Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Response to a Comment

This post is a response to a comment that was left on my previous post. For ease, I am reproducing it here and will respond to it below. I wanted to say thank you to the commenter, and I appreciate having a discussion about the issues raised in the comment, because they are very important and at the heart of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The comment is:
But why grant the authority to a non-Israeli citizen to define the character of the Israeli state? The citizens of Israel define who they are, no one else. Why give other people the opportunity to delegitimize Israel? Does Israel have a law against citizens forming parties outside of Zionism? I'm quite sure the answer is no considering they ARE a democracy. I'm also quite sure because there are a lot of post-Zionists not locked up in prison. So, how can Israel require a non-Israeli citizen to, essentially, join their political party/ideology to be worthy of negotiations? I dont think its necessary to recognize the validity of the communist ideology in order to negotiate with community countries. Moreover, it seems arbitrary to require this of the Palestinians when it was never required as a condition of the agreements with Egypt or Jordan. This has never been a policy of the Israeli government. Even in the UK they say that Israel is the 'homeland of the Jewish people' - never using the language of 'Jewish State.' The only political leader that I know of that HAS done this is Barak Obama. In his Middle East speech, he went farther than any other US President when he referred to Israel as a 'Jewish Democratic State.'  Now, regarding the 'right of return' - this is considered an unalienable human right that no single individual can wave for the collective. During the peace process discussions in the past, there has been a discussion about a 'creative solution' that can 'symbolically' provide the right of return but preserve the Jewish character of the state. Through annual caps, resettlement incentives, etc. But this is the MOST emotional demand of Palestinian refugees. I gather there is a consensus that no Palestinian leader has the moral or credible authority to do this unilaterally. For any Arab leader to do this, they would have to have the backing of the Arab leaders - especially Saudi Arabia. Frankly, this isn't as 'easy' as it seems. There are real existential threats to political leaders who take bold steps on both sides of this conflict. US officials involved with the peace process have said that they realized too late that a huge part of the problem in their negotiations was not providing political cover to the Palestinian leaders by bringing in the Arab countries. When ever any Palestinian leader makes these concessions or compromises, I'm certain the fate of Sadat is playing in the back of their head. Similarly, whenever Israeli leaders make bold moves, they consider what happened to Rabin.
I think this should also apply to Jewish refugees who were expelled from their homes by Arab countries after Israel's establishment. They should be able to return or be provided reparations for their loss. One right of return don't cancel out another - which is why a) the other Arab countries should be brought in on this and b) this should be part of the negotiation process.
I want to address the Egypt/Jordan comparison, because it raises an interesting point. It is indeed true that Egypt and Jordan's peace treaties never mention Israel's demographics and status as a Jewish homeland, but that is because Israel's demography was never a core issue for peace with Egypt or Jordan. Neither Jordan nor Egypt were proposing to send Arabs from their territories into Israel as part of their treaty. With Egypt, the key issue was the Sinai Peninsula and with Jordan, there were several key issues, none of which involved Jordan's substantial Palestinian population moving to Israel (mostly focused on water rights, border control and cooperation on Red Sea ports). Demographics were simply not at issue and Israel's central character as a Jewish state was never up for negotiation. Jerusalem was never going to be divided in exchange for peace with Jordan or Egypt. It's just the same with any proposed peace with Syria: the issue is the Golan Heights and is never going to be about Syrians moving to Israel or Israel's demography.

Which raises a further issue of why Netanyahu is pushing for recognition of a Jewish state by the PA. The reason is quite simple: it has to do with the right of return, which you state is "an unalienable human right that no single individual can wave for the collective." Even if true in theory, this is not true in practice. Tens of millions of Muslims and Hindus were displaced when British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan in 1947, based primarily on ethnic and religious lines. Those displaced Hindus and Muslims do not have a right of return, which was waived for them by their newly established governments because of their desire to create a Hindu-majority state and a Muslim-majority state. I have yet to hear anyone in the last 64 years argue for that right of return. Even earlier, Greece and Turkey agreed on a population exchange that displaced 2 million Greeks and Turks in 1923. Nobody ever allowed them a right of return. The point is that while theoretically the right of return is an inalienable human right, it is not one that has been enforceable where governments have agreed to waive it on behalf of their people. The takeaway from the India/Pakistan partition was that the creation of a national home for Hindus and Muslims on the Indian subcontinent extinguished the claims of those displaced by needing to move those national homes. So it must be with Israel and Palestine if Palestine is established, it must be at the expense of the right of return or the Palestinians will essentially be getting two states: Palestine and Israel (in addition to one more in Jordan).

Unlike with India and Pakistan, however, Israel's demographics would make a Palestinian right of return exceedingly problematic because of the antipathy that Arabs have exhibited toward Jews living in the Holy Land, an antipathy that pre-dates Israel's founding (such as the 1923 Jaffa Riots). Since the entire premise of the Jewish national homeland is that Jews must be a majority of the population (since otherwise the situation is no different from the Diaspora), allowing the right of return in this case would inconsistent with Israel continuing to be a Jewish homeland. The idea of a Jewish homeland is based on the idea that historically Jews were not safe living as minorities in countries controlled by other groups precisely because they were a stateless people with nowhere to run. Their traditions and beliefs were under attack in Europe and in the Middle East. If Israel becomes a state that Jews do not feel is their own, then Israel will not accomplish its main purpose: to be a refuge and haven for Jews in the diaspora who live at the whim of other peoples' goodwill or lack thereof. That is the hangup with Mahmoud Abbas. He is willing to recognize "Israel" as some ambiguously defined geopolitical entity that could have no Jews in it at all. He himself said that he doesn't care how the Jews want to define Israel so long as Palestinians can move back there. Abbas' Israel may have Jews in it, but it is not a Jewish state or even a homeland for the Jews.

