The right of return

by Chris Bertram on April 15, 2004

I didn’t think George W. Bush had the capacity to shock me. But he has with his capitulation to the Israeli right.

I’ve been reading Robert Fisk’s Pity the Nation , his account of the fate of Lebanon in the late twentieth century. Fisk has been the target of so much blogospherical opprobrium in the last three years, that I almost feel an obligation to explain myself. But whatever Fisk’s recent misjudgements (and there have been a few) Pity the Nation is a truly great book: wonderfully written, fair, balanced and not seeking to disguise the crimes and failings of any of the protagonists.

Fisk’s book starts, though, not in Lebanon, but with ordinary Palestinian families, displaced in 1948, still guarding the Ottoman or British title-deeds to their properties, still keeping the rusting keys to their houses (often long-since demolished), still longing for their orange orchards and olive groves.

When they fled, to Lebanon or Jordan or wherever, they made trouble. They were not liked by their hosts, their own leaders were corrupt, their ineffective attempts to get back at Israel often provoked retaliation. We all know all this. We also know that Palestinian Arabs weren’t just innocent victims in 1948, but did some bloodletting of their own (and since). There is endless material available for partisans of either side to claim vindication, justification, excuse. And they do. And every comments thread on Israel-Palestine fills with the litanies of Arafat’s corruption, of Black September, of Sabra and Chatila, of whether Barak’s offer to Arafat was good or bad. And so on.

But behind all of that, and behind any Palestinian leader seeking to negotiate a settlement with Israel, are those families still dreaming of their orange trees and clutching their title deeds. And that is what the “right of return” is all about. It is about justice for those people and their descendants, and about recognition of the wrongs that were done to them, wrongs which it has recently been claimed, were essential to the foundation of the state of Israel . And subsequently, there have been other families dispossessed, and, even today, more of this is happening as olive groves are uprooted to make way for Israel’s security fence and more Palestinian Arabs are separated from their land.

Israel exists, and it is right that it continue to do so. But any settlement has to give due recognition to those people. They have, as a matter of morality, a right to return, and if subsequent history—and the conflicting right of today’s citizens of Israel—means that that right cannot or should not be enforced, then they should be appropriately compensated.

All of this requires, of course, negotiation. The purpose of negotiation has to be a settlement, a just settlement, and the reconciliation of all parties to the way the world must be from now on. Not everyone will be reconciled, that’s never the way things work, but reconciliation needs for enough people, and certainly enough reasonable people, to allow feelings of searing injustice and bitter resentment to subside, to calm passions sufficiently that people put aside their hatred (even if they still feel it) sufficiently to get on with the things that human beings otherwise do (working, farming, making money, losing money). Otherwise, yet more generations of young Palestinians will fall prey to ideologies of hatred and yet more young Israelis will go through the brutalizing process of policing them.

I don’t want this screed to get too long-winded and sanctimonious. Where it is going should be clear. George W. Bush, by setting out as a matter of policy that the right of return to lands inside Israel will not be recognized, and that “new realities on the ground” should trump claims of justice, and that many settlements illegally established by Israel on the West Bank since 1967, has
probably permanently undermined any prospect of the reconciliation I just wrote about. He may even have done this for short-term electoral advantage. So the nation that all parties relied upon to broker a compromise has come out as a partisan not just of one side, but of extremist elements on that side.

The BBC sets things out thus :

no US president has pre-empted the negotiations in this way before.
What Mr Bush has done is to pull the rug from under any future Palestinian negotiators by denying their demands before they have even begun talking.
What concessions could a Palestinian negotiator now hope to get in return for renouncing the right of return, for example, when he knows Washington is already committed to opposing that principle?

Of course, the statement made by Bush at Sharon’s behest talked
about justice. How much more honest were the Athenians before
Melos
:

For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences- either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us- and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

{ 79 comments }

1

Anatoly 04.15.04 at 3:43 pm

So the nation that all parties relied upon to broker a compromise has come out as a partisan not just of one side, but of extremist elements on that side.

That’s not quite correct. Firm denial of the Palestinian “right of return” to lands inside Israel is common to all mainstream parties in Israel. The right of return inside Israel is only championed by a tiny extremist ultra-left minority, and by some of the Arab parties. By supporting the no-return-within-Israel position, Bush does come out as a partisan of one side, but definitely not just of extremist elements on that side.

2

Jhn Isbell 04.15.04 at 3:52 pm

I know few passages in literature as searing as the Melian Dialog. It is evergreen.

3

Marzi 04.15.04 at 3:56 pm

“Israel exists, and it is right that it continue to do so.”

Excuse my ignorance, and I certainly don’t mean to sound like somebody devoid of any sympathy for the suffering endured by the Jews during the Holocaust, pogroms and so on (as a matter of fact, I shouldn’t start by apologizing and trying to preempt any accusation of anti-semitism- unfortunately that’s the way things usually are for people who question the policies of Israel nowadays), but could anybody explain here why this goes without saying?
Why is it so self-evident, in other words?

