Land swaps and right of return

News item:

Israel and a future Palestinian state should agree to land swaps that would make settlement blocs part of Israel proper and certain Arab towns now in Israel part of a future Palestinian state, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in an interview published on Saturday.

Ayalon also said that the Palestinian demand to stop settlement construction as a precondition to negotiations was unrealistic, and would be like Israel demanding that the PA, as a precondition to talks, give up its demand for a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

In an interview with the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat, Ayalon said Israeli Arabs “would not lose anything” by joining the Palestinian state as part of a land swap.

“If Israeli Arabs say that they are proud Palestinians, why should they not be proud in the Palestinian state?” the Israel Beiteinu minister asked. This population could contribute to building the Palestinian state due to its high socioeconomic status, he said.

I don’t know how much of the above was simply rhetorical, but a few comments:

A) Israeli Arabs have always been violently opposed to land swaps, for two reasons. One is that they know that they are far better off economically and more secure physically as citizens of Israel than of ‘Palestine’. The other is that they believe that the land of Israel belongs to them and that ultimately they will control it. Here’s my favorite quotation to demonstrate this:

We are an inseparable part of the Palestinian people, we are the original residents of the place and we will never leave it. We are the owners of these lands and we are not guests… Let he who arrived last leave first. — Ahmed Tibi, Arab Member of the Knesset, at last summer’s Fatah convention.

Land swaps would be a great idea, if the goal was to make a peaceful two-state solution possible. This of course is the last thing that the Palestinian Arab leadership wants, preferring to keep the conflict going until (perhaps as a result of a regional war) it will succeed in ending the Jewish state and taking all of the land.

B) While I agree that the Arab demand for a settlement freeze is unreasonable, it’s not in any way parallel to an Israeli demand for them to give up their claim to a right of return to Israel, which is far beyond unreasonable, being a demand for Israel to commit suicide. Here’s a slightly improved version of a list I made a few years ago of reasons that the “right of return” should not even be considered:

  1. The war which created the refugees was started by the Palestinian Arabs and their allies and was the culmination of a campaign of terrorism and pogroms against Jews in Palestine since at least the 1920’s. They lost the war — why should this result be reversed?
  2. There were at most 700,000 Arab refugees (probably less). The Palestinians are demanding that almost 5 million descendants of these ‘return’ to Israel 60 years after the war (the Jewish population of Israel is about 5 million). No similar ‘right’ has ever been granted to descendants of refugees.
  3. During and after the War of Independence, about 850,000 Jews were expelled from or fled their homes in Arab countries, in most cases leaving all of their property behind. These Jews were absorbed by other countries, most of them going to Israel. Do not their descendants have a claim on the Arab world?
  4. The Arab nations hosting the Palestinian refugees refused to absorb them, and a special UN agency (UNRWA) was created just for them. The normal UN refugee agencies were not used, because they are concerned with finding homes for refugees. UNRWA’s job, on the contrary, has been to keep them in camps and on welfare in order to nurture a hostile population to be used as a source of anti-Israel soldiers and ultimately as a demographic weapon. Some UNRWA personnel belong to terrorist organizations, such as Hamas.
  5. When Jordan occupied Judea an Samaria and East Jerusalem in 1948, these areas were ethnically cleansed of Jews, who fled or were murdered. Today, the Palestinians are demanding that all Jewish settlements be removed from what would become their state. Yet they expect Israel to absorb an additional 5 million Arabs!
  6. If Israel were to agree to this, it would immediately have an Arab majority and would cease to be the state of the Jewish people. But the Palestinians insist that they must have a state because they have a right to self-determination. Apparently, they do not think that the Jewish people has this right as well.
  7. Practically speaking, the influx would result in immediate civil war, which would make similar wars in Lebanon and Yugoslavia look like ping-pong tournaments.

In addition, it’s extremely important that Israel does not agree to any such right in principle, even if it is not put into practice.

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