As to your earlier point, obviously Israel does not require people to be Zionists. Many Haredi sects are strongly anti-Zionist, such as the Satmars and the Neturei Karta, who famously appeared with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a conference denouncing Zionism. The issue here is that Palestinians want Israel to accept the aspirations of Palestinian nationalism when neither Jordan nor Lebanon did before. To accept the nationalist aspirations of the Palestinians, isn't it only reciprocal and fair to require that the Palestinians accept Jewish nationalist aspirations? I mean, the entire issue here is that Palestinians failed to establish their national home in Jordan in 1970 and in Lebanon in 1978 and have now moved on to Israel and that Israel wants to retain its national identity as a Jewish homeland. It's really that simple and there are going to be certain lines Israel cannot cross. The right of return is one of those lines. Ehud Barak offered Palestinians a state in 96% of the West Bank and all of Gaza in 2000 but was turned down due to the absence of a right of return. The Palestinians will never get an offer that good and they can only blame themselves for that. Israel is willing to give up land and it's about time the Palestinians agreed to give up something of value, not just empty promises of peace, back.

Quite frankly, I don't care about the Palestinians' external and internal pressures. Obviously it's not popular to abandon a position that will aid the Arabs in destroying Israel. But King Abdullah made peace with the Israelis and he is still alive. Ehud Barak offered up a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and nobody killed him. If people are truly willing to make peace on terms that benefit the parties, they will make it happen. The reason why people like Sadat were killed is that Arabs and especially Palestinians indoctrinate and educate their children to hate Jews and see them as subhuman. I suggest you examine the caricatures of Jews in Arab newspapers and watch the shows that Hamas puts on for the children of Gaza to understand why the Arabs feel that it is inconceivable to accept the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty over any territory that Muslims consider rightfully theirs. The Arabs created a climate where moderates are not tolerated while the rest of the world demands that Israel make peace with "moderates" who condone terrorism in the Arab media and call for Jews to be pushed into the sea.

Now you raise the issue of Jews returning to Arab lands. The main problem with this is that the Jews would not want to return because the local Arabs would discriminate against them and try to kill them (hence why many of them left). Jews in Muslims countries are treated as second class citizens, dhimmi, under Sharia Law and have restricted political rights in secular Arab nations. Jews are forbidden to purchase land in nations like Jordan under penalty of death to the seller. Jews cannot bring any religious items into Saudi Arabia with them and no one carrying an Israeli passport may enter that country. There is a hatred of Jews that has been sown through centuries of antisemitic indoctrination taught to Arab children in schools from childhood and the core features of Muslim countries prevent Jews from exercising their political and social rights.

Second, the right of return issue is nonsensical because Palestinians already have a place to return to where they are a majority population: Jordan. In the original Partition of the British Mandate, the territory east of the Jordan river was promised to the Arabs and the territory to the west (Israel) was promised to the Jews. The majority of Jordan is Palestinian and King Hussein himself famously said that "Jordan is Palestine." Indeed, the main reason Palestinians are not welcome to return to Jordan is their historical disdain for the Hashemite government and their attempts to overthrow it in 1970. So why should Israel now welcome them back when they have behaved more subversively and maliciously toward Israel than they did toward Jordan?

The Palestinians are not a nationality that can be easily separated from the general Arab population or from the Jordanians. While they have convinced the world that they are a separate group, Palestinians only really became a separate political/national group in 1964. At that time, the newly formed PLO did not even claim the West Bank and Gaza for its state for fear of upsetting Egypt and Jordan (it sought to liberate "Israel"). It was only after the Six Day War that Palestinians laid claim to those territories because Israel now held them. Even then, the PLO's 1974 "Ten Point Plan" never called for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, it called for a binational state as a means to establish "Arab unity" and for the Arabs to liberate any territory they could as a means to establish that binational state by destroying Israel. That "Ten Point Plan" has never been renounced. The true proof that Palestinians are not a nation with ties to Israeli land is that they (a) did not attempt to form a state for the 19 years that Jordan and Egypt held the lands that they are now claiming and (b) attempted to form states in at least two other countries, Jordan and Lebanon, before finally deciding that Israel was their location of choice.

It is the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors that have artificially created the need for "Palestine" by intentionally exacerbating the refugee situation by refusing to integrate Palestinians into their separate Arab countries. The Palestinians have raised hell everywhere they live in large numbers and have faced large scale evictions from Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon. After causing no end of trouble in those nations, they and the rest of the world now expect and demand Israel to solve their problems when even their own Arab brothers booted them once they realized how subversive a group they were.

The issues here are really quite simple when you break them down: will the Arabs ever accept Jewish sovereignty over Israel? It's not about territory or policy or 1967. It's about 1948 and Israel's very existence as a Jewish sovereign state over territory that Muslims fundamentally believe belongs to them. Israel is being asked to shoulder a burden that the other Arab states have refused to take on. Israel has financially supported the Palestinians in ways other Arabs have refused to (consider Egypt's empty promises about opening the Rafah border). The Arabs have tried it all: wars in 1948, 1967 and 1973, plane hijackings, murdering Olympic athletes, and launching rockets. Their last, and perhaps best hope, is to create a "diplomatic solution" so unfavorable to Israel so as to put it on such a hair trigger that it will likely ignite another war, exactly like the circumstances before June 1967. In this context, the "right of return" is nothing more than an attempt to destroy Israel as a Jewish homeland and a haven for Jews. Israel cannot and will never accept that as part of a peace agreement in any circumstance because allowing any "return" opens the floodgates to new claims and legitimates such returns when they have no legitimacy. If the price for peace is for Israel to recognize a right of return, then I do not think Israel should ever make peace. I sincerely believe that.

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