[Freemanlist2] Mordechai Kedar - The Illusion of "Peace in Exchange for Territories"

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The Illusion of "Peace in Exchange for Territories"
Mordechai Kedar
BESA Perspective Paper No. 25, February 15, 2007

[Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA:  In addition, Egypt devotes billions of dollars of 
American aid to advanced weapons system which they practice using against an 
"enemy located to the East of the Suez Canal"]

For years, especially since the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, Arab leaders 
have repeated the mantra that peace with Israel hinges upon a withdrawal to 
the pre-1967 border. Similar rhetoric followed with the Arab Summit's March 
2002 decision to endorse the "Saudi peace initiative," suggesting that the 
Arab world's problem with Israel stems from "occupation" of the West Bank, 
Gaza and Jerusalem. This paper demonstrates the error of this assertion. The 
Arab demand for a return of all Palestinian refugees to pre-1967 Israel 
remains at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and this demand 
disguises Arab intentions to destroy Israel.

The Palestinian Authority

During the rule of Fatah and since the rise of Hamas, the Palestinian 
Authority's (PA) official position states it will not renounce the "right of 
return" to greater Israel. It still remains unclear whether the Palestinians 
will be satisfied with a homeland in the West Bank and Gaza Strip following 
an Israeli withdrawal to the Green Line. Palestinian insistence on the 
refugees' right of return, ending the Jewish majority in the State of 
Israel, indicates hostile intent.

The preservation of the refugee ethos through the media and the education 
system is intended to prevent concession on the right of return. All 
Palestinian symbols and illustrations depict Palestine as the land from the 
Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. These illustrations do not show the 
Palestinian state as Gaza and the West Bank.

Apart from Sari Nusseibeh, whose popularity among the Palestinian public 
ranks lower than that of the ultra-dovish Uri Avnery within Israel, no 
Palestinian politician or leader has unequivocally supported relinquishing 
the right of return. Arafat avoided signing such a statement at Camp David 
in July 2000.


The Syrian regime's official message states that the Golan Heights belong to 
Syria and Israel must withdraw to the 1967 borders regardless of a peace 
agreement. The most Israel can expect to receive in return for this 
withdrawal is quiet from Lebanon. According to all Syrian statements, peace 
hinges on Israel granting "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people", 
based on "returning the rights of all those who are entitled". These 
statements, repeated in Syrian rhetoric, have a single meaning in the 
political lexicon: the return of the 1948 refugees (including their 
grandchildren and great-grandchildren born in Syria) to their original homes 
in Israel.

Today, there are roughly 350,000 people with refugee status in Syria.  The 
majority of these refugees were born in the country and are descendants of 
the original Palestinians who left in 1948. Additional proof of Syrian 
demand that these refugees return to Israel was exemplified during the 
Madrid Conference.  Hafez al-Assad halted the activities of the Multilateral 
Committee for Refugees when he realized the discrepancy between Israel and 
Syria's view of the committee.  Israel understood the committee's role as 
finding a solution to the refugee problem in Arab states, whereas Syria 
believed the refugees would be repatriated into Israel.

Bashar al-Assad continued his father's rhetoric, stressing the importance of 
the Palestinian right of return in a speech as recent as August 2006. In 
Syria's view, those who did not insist on Israel's duty to accept the 
refugees - such as President Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan - 
were traitors.


Since 1948, each successive Lebanese government has advocated the return of 
all Palestinian refugees residing in the country and has denied them 
Lebanese citizenship. According to UNWRA, this number now exceeds 300,000. 
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah supported this position in a recent 
speech during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war when he accused Israel of trying 
to force Lebanon to grant the refugees citizenship. Nasrallah and Lebanese 
politicians echo the words of their Arab brethren; peace with Israel is 
conditional on the right of return of all 1948 Palestinian refugees and 
their descendants.

Political factions in Lebanon oppose the resettlement of the 1948 refugees. 
In order to prevent their relocation, Lebanese law prohibits the refugees 
from working in 73 occupations and forbids them from purchasing real estate, 
opening businesses and receiving organized medical care. It is important to 
note that the Maronite Christians, Israel's "natural allies" in Lebanon, are 
the strongest opponents of granting the Palestinians citizenship, because 
the Maronites face similar demographic problems.

Additionally, Lebanon's political system is not autonomous and its Israeli 
foreign policy must agree with the Syrian regime. It is unclear whether 
Lebanon will free itself from Syrian dictation in the future. Therefore, the 
matter of refugees in Syria and Lebanon - numbering approximately 700,000 
individuals - should be viewed as a single issue.


