Tuesday, May 17, 2011

There will be no return

Nahum Barnea

They are marching to the border fence now: In Majdal Shams, Maroun al-Ras, Erez and Kalandiya. They hold up Palestinian flags and demand to return to the villages that their grandparents lost in 1948.

Their politicians told them it will happen. The clerics promised Allah’s help. Foreign sponsors provided flags and buses. They embark on their mission with the confidence that the Zionist project – as Ismail Haniyeh refers to it – is destined to collapse. Another small push and the entire Land of Israel, from the Jordan to the Sea, will become Palestine.

I have news for you, my dear cousins: It won’t be happening – not in your lifetime. You will not be returning to the Israel that exists within the Green Line. Sixty-three years have passed since that war; the time has come to embrace other dreams. I know that none of the Nakba Day protestors will be reading these lines. However, several dedicated, hard-working men sit in a small room at the Muqata’a in Ramallah and translate every relevant word published in the Hebrew press to Mahmoud Abbas and his ministers. My words are aimed for them.

Abbas is the most humane, lovely politician in the three governments currently serving in the Land of Israel. Like every politician, he is attentive to his constituency’s mood. At times, the words that come out of his mouth are stronger than him; he gets carried away.

On the eve of Nakba Day he promised his people that no Palestinian leader will renounce the right of return. “The return is not a slogan,” he said. “Palestine is ours.” Abbas refrained from clarifying the question of how and where this right will be realized, whether through monetary compensation or physical return, whether in the future Palestinian state or in Israel too; anyone could make what he wanted out of the Palestinian leader’s words.
A bargaining chip?

In private conversations, senior Palestinian Authority officials have been saying for years now that they know there is no way to turn back time. The refugees will be given the option of rehabilitating in their countries of residence or in the Palestinian state, or receive monetary compensation.

However, they say other things to their own people. They cannot inform the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon that there will be no return. Instead, they cultivate pipe dreams about a return that will not be materializing.

Abbas himself found himself facing big trouble a few months ago after WikiLeaks published words he uttered in a conversation with a US diplomat about the futility of insisting on the right of return. Abbas rushed to deny the report, of course.

When Palestinian statesmen are asked why they refrain from telling their people the truth, they reply that the right of return is a bargaining chip: They will renounce it only in exchange for a similar Israeli concession, in east Jerusalem for example. Their position is seemingly logical: The Mideastern bazaar respects only those who bargain. Yet illusions have power of their own. The false hopes these politicians give their public may turn to violence that will sweep the entire region. They are riding the back of a tiger.

The truth about the right of return should be told not only to the Palestinians, but to the Israelis as well. Revoking the possibility of returning to Israel is the red line that Israelis who endorse the two-state solution won’t cross. There are many in the rightist camp who don’t care: They aim to establish one state – an apartheid state. There are people who don’t care in the leftist camp as well: There too they aim to establish one state – a Nakba state.

Yet those who wish to live in the sovereign, Zionist and democratic State of Israel have no other option but to keep telling our cousins: With all due respect, what’s in the past is in the past. We are destined to share: We shall return our settlers to our country; you will absorb your refugees in your country. You will not be returning to Israel.

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