Jackson Diehl, Washington Post:
In our meeting Wednesday, Abbas acknowledged that Olmert had shown him a map proposing a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank — though he complained that the Israeli leader refused to give him a copy of the plan. He confirmed that Olmert “accepted the principle” of the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees — something no previous Israeli prime minister had done — and offered to resettle thousands in Israel. In all, Olmert’s peace offer was more generous to the Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it’s almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government, going further.
Abbas turned it down. “The gaps were wide,” he said.
The idea that Israel could “accept the principle” of “right of return” but somehow not allow it in practice is a popular one. Proponents say that this would allow Palestinian leaders to save face among their constituency while still agreeing to a deal that Israel will accept.
This is one of those issues — like whether Israel should demand recognition as a Jewish state — that looks to some like a verbal quibble with no practical consequences. Why not agree (assuming that Palestinians would as well) and move forward?
Actually, like the question of the Jewishness of the state it is of supreme importance and Israel must never agree to anything like it.
To “accept the principle” means to accept the following:
- Israel is responsible for the creation of the refugees — despite the fact that the Palestinian Arabs started (and the Arab nations continued) the war that resulted in the flight of 700,000 refugees.
- Israel is responsible for the condition of today’s ‘refugees’ — despite the fact that the Arab nations (and to some extent the UN) have turned the original refugees into almost 5 million claimants of refugee status who have not been resettled.
- Israel was born in injustice, which must be reversed — Other refugees who fled their homes as a result of war (or even persecution or expulsion, like the 850,000 Jews from Arab countries who became refugees beginning in 1948) can be resettled, but Palestinian Arab refugees must ‘return’, because Israel must reverse the Nakba (catastrophe) it visited upon them.
In other words, ‘accepting the principle’ means accepting the entire Arab narrative of the conflict, in which Israel bears all of the guilt. Only after an abject confession will the aggrieved Arabs be prepared to permit her to continue to exist (for a while, anyway).
As a commenter on my previous post mentioned, this is closely related to the Arab refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state. The principle of ‘right of return’ implies that the refugees, not the Jews, are the actual “owners” of the land. So just as the Palestinians will not compromise on one, they will not compromise on the other. And as I pointed out, if Israel does not belong to the Jewish people, why is there a state of Israel at all?