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Who Is Keeping the “Right Of Return” Alive? (Part 1)

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A new book by two Israelis, The War of Return, describes the changes in how the Arabs – not the Palestinians, but all the others – now view the “right of return.” They appear to have lost interest in the matter, believe that the Palestinians should stop pretending they will ever “return” to places they never were (save for about 25,000 real refugees from the 1948-49 war), and recognize that insisting on something Israel will never grant – for it would mean the end of the Jewish state – prevents any realistic settlement of being achieved, one which would give the Palestinians Arabs now living in Gaza and the West Bank the possibility of a prosperous and demilitarized Palestinian state, as set out in detail in the Deal of the Century.

The review, by Benjamin Kerstein, of The War of Return is at algemeiner.com here:

The greatest tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today is that while the Arab world is moving on from the war against the Jewish state, the West is still encouraging Palestinian rejectionism by giving legitimacy to a fictitious “right of return” that would flood Israel with millions of refugees, a former Knesset member [Einat Wilf] said on May 11.

Einat Wilf — who with journalist Adi Schwartz is co-author of the new book The War of Return — made the statement during a Zoom event to discuss the book, which holds that the main obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace is not land but rather the Palestinian insistence on a right of return.

The book posits that this “right” essentially does not exist anywhere in international law and in fact violates international norms regarding the treatment of refugees everywhere else in the world.

There has been no “right of return” for tens of millions of the refugees since World War II who left the lands they had lived in. Some of them left to avoid being caught in the middle of violent conflict, which was a main reason for the Arabs to leave Mandatory Palestine before and during the 1948-49 war. Some were expelled because they had chosen to take the side of an aggressor, as did the ethnic Germans living outside Germany who identified with the Nazis during World War II and at war’s end, fled retribution. Some refugees were escaping from discrimination, persecution, and death, like the Jews who managed to flee Nazi Germany and Occupied Europe, or  like the 900,000 Jews who fled Arab lands during and after the 1948-49 war.

No one today thinks that the children or grandchildren of the millions of ethnic Germans who after World War II were forced out of western Poland and Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland now have a “right to return.” Nor does any Arab state think that the 400,000 Palestinians who were expelled from Kuwait for having sided with Saddam Hussein when he invaded that country in 1990, have a “right of return” to Kuwait, though most had been born, and lived their entire lives, in that Gulf country. How many Arab states think that the descendants of those 900,000 Jews who fled Arab lands have a “right of return”? The very idea of a “right of return” for those who never lived in the country for which they claim that right, is consistently dismissed – save in the case of the Palestinian Arabs, who alone among the world’s tens of millions of refugees since World War II, are allowed to pass on their “refugee status” to their descendants, as part of their genetic code. Thus we allow. for example, a “Palestinian” born in London in 1974, of parents born in Marseille in 1955, to claim a “right of return” to present-day Israel, a land which neither he, nor his parents, have ever seen.

For decades the Arab states had dutifully supported the Palestinian cause, including the “right of return.” But in recent years they have grown tired of the conflict; many – possibly most – of the Arabs no longer see the “Palestinians” as central to their concerns. The Palestinians seem to be perennially holding their hands out for aid from the Arabs of one kind or another — financial, diplomatic, military — and those Arab “brothers” are getting fed up. Egyptians, for example, feel they have sacrificed quite enough of both men and money, in several wars Egypt fought for the Palestinians, and are convinced that the latter have been insufficiently grateful.

But more significant in causing the decline of Arab interest in the Palestinian cause is that there is simply too much else going on that Arab leaders now have to worry about. There are civil wars in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. In Egypt, the regime worries continually about the domestic threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. In Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Arab states there are worries over colossal declines in both demand for, and in the price of, oil. In Bahrain, the Sunni ruler confronts a restive Shi’a majority. In Qatar, the country continues to endure the enmity of its Gulf Arab neighbors, who have imposed a land, sea, and air blockade of the country, because of Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its friendly ties with Iran. In Iraq, there is both continued sectarian strife (Shia versus Sunnis) and simmering ethnic tensions (Kurds v. Arabs). In Libya the civil war between the Government of National Accord and the forces of General Haftar shows no signs of ending, and the conflict has managed to involve other Arab states – chiefly Egypt and the UAE– that support Haftar with weapons and training, while non-Arab Turkey supports the GNA. In Lebanon, the country is faced with a total economic collapse, and popular fury at the government’s mismanagement and corruption has extended to Hezbollah, for its blind support for the government, and its violent suppression of protesters. In Syria, after the civil war finally ends, the regime faces the monumental task of reconstruction, which will cost an estimated $350 billion dollars. Faced with that monumental challenge, how can the Syrians, who in the past were always so solicitous of the Palestinian cause, devote either money or time to the Cause of Palestine? No wonder there is so little interest left over for the “Palestinians.”

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