4

Marzi 04.15.04 at 4:04 pm

“The right of return inside Israel is only championed by a tiny extremist ultra-left minority, and by some of the Arab parties.”

It might be true that it’s a position only held by a tiny minority, but by calling it “extremist-ultra left” you seem to be delegitimizing a priori a position that can be considered perfectly legitimate. It just seems fair to me to acknowledge that these people (the Palestinians) have a sensible claim and it should certainly be considered as, if not politically viable, at least a morally sound demand.

5

Steve Carr 04.15.04 at 4:10 pm

Chris, I’m not really sure what your argument is here. There could be no “right to return” for Palestinians if Israel was going to continue to exist as a Jewish state — as even you seem to acknowledge when you talk (justifiably, I think) of appropriate compensation for the Palestinians. So no negotiation, in the meaningful sense of that word, was possible on the right of return. As Anatoly says, this is not an extremist position. It’s a mainstream position, both within Israel and within the U.S. What Bush has done is simply state the obvious, the precondition for any meaningful settlement between Israel and Palestine.

You suggest that his unilateral declaration makes reconciliation harder. But if the right of return is unacceptable, and always will be, then what’s to be gained by acting as if it’s actually on the negotiating table? The BBC’s take seems purely cynical: don’t say you’re against the right of return, because then the Palestinians won’t get credit for conceding the point, as they eventually will be forced to if they want freedom. This hardly seems like a compelling argument.

Bush’s new stance on the West Bank settlements does strike me as egregious and absurd, and I think it’s guaranteed to alienate the Palestinians. But there was nothing to be gained by continuing to pretend that the Palestinians would ever return to their homes.

6

Bill Carone 04.15.04 at 4:29 pm

“those families still dreaming of their orange trees and clutching their title deeds.”

Anyone know the libertarian views on the right of return?

Many libertarian ideas about transition have to deal with situations where property was stolen by someone and given to someone else; for example, every dollar I own was stolen by someone sometime (the government, most likely). Does that mean I have to give it all back?

Usually, what I hear is that if someone can prove that they would be the owner of a particular piece of property but for the government stealing it from them, then they have the right to have their property returned.

It sounds like the situation Chris describes is exactly this; people have proof that their property was stolen, and but for that they would be the rightful owners. Am I correct? Are there nuances I am missing?

7

Chris Bertram 04.15.04 at 4:32 pm

….there was nothing to be gained by continuing to pretend that the Palestinians would ever return to their homes.

No such pretence about the likely outcome was suggested. But nor should there be a denial of what they are legitimately entitled to. And an acknowledgement of that entitlement as part of negotiations would necessitate that Israel accept a duty to compensate the dispossessed as the price of the Palestinians relinquishing their right (as it is up to them to do).

8

Anatoly 04.15.04 at 4:32 pm

marzi,

It might be true that it’s a position only held by a tiny minority, but by calling it “extremist-ultra left” you seem to be delegitimizing a priori a position that can be considered perfectly legitimate.

I’m not delegitimizing anything. Within the wide spectrum of political parties and opinions in Israel, this position is extremist, and using commonly accepted definitions of political camps, it is ultra-left. This description doesn’t prevent anyone who so wishes from considering it to be legitimate, morally right, etc.

9

Nasi Lemak 04.15.04 at 4:51 pm

This is slightly off the point Chris is making, but I want to agree and underline that “Pity the Nation” is a brilliant book. Life-changing for me, in fact – I read it three times cover to cover over a weekend, and changed my degree course from biochemistry to politics the following week.

10

Chef Ragout 04.15.04 at 4:52 pm

If you’re going to talk about the right of return as a matter of “morality” and “justice,” you should also acknowledge the Jewish people’s right of return. Why don’t you call on the Arab states to return the property or otherwise compensate the million or so Jews that they expelled in the 40s, 50s, and 60s?

And on a related matter of evenhandedness, why do you assume that Jewish settlements in the West Bank “undermine any prospect of reconciliation?” Lots of Arabs live in Israel. Why couldn’t Jews live in a Palestinian state? What kind of “reconciliation” is it if a Palestinian state bans Jews?

11

Chris Bertram 04.15.04 at 4:58 pm

If you’re going to talk about the right of return as a matter of “morality” and “justice,” you should also acknowledge the Jewish people’s right of return. Why don’t you call on the Arab states to return the property or otherwise compensate the million or so Jews that they expelled in the 40s, 50s, and 60s?

I agree with you absolutely on this (and Fisk writes about it, by the way, in the same chapter). I don’t know why you put morality and justice in scare quotes, though.

And I’m also a firm supporter of the struggle of Jewish people to relaim property stolen from them in Europe in the 1930s. The same principles surely apply in all these cases.

