There are signs that the newest tactic in the “peace process” will be for Israel to offer new “concessions” on Jerusalem in exchange for getting the Palestinians to explicitly renounce the right of return that is guaranteed to all refugees under UN resolutions and international law.
According to Yuli Tamir, an Israeli cabinet minister close to Ehud Barak, Israel is considering giving up its illegitimate claim to sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. But there is a price. According to Tamir:
“What is vital for us is to obtain the most important thing, the renunciation by the Palestinians of the right of return of refugees to territory under Israeli sovereignty…This right of return is our greatest concern because we want to maintain the character and the Jewish majority in Israel and renouncing this right is the only way to achieve that.” (“Israel mulling renouncing sovereignty over holy Jerusalem site: minister,” Agence France Presse, December 19, 2000)
After failing to get Arafat to renounce the Palestinians’ rights in occupied east Jerusalem at the Camp David summit, Israel may be ready to adopt a slightly more realistic approach there. But the price that will be exacted is to get the Palestinians to give up their other fundamental rights in the context of a final settlement.
The current official Palestinian position for a final settlement is for the establishment of a state in the whole of the West Bank and Gaza, with east Jerusalem as the capital, with some room for mutually agreed minor border adjustments. This in the view of the Palestinians and much of the world community would be an accurate implementation of UN Security Council resolution 242 on which the “peace process” is formally based. Israel rejects this, and wants to keep vast tracts of the West Bank, including east Jerusalem and the areas around it, and the whole of the Jordan Valley. This would leave the Palestinians in small isolated bantustans under permanent Israeli control.
It is important to recall that the formula of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza plus the right of return to former homes throughout Palestine already represents the minimum that most if not all Palestinians could accept. It already represents an a priori concession by the Palestinians of the 78% of Palestine that Israel conquered in 1947-48 and an a priori concession of sovereignty over west Jerusalem two thirds of whose properties are owned by Palestinians and from which 30,000 Palestinians were forced to leave in 1947-48. Any effort to find a “solution” that gives the Palestinians less than the whole of West Bank and Gaza, including of course east Jerusalem, plus the choice for refugees whether to return their homes or receive compensation, is nothing more than an attempt to achieve through “negotiations” what Israel has tried and failed to impose by five decades of war and military occupation.
Nevertheless we can expect the usual chorus of fake consternation and outrage from US editorial writers and commentators at any Palestinian reluctance to accept these new ‘even more generous and unprecedented offers’ by Barak and Clinton’s politically bankrupt and exhausted regimes.
Nor by any means are all Palestinians convinced that the PLO would stand by its formal positions in another round of negotiations. It is true that many were surprised that Arafat did resist the full pressure of the US administration at Camp David, but this resistance may have been an aberration after years of abject surrenders in the framework of the Oslo accords. Recent reports about secret negotiations along the lines hinted at in Tamir’s comments have led many to once more doubt the resolve of the PLO/Palestinian Authority negotiators.
The full implementation of the right of return is the key to any peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians, however it is clear that many Israelis still believe they can have an end to the conflict and forgiveness by the Palestinians even while the results of the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and 1967 are allowed to stand, and millions of refugees still languish in exile and misery while Israelis continue to enjoy and flourish in their homes and land.
The right of return does not belong to the PLO or to Israel. They have no right or authority to bargain it away. It is a right which is granted to individual human beings by UN resolution 194 and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The role of the PLO and Israel is to negotiate how this right will be implemented, not to negotiate on whether the right exists. If they fail to do this, or if the PLO attempts to relinquish the right of return then new Palestinian leaders will surely emerge who do not abandon the fundamental rights of their people simply to save their own skins and to talk another day.