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