12

Russell Arben Fox 04.15.04 at 5:02 pm

“But nor should there be a denial of what they are legitimately entitled to. And an acknowledgement of that entitlement as part of negotiations would necessitate that Israel accept a duty to compensate the dispossessed as the price of the Palestinians relinquishing their right (as it is up to them to do).”

Chris, I agree with you completely, but I think the way you perhaps unintentionally make your point–talking about titles to land and the compensation for such entitlements–in a way allows for Steve’s criticisms. If the right to return is to be understood strictly as a transaction in holdings–as something that, if not fulfilled, requires equal material compensation, some sort of provisio to make good the original bad taking–then Steve is entirely justified in asking why anyone should bother, given that practically everyone acknowledges that such strict compensation, so long as the current state of Israel continues to exist, is not and will not be (and which few people besides Tony Judt fully believe should be) forthcoming.

I think you make your point better when you speak of a “reconciliation [that affects]…enough people, and certainly enough reasonable people, to allow feelings of searing injustice and bitter resentment to subside, to calm passions sufficiently that people put aside their hatred (even if they still feel it) sufficiently to get on with the things that human beings otherwise do.” As I see it, what you’re talking about here is not compensation, per se, but recognition. The language necessary to Palestinian recognition by Israel, which Bush’s actions have greatly complicated, must of course include issues of material compensation, but are not tied to that issue alone.

13

Jim Henley 04.15.04 at 5:10 pm

Speaking AS a libertarian, I’m in favor of “rights of return” for both Jews to their properties in the Arab lands that kicked them out and Palestinians to the properties they individually owned in Israel. Speaking as a pragmatist, I would like this to be resolved by financial compensation rather than any actual movement of peoples. Speaking as an American anti-interventionist, I’d consider a US bankrolling of said compensation, in the context of a general settlement, to be much the most effective financial expense we could make in that region.

Now, let’s be clear on a couple of things: the harm was to individuals and families. That Iraq, say, dispossessed identifiable Jewish Iraqis does not somehow wipe out the harm done by the founders of the state of Israel to identifiable Palestinian Arabs. The Palestinian Arabs were not Iraqis, they were not responsible for the actions of the Iraqi government, they had no control over it. Most importantly, they didn’t themselves get the Jewish property the Iraqi and other Arab governments stole.

Also, let’s not go overboard with the notion of symmetry here. When you come down to it, the Israeli government was and is glad the various Arab governments kicked out their Jews – Israel wanted those Jews itself, for demographic reasons. The Sephardim were welcomed, albeit first as second-class citizens. (Israeli partisans insist that they have now been thoroughly integrated into Israeli society.) No Arab government, it is quite clear, wanted or wants the Palestinians. The dispossession of the Palestinian refugees did no Arab government a backhanded, unwitting favor.

14

Chef Ragout 04.15.04 at 5:18 pm

Chris,

“Morality” and “Justice” aren’t in “scare quotes.” They’re in good, old-fashioned quotes, to indicate that I’m quoting your words. I ain’t no literary critic; I don’t use no fancy “scare quotes.”

15

John Isbell 04.15.04 at 5:30 pm

What Jim Henley said.

16

Matthew 04.15.04 at 5:32 pm

Maybe Tony Blair could use the White House influence he has gained, by backing the war in Mesopotamia, to revive the road map? That would make the whole Iraq War more justified.
Just kidding.

17

David Sucher 04.15.04 at 5:36 pm

Can’t stop, can you? When will I hear something useful?
This discussion is itself a sign of how bad things are.

18

Steve Carr 04.15.04 at 5:40 pm

One other issue that I think is relevant to the question of the right of return (or of compensation) is obviously the question of family. Chris writes that the right of return is about “justice for those people and their descendants.” But “and their descendants” extends the idea of justice and compensation in a peculiar and far-from-obviously-correct way. Those Palestinians who were displaced in 1948, who lost their land and their homes, etc., deserve to be compensated. But Palestinians born after 1948 have no claim on Israeli land. There is no right to live where your parents or grandparents lived. A 20-year-old Palestinian has a right to elect his own government, a right not to be bullied or beaten or shot by Israeli soldiers, a right to have a real job. But he doesn’t have a right to live in Haifa. That’s one reason why I always thought the obsession with return — the dreaming of the orange trees — was a mistake for the Palestinians. It’s the wrongs that are being done to them in the present that should be their concern, not the wrongs done (not to them, but to their ancestors) in the past.

19

Jimmy Doyle 04.15.04 at 5:45 pm

Well said, Chris.

20

james 04.15.04 at 6:06 pm

Ditto.

21

Chris Bertram 04.15.04 at 6:12 pm

Steve,

You’ve got to be wrong about that.