Jordan signed a peace agreement without reacquiring the land it lost to 
Israel in 1967. King Hussein severed the connection between the West Bank 
and Jordan in 1988, ostensibly to make room for the Palestinian Liberation 
Organization (PLO), who was then leading the first Intifada. In return, he 
received "special standing" or status as "protector" of the Islamic holy 
sites on the Temple Mount; a Jordanian attempt to gain Islamic legitimacy 
for the Hashemite royal family.

Palestinian citizens of Jordan oppose the peace agreement signed by Hussein 
because it lacks the right of return clause. Yearly demonstrations held in 
the refugee camps exhibit the Palestinian hope that they will soon return to 
their houses in historic Palestine. This belief negatively impacts 
Israeli-Jordanian relations.


Complete evacuation of Sinai brought formal peace with the Egyptian 
government, but did not eliminate Egyptian hatred of Israel. Over the years 
more than fifty agreements have been signed between the two countries in a 
large number of fields - tourism, agriculture, education, economy, industry 
and cultural exchange - but only a few were implemented due to Egyptian 
refusal. Many Egyptians view Israel as a Jewish, modern, liberal democracy; 
a foreign concept to the Islamic, traditional, tribal reality of the Middle 
East. Egypt is usually the most vociferous opponent of Israel and numerous 
Egyptian initiatives aim to undermine Israel's international status. In 
spite of the fact that Israel is a peace-seeking nation, Egypt constantly 
tries to depict Israel as a danger to the region by drawing attention to 
Israel's alleged nuclear program.

Egypt invests effort into convincing other Arab states against having 
relations with Israel, and its overall attitude toward Israel was and still 
is reflected by Egyptian apathy vis-a-vis the smuggling of weapons, 
ammunition, explosives and terrorists to the Gaza strip from Egyptian soil. 
The Egyptian media - free as well as state controlled - is flooded with 
anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish propaganda, reminiscent of propaganda by the 
Nazi regime. One of the most popular songs in Egypt is sung by the popular 
Sha'ban 'Abd al-Rahim, entitled, "I hate Israel".

Egyptian hatred towards Israel continues, despite the fact that Egypt has no 
territorial dispute with Israel, and cannot be attributed to occupation. 
Negative attitudes are perpetuated by the Islamic belief that Jews do not 
have a right to an independent state, especially on any part of Palestinian 
land.  In addition, the prosperity and success of the Jewish state, in 
comparison to Egypt, adds fuel to Egyptian jealousy.


According to this view of the Middle East, most Arabs - regimes as well as 
societies - prefer that the 1948 refugees remain in camps in order to 
justify hatred of Israel. They ignore the fact that Palestinian suffering is 
a direct function of the Arab countries' denial of Palestinian human rights.

Relations between Israel and its Palestinian and Arab neighbors are not 
dominated by the issue of disputed territory, but by the issue of the 
alleged right of return.  According to Arab ethos, the 68-year-old plight of 
these refugees is to return to Israel proper, despite the fact that many are 
not even of Palestinian origin. Western negotiators and Israelis tend to 
brush the refugee problem under the table.  To them, the refugees are 
faceless, landless and nameless, but for Arab societies surrounding Israel, 
the refugee issue is acute and personal.

Those who claim that the refugees "understand" that they will no longer be 
able to return to Israel cannot explain the continued existence of the 
refugee camps, and the refugees' prolonged residence there, under 
disgraceful conditions and harsh neglect. Israeli spokespeople who believe 
that the return of territory will bring peace must analyze and understand 
what is being said in the Arab media and on the Arab streets.

According to Arab public discourse, undermining the legal and moral validity 
of the Palestinian right of return is breaking precedent and betraying the 
Palestinian people and the Arab nation. In Arab politics, maintaining the 
hope of return enforces its validity. Closure of the refugee camps is 
perceived as an action against the Palestinian people and their rights. Few 
Arabs are prepared to accept the Israeli position regarding refugees and 
there is little variance of opinion between "secular" nationalist factions 
and religious Islamic groups. The handful of intellectuals who recognize the 
Israeli position usually reside in Western countries, and their influence in 
the Arab world is negligible.

If a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan and Judea and Samaria 
(including Jerusalem) were to occur, Israelis would be bitterly disappointed 
to discover that the main problem between Israel and its neighbors - the 
problem of the State of Israel's very existence - has not been solved, and 
will continue to constitute the focus of the conflict.  If Israel insists on 
preserving the Jewish character of the state, peace might be unattainable. 
Instead of looking inward and postulating a benign Middle East, it behooves 
Israel to understand its neighbors, especially the Palestinian refugees, and 
the states and societies hosting them.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan 
University, and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for 
Strategic Studies, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass 
media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena.  He served for 
twenty-five years in IDF Military Intelligence.
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