and is responsible for them. Otherwise, why should Israel owe them anything?
The war that ended in 1948 was a continuation of the struggle to throw the Jews out that the Palestinian Arabs began in the 1920’s and was taken up by the Arab nations when they invaded Israel. There would have been no Arab refugees if they had accepted the partition resolution, instead of choosing war. The fact that the refugees weren’t resettled, but kept in misery for 60 years was the fault of the Arab nations and the compliant West — not Israel.
Accepting the principle of compensation is accepting the principle that Palestine actually belonged to the Arabs, the Jews took it, and now they need to compensate the Arabs for their loss.
The right of return does not require reinterpretation. There is no such right. The refugees have a right to resettlement in the Palestinian state or perhaps their present host countries, and a right to compensation from the Arab nations for the way they have been treated.
Here is what I think Obama, or any presidential candidate, should say:
“I start with the premise that Israel is a stalwart ally of ours and their security cannot be compromised. I also start with the premise that the status quo is unsustainable and that Palestinians must accept Israel’s right to exist unmolested as a Jewish state in the Middle East.”
“Part of any two-state agreement must be that the Palestinians agree that there is no right of return to Israel, but only to the Palestinian state. Refugees may receive compensation or other benefits (from Arab nations or the West), but they are not in any way the responsibility of Israel.”