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who showed me, using mapblast, the location of a building in (East)Berlin. It was the house of an now-dead aunt who had fled to England in the 1930s. He, together with other members of the family, were negotiating via a lawyer with the current occupants of the building. They are expecting compensation.

Would you deny them on the grounds that the wrong was done not to them but to the dead aunt?

(BTW I’ll happily accept such a denial or the grounds that you reject the rights of bequest or inheritance quite generally.)

22

LizardBreath 04.15.04 at 6:16 pm

But Palestinians born after 1948 have no claim on Israeli land.

At the least, they have whatever property claims they have directly inherited from Palestinians dispossessed in 1948.

23

steve lubman 04.15.04 at 6:30 pm

Chris,

What about compensation of all Jewish refugees from Muslim lands? Check out his site: http://www.jewishrefugees.org/

24

Jack 04.15.04 at 6:31 pm

Steve: Why does the palestinian not have the right to live in Haifa? The obsession with the right of return is unhelpful only because Israel is a failure as a secular state. The moral force of Israel’s right to exist comes from the way that most of those who reject would like to see it cease to exist, not because there is anything particularly glorious or impressive about a state that only works if most of the people under its rule are not full members. Similar propositions have been rejected in Northern Ireland, South Africa and many other places. What makes Israel special on this score?
The example of the 20 year old is misleading because many of the people kicked out are still alive and many other are being kicked out of their homes even now and even that is being accepted. Not only that there is a sharp contrast between the pragmatic view the Palestinians are expected to take and the romantic reasons that dictated that Israel be where it is and that drive much of its support.
As I understood it the right of return was always expected to be given up but that it would be traded for “facts on the ground”. Most negotiations involve deciding what is a reasonable starting point for each side and then meeting in the middle. What has happened is that the Palestinian box of concessions has been emptied by main force.
Arguing whether the clear moral right of return is actually practical is not the point. Its importance was as a bargaining chip to trade for the clearly morally wrong but factually on the ground existence of the settlements.
Now that the US has said that Israel need not bother with the right of return and has accepted the existence of the facts on the ground the acceptability of any likely settlement must be gravely in doubt from a Palestinian point of view.
The wrongs that are being done now are usually justified by Palestinian terrorism even if the numbers don’t really stack up. As a result they don’t get much traction. If earlier injustices go uncorrected, how to have confidence in the force of new ones?

25

Chris Bertram 04.15.04 at 6:35 pm

Steve Lubman: I explicitly endorse such a right earlier in the thread.

26

Chris R 04.15.04 at 6:46 pm

What about the former residents of Koenigsberg or Breslau? I for one don’t think that Poland or Russia owes anyone a dime, nor are the modern Germans trying to get those places back. The fact is, Germany tried to annihilate those two countries and they lost. Why should the Arabs be treated any differently?

History just isn’t fair. If we tried to right every wrong ever committed, where do we stop? Do the Magyars have to move back to the Urals? Do we have to depopulate much of North America? What’s so special about this case?

27

Chef Ragout 04.15.04 at 6:55 pm

Jim, if this is a discussion about justice and morality, then the harm to “identifiable individuals” is at least as compelling for Jews expelled from Arab countries as for Arabs expelled from Israel. You’re not claiming that this harm is offset because the expulsions of Jews somehow benefited a third party, a nebulous entity called the “Israeli government,” are you? If so, I think your moral principles could justify just about any atrocity.

And just what do you mean by “the Israeli government” anyway? It’s obviously not an “identifiable individual.” I assume you mean something like “the strategic interests of Jews in Israel,” or “the Jewish Nation,” right?

But if the discussion is about how to achieve a lasting peace in the region, then you can’t expect Israel to make unilateral concessions to the Palestinians, or even to cut a bilateral deal, without recognizing Israel’s legitimate security concerns. Israel has been attacked time and again by their Arab neighbors and the Palestinians. The Palestinians are in the unfortunate position of living on the (literal) high ground that Israel needs to defend itself. It may not be the fault of the Palestinians, but the threat to Israel from neighboring states is real. Even the Saudis seem to recognize that a solution is going to have to involve neighboring countries too.

28

dsquared 04.15.04 at 7:01 pm

The Palestinians are in the unfortunate position of living on the (literal) high ground that Israel needs to defend itself.

It’s a while since I last reread “Anarchy, State and Utopia”, but I seem to remember that there is a strand in extremist libertarian thought which holds that the gentlemanly thing to do if someone else owns land that you need is to buy it.

29

Andrew Boucher 04.15.04 at 7:28 pm

I’m sorry, but the “right of return” was hardly a great bargaining chip, because it was so clearly not going to be accepted by Israel. If Israel was going to accept a negotiated peace settlement, the “right of return” was going to be null and void.

The true Palestinian bargaining chip – whether to make or have peace with Israel or not – remains. If Israel wants peace with the Palestinians, it will have to recognize the legitimate demands of the Palestinians. The right of return wasn’t and isn’t one of them.

