Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Diplomatic ambiguity

Richard Baehr

Diplomatic ambiguity

In an apparent breakthrough in terms of support for Israel among the nations of the EU, Spain’s Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez in her address to delegates at the current General Assembly session, appeared to endorse Israel as the Jewish homeland. She also said that the Palestinian refugee issue needed to be resolved by Israel and the Palestinians, but not in a way that would endanger Israel’s character as a Jewish state. Jimenez also endorsed the concept of Palestine achieving non-member observer status at the U.N., considerably short of what the Palestinian Authority is now seeking with its application just submitted to the Security Council for recognition of a Palestinian state, and full membership in the U.N.

President Barack Obama also spoke at the U.N, endorsing the two state solution to the conflict, and arguing that Israel has faced long years of hostility from its neighbors.

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“The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.”

This language was not a direct endorsement of Israel as the Jewish state, a subject on which Obama was far more direct when he last spoke at AIPAC’s Policy Conference in May.

“The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people -- (applause) -- and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people -- each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.”

But as to the subject of the “Palestinians refugees” right of return, the president has avoided making a comment similar to Spain’s Foreign Minister, at least since he became president. As a candidate for the White House, the president was less circumspect, arguing that there could be no Palestinian right of return to Israel.

Supporters of the president will argue that by endorsing Israel as the Jewish state, the president has de facto denied a right of return for the refugees. But if that is the case, why not address the issue directly? Since the president seemed comfortable laying out parameters for final borders between Israel and the Palestinians- the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed on swaps, why not address the right of return, an issue on which there has never been any sign of compromise from any Palestinian leader, whether so-called moderates (Abbas) or hardliners? The peace processors have always argued publicly that Israeli territorial compromise was the principle Israeli concession that is required. They have also always acknowledged, at least privately, that for a deal to be struck, the Palestinian will have to give up on the right of return. Why the fear to tell the truth to the Palestinians publicly on this issue?

The right of return, and the ability of the Palestinians to flood Israel with descendants of refugees, is at the heart of the Palestinian struggle. That struggle is not for two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian (Arab) living side by side in peace and security, the shopworn bromide of the professional peace processors. Rather the Palestinian goal has always been for a single Arab majority state of Palestine. When Abbas says that he seeks the end of 63 years of Israeli occupation what exactly would he be referring to in the period between 1948 and 1967, the first 19 years of Israel’s existence as a modern state, during which Egypt controlled Gaza, and Jordan controlled both the West Bank and the eastern portion of Jerusalem? What was Israel occupying in those years? Tel Aviv? Jaffa? Haifa? Beersheba?

So too, Abbas and his aides have stated in recent months that no Jews will be allowed to remain in the Palestinian state once it is created, and that those who are classified as refugees will not have an automatic right of return to the new Palestinian state, but rather only to Israel

While the international media focus on an Israeli settlement freeze as the linchpin to getting talks started, the Palestinians’ intransigent position on the right of return is ignored. Their demand is for all descendants of the far fewer than 100,000 survivors of the so-called nakba dispersion from the 1948 war, to have a right to return to Israel, a country where about 98% of those now classified as refugees, have never been. The demand for a right of return for people who never lived in the land they supposedly have a right to return to (only for the Palestinians, does the U.N. recognize the same rights for descendants as for original refugees) is the best evidence one can find that a solution to the conflict is the last thing the Palestinians seek.

If President Obama wants to test the PA’s seriousness about deal-making, he should clarify that when he calls Israel the Jewish state, he is at least on the same page as Spain’s foreign minister - that this means that Israel can not be flooded with the descendants of refugees. Spain is a country that, post Aznar, is considered to be one of the most sympathetic to the Palestinian cause in Europe (right up there with Norway and Sweden). It is a country where public opinion polls register a high percentage of the population with negative attitudes towards both Israel and Jews. If Spain has the courage to speak candidly about the right of return, why can’t Israel’s supposed great friend, Barack Obama?

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