“Would you deny them [the right for compensation] on the grounds that the wrong was done not to them but to the dead aunt?”

Yes. The wrong is (a) too long ago and (b) does not concern them or even one of their parents.

30

Dave 04.15.04 at 7:31 pm

“they have whatever property claims they have directly inherited from Palestinians dispossessed in 1948”

Yes, and those property claims should be recognized or compensated for.

But ownership of property and citizenship are two different things. A person from China can buy a building or business in the U.S. and not be a U.S. citizen. In fact, that person could be denied a request for U.S. citizenship on a number of grounds.

Israel has two responsibilities: to recognize property rights regardless of the ethnicity or religion of the owner, and to ensure its own political and military security. In the context of these two responsibilities, the correct course of action regarding Palestinian expats would be to recognize/compensate claims while enforcing a sane immigration policy.

On a related note, given that the two-state solution is the only realistic one in the context of two immiscible ethnic populations, Palestinian expats and their descendents will never be allowed to return wholesale to Israel. The reason is simple: the two-state plan requires one Jewish and one Palestinian state, and the right of return would produce two Palestinian states.

31

jeff fears satan 04.15.04 at 7:33 pm

1. These “realities on the ground” as Bush described them were created in contravention of international law for the express purpose of annexing land. Why are the Americans rewarding such a politically audacious strategy?

2. Of course, there is much intellectual disdain for the Palestinian ‘right of return’ and its implications for Israel. Why is there so little critical scrutiny of the Jewish ‘right of return’ to Israel. On what basis has this highly selective right- of-returning been established and continually validated.

32

GrimReaper 04.15.04 at 7:37 pm

If the Palestinians have a right of return to pre-1967 Israel, the Germans have a right of return to Danzig and a few other places in Eastern Europe.
Start up those Panzers now…

33

Dave 04.15.04 at 7:41 pm

“… Israel is a failure as a secular state …”

Just a nitpick:

Since when is Israel a secular state? It is a religious and ethnic state, albeit one that grants freedom of religion and the right to vote and hold office to many who do not belong to that ethnicity and/or religion.

One can condemn Israel on the grounds that all liberal and democratic nations should be “secular” – but even that definition is up to question. Do you go with the French concept of “Laicite”, the U.S. “separation of Church and State”, or does England count even with its official religion? And does France count, with its forced compliance to French ethnic and language traditions?

34

BigMacAttack 04.15.04 at 7:47 pm

Anatoly and Steve Carr have pretty much covered it.

Chris is seeing what he wants to see.

Bush didn’t reject justice or compensation he rejected, what Chris pretty much concedes, that Israel cannot accept or should not accept that phsyical right of return, and yet Chris manages to call Bush immoral for his[works for both] rejection.

Over at the Volokh conspriracy David Bernstein wonders, well go see

http://volokh.com/2004_04_11_volokh_archive.html#108203637397913374

now his musing might not be true but it helps us see how at best Chris claim is problematic.

And if his claim is problematic he should at a minimum lighten up on the rhetoric.

A narrower critique critique of Bush’s comments would have been better. Perhaps an explanation as to how Bush was unwise to reject the right return, because Palestinians would understand such a rejection, not as a rejection of a physical right of return, but as a rejection of compensation and a just settlement.

Though I find it at least as likely that Palestinians mean exactly what they say by right of return. They know what they are asking for and what it means and unlike Chris are not serious about the nonsensically idea of neogiating away a right.

That perhaps Chris just sees what he wants to see in both sides.

35

Steve Carr 04.15.04 at 8:15 pm

Chris, yes, I would deny the great-nephew of the woman who fled in the 1930s the right of compensation. There was no harm done to the great-nephew. What is he being compensated for? You may be able to inherit property — in an ideal world, I’d be against this, but I think people have to be able to dispose of their stuff as they wish — but you can’t inherit a moral claim.

36

trotsky 04.15.04 at 8:16 pm

OK, to frame it a slightly different way:

The primary difference between Jews forced out of the Arab countries in the ’50s and ’60s (who did not all settle in Israel, but also in the U.S., Australia, etc.) and the Palestinians forced out of what is now Israel in ’48 is that none of the Jews in any country are living as permanently stateless pariahs. Particularly in Lebanon, as I understand things, but throughout the Arab world, Palestinians have been granted at best tolerance but never the simple benefits of citizenship (whatever that might be worth in your typical Arab country), even when they were born in the country, even when their parents were born in the country.

It seems that if you are a second-generation native of a country that does not allow you civil rights, the ability to freely own property or hold the job of your choosing, that country has a serious human-rights problem. Now, Lebanon has many problems, of course, but why shouldn’t the countries where these people live simply accept them?

Of course, many countries have preferred to use the Palestinian refugees as a weapon against Israel. Those poor people just get kicked from every side.

With no facts to back me up, I would speculate that the United States has been the country that most freely accepted and granted citizenship to Palestinian refugees. That is doing as much practical work for peace as anything. But does anyone know if there’s any data about where the Palestinian refugees and their descendants are — and what their legal status is?

On another point, whatever Fisk’s sometimes laughable politics (and his all-but-praise for the mob that beat him up on the Afghan-Pakistani border is classic), he’s always been a hell of a reporter with a rare feel for the humanity of every side to these conflicts. I miss columns since they disappeared behind the Independent’s pay wall.

37

drapeto 04.15.04 at 8:21 pm

What about the former residents of Koenigsberg or Breslau? I for one don’t think that Poland or Russia owes anyone a dime, nor are the modern Germans trying to get those places back. The fact is, Germany tried to annihilate those two countries and they lost. Why should the Arabs be treated any differently?

because the Germans have a state and are not living in refugee camps or in a country that murdered thousands upon thousands of them.

History just isn’t fair. If we tried to right every wrong ever committed, where do we stop? Do the Magyars have to move back to the Urals? Do we have to depopulate much of North America? What’s so special about this case?

if only Israel had done to the Palestinians what teh British did to the Native Americans, there wouldn’t be this problem! it’s a damn shame that genocide wasn’t OK in the 20th century and left these moral quandries hanging around.

38

Chef Ragout 04.15.04 at 8:23 pm

D-squared,

Despite your sarcasm, asserting property rights in this situation is hardly a moderate position. Here in the real world, property rights are modified for the sake of building highways, protecting endangered species, and beach access. To suggest that property rights should rule in life or death situations is quite an extremist position.

39

Peter 04.15.04 at 8:24 pm

Much as I hate to admit it, I think Bush (inadvertently?) did whatever remains of the mideast peace process a favor by taking the “right of return” off the table. I worked for an NGO in the West Bank in 1995-6 and even in that relatively conciliatory period was dismayed to see how young Palestinians were being indoctrinated that they would eventually “inherit” not only Jaffa but Tel Aviv as well. Most–at that time–were willing to make “peace” with Israel, but that was clearly understood as being a temporary solution. The longer term solution was, of course, the elimination of Israel. The rhetoric surrounding the “right of return” has always clouded Palestinian (and Arab) perceptions about what was possible in the creation of a Palestinian state.

On the other hand, I witnessed firsthand some of hardships the Palestinians had to endure because of the settlements in the West Bank. They ought to go, not neccesarily for legal reasons (the legality or illegality of the settlements has never been firmly established) but for political ones. Israel’s security concerns can be met by army outposts, perhaps bases, in certain strategic areas. And it would be up to the Palestinians to negotiate such leases, maybe even minor land swaps. They should not be imposed.

40

Nat Whilk 04.15.04 at 9:00 pm

“because the Germans have a state . . . “

So if the Palestinians were provided with a state somewhere, this difference would vanish, right?

“and are not living . . . in a country that murdered thousands upon thousands of them.”

About a third of Germans were living in such a country until the Berlin Wall fell.

41

DJW 04.15.04 at 9:02 pm

Chris, great post. You can tell it must be an outstanding post by reading the comments, which are generally civil and even-handed, which is not exactly par for the course for Isreal threads.

Chris R.’s argument against compensation suffers from the reductio ad absurdum problem and easily degenerates into a might-makes-right position, but it raises a difficult challenge nevertheless. I agree that the moral weight of the right to return hardly goes away for the second generation, but at some point, thousands of years from now, it will seem like a ridiculous assertion. Drapeto suggests a potential way to draw a line, but it’s an immense challenge, both philosophically and practically.

42

marky 04.15.04 at 9:05 pm

I would have liked the Bush/Sharon announcement much more if the carte blanche for a land grab was accompanied by a declaration of support for the universal rights of the Palestinians, including the right to vote in a meaningful election—which would mean voting as citizens of Israel.
Color me prejudiced if you like, but I don’t understand why I need to accept the fascist statement that Israel cannot exist without a Jewish majority. That is morally equivalent to the statement that the US will lose its identity if the majority is no longer white and of European descent, and is just as repellent.

43

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.15.04 at 9:08 pm

“But nor should there be a denial of what they are legitimately entitled to. And an acknowledgement of that entitlement as part of negotiations would necessitate that Israel accept a duty to compensate the dispossessed as the price of the Palestinians relinquishing their right (as it is up to them to do).”

Hmm, I think this is very much a semantic issue as opposed to a real problem. The ‘right of return’ is not about getting compensated for property, it is about the alleged right of Palestinians to physically return to and occupy the land they claim. There is a reason it is called a ‘right of return’ and not a ‘right for compensation of land taken’.

The idea that Palestinians should be compensated for land taken after they fled before the Arab invasions is absolutely not the same as the fantasy known as the ‘right of return’. The right of return is all about using international law to allow Palestinian extremists to follow through on their goal of controlling all of Israel. As such, there has never been any realistic chance of the alleged right of return being ‘enforced’ (scare quotes quite intentional). Arafat has always known this, so he has always been able to destroy any negotiations in which he participates by insisting on a right to populate Israel itself.

Getting rid of this fantasy is a key step to dealing with the conflict. Until the Palestinians accept that they will not be getting all of Israel–at any time in the forseeable future–there will not be peace.

That said, the idea that Palestinians ought to be compensated for land (which they used to own and which they will never again be allowed to inhabit) is not forclosed by anything which I saw in Bush’s announcement.

So I guess I’m saying that if the right of return was really just about compensation (as you seem to suggest) you would be right that Bush ought not take it off the table.

But it isn’t. The rhetoric of the PLO (allegedly moderate of course) has not defined it as such. It has always about retransfer of population and has always been used as a club to destroy negotiations when Arafat wants to walk away.

Taking that club away is a good thing.

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marky 04.15.04 at 9:08 pm

I just read DJW’s point. The thought that the Palestinian right of return might go away after a few generations juxtaposed with a situation in which a 2000 year old right of return has been exercised is beyond parody, as JMM would say.

45

Nat Whilk 04.15.04 at 9:12 pm

Color me clueless if you like, but I don’t understand why I need to accept the statement that it is facist to say that Israel cannot exist without a Jewish majority.

46

Charles Copeland 04.15.04 at 9:13 pm

“Pity the Nation” is a fine book, though Bob Fisk is a dab hand at turning on the waterworks .. those orange groves and olive orchards or vice versa. I’ll take you home again, Kathleen, across the oceans wild and wide. Where my heart has always been. The women in the uplands digging praties. Just to hear again the ripple of the trout stream. Thank God we’re surrounded by water.

Etcetera .. very moving stuff, but shit happens and sometimes we lose the land whose furrows one day we hope to water with [sarcasm on] impure Jewish blood [sarcasm off] (adapted from La Marseilleise, in case you didn’t know). Cry me a river: most people just get on with their lives instead of brooding over their lost battles until kingdom come. It’s not that the Palestinians haven’t been unjustly treated – nobody denies that. But, as other commenters have pointed out, millions of innocent people have been driven from their homes over the past century, starting with the Armenians. In fact, the ones who were driven from their homes were, if anything, the lucky ones. Most victims of nationalist or Communist or fascist violence weren’t just driven from their homes – they were raped, gassed, starved, massacred. To lose your home is not quite like losing your life. And why the selective indignation? Why focus on one particular group of victims? Because they specialise in suicide bombings, perhaps?

Here’s a citation from Amos Oz’ “In the Land of Israel”, page 43 (Oz is quoting an unnamed Jewish acquaintance):

“What’s justice, anyway? There’s ten, maybe twenty million Jews in the world … Don’t the Arabs have enough countries? Let the Palestinians go live in our houses in Morocco.
…. My parents had a house in Casablanca, three stories high, all marble; let the Arabs go over there.”

I know, it’s a ‘hoary’ old Zionist argument – but what’s faulty with it? Why don’t Jews who were driven from Baghdad or Alexandria have the same ‘right of return’ as the Palestinians? If Israelis somehow share collective responsibility for the fate of dispossessed Arabs, why don’t Arabs share the same responsibility for the Jews that they banished from their countries?

The ‘right of return’ is a non-starter. The problem is the colonisation of the West Bank by Jewish settlers. And the real problem as regards those who sympathise with the Palestinian cause is that they can’t even argue their own case with any degree of sophistication – they tend to lose track and put forward ridiculous claims that every smart-assed Zionist can blow out of the water straight away. Like the ‘right of return’ ….

47

marky 04.15.04 at 9:14 pm

Considering the means used to attain and maintain the Jewish majority, I’ll stand by my characterization. I believe Israel is as legitimate as any other state, but not more so.
If we grant Israel the right to disenfranchise a huge population that lives within its defacto borders, then we give Israel special treatment.
Those people should be granted the right to vote—period.

48

Russell L. Carter 04.15.04 at 9:21 pm

“Drapeto suggests a potential way to draw a line, but it’s an immense challenge, both philosophically and practically.”

The practical side mandated by the fact that in *this world* property rights are valid is handled easily by the distribution of a sum of money to the existing refugees.

http://www.arts.mcgill.ca/mepp/new_prrn/background/

puts the number at 3.2M. Give each one $50,000. That’s $155B. For the price of a couple of years of liberal adventure and troop hardening in Iraq, we can settle with the Palestinians once and for all.

49

Chris Bertram 04.15.04 at 9:30 pm

Most victims of nationalist or Communist or fascist violence weren’t just driven from their homes – they were raped, gassed, starved, massacred. To lose your home is not quite like losing your life. And why the selective indignation? Why focus on one particular group of victims? Because they specialise in suicide bombings, perhaps?

I’m amazed at the number of people in this thread who think that “shit happens” constitutes an argument. Or that pointing out that millions of ethnic Germans were driven from their homes at the end of WW2 constitutes one. Actually, what happened with the Benes decrees (for example) is still very much a live issue and complicated the accession of the Czech republic to the EU.

As for the accusation of selective concern, I plead not guilty. I’ve already agreed that Jewish refugee from Arab countries have a comparable case, and so, for that matter, do many others such as ethnically cleansed Bosnian Muslims, or Serbs from the Krajina for that matter. The reason for focusing on the Palestinian case today was that George Bush just made a major declaration about Israel and Palestine.

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Charles Copeland 04.15.04 at 9:35 pm

Marky writes:

“I don’t understand why I need to accept the fascist statement that Israel cannot exist without a Jewish majority. That is morally equivalent to the statement that the US will lose its identity if the majority is no longer white and of European descent, and is just as repellent.”

Being concerned about one’s country’s ethnic breakdown isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but what’s ‘fascist’ about it? Marky is right to criticise the double standards often applied by Zionists on the population issue, but branding everybody who is opposed to Israel’s losing its Jewish ethnic identity as a ‘fascist’ is a cheap shot. It’s true, of course, that what’s sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander. So — since almost all Arabs detest Jews so much that won’t even accept a Jewish minority of 1% in their countries — does that mean that almost all Arabs, and certainly 99% of the Palestinians, are fascists too?

51

rea 04.15.04 at 9:37 pm

“‘Israel exists, and it is right that it continue to do so.”

“[C]ould anybody explain here why this goes without saying?
Why is it so self-evident, in other words?”

Because it’s 2004, not 1948. It’s too late to restore the 1948 status quo, just as it’s too late to restore Manhattan to the indians. You can’t cure an injustice by duplicting it against the grandchildren of those who committed it.

52

Donald Johnson 04.15.04 at 9:40 pm

Sebastian, you summarized the history of the Palestinian loss of their land in a tendentious manner. So we are to believe they “fled before the Arab invasion”? Some fled, and some were driven out. There’s some disagreement about the early stages–in his book “Sacred Landscapes”, Meron Benvenisti makes a distinction between the driving out of Palestinians which occurred under Plan Dalet in the spring of 1948, which he sees as having some possible military justification, and what happened in the later months, which was deliberate ethnic cleansing. Others wouldn’t make that distinction. But the Palestinians as a whole didn’t simply flee before the Arab invasion.

As for whether they should have the right of return, perhaps it is true that the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds have a better chance of living together in a democratic state than the Israeli Jews and Palestinians. I’m not just being sarcastic–that might very well be true. So the Palestinians will have to accept compensation, or perhaps a compromise where a small, non-demographically threatening (love that concept) number are allowed back in.

And the Arab regimes which drove Jews out should fork out cash for their crimes as well. Or they could let them back in, though I suspect no one would want to take them up on the offer.

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drapetomaniac 04.15.04 at 10:41 pm

So if the Palestinians were provided with a state somewhere, this difference would vanish, right?

such that all who wanted to return could, rather than a bantustan? i think the momentum would wane.

About a third of Germans were living in such a country until the Berlin Wall fell.

i must have missed the east german black september, but hey, if the east germans had wanted to flee back to czechoslavakia, it would have been a legitimate claim too.

…………….

It’s not that the Palestinians haven’t been unjustly treated – nobody denies that. But, as other commenters have pointed out, millions of innocent people have been driven from their homes over the past century,

actually lots of people deny it. and an overlapping set are very troubled that anyone attends to it, rather than weeping over the (insert group here), on which grounds nobody could ever be concerned about anything, since there are always other tragedies.

funny how singling out iraq was OK because morality had to start someplace, while singling out palestinians is wrong, because the Germans were expelled and they didn’t sob about it, and the native americans have the decency to stick to reservation bingo.

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drapeto 04.15.04 at 10:59 pm

You can’t cure an injustice by duplicting it against the grandchildren of those who committed it.

true. you can only cure injustices by duplicting (?) against the grandchildren of even weaker people, as the history of european colonialism shows (wrt puritans, jews, convicts, ex-US-slaves etc).

pity the poor palestinians, who are turning against their disposessors rather than moving on to some other people to grind under their heel.

55

Nicholas Weininger 04.15.04 at 11:37 pm

I’m surprised the thread has gone this far without a link to the following Head Heeb post:

http://headheeb.blogmosis.com/archives/014432.html

or its antecedents (linked to in the above post). The short version: there is strong evidence that a large majority of Palestinians actually offered both

(a) entry into Israel and Israeli Arab citizenship
(b) compensated resettlement in the Arab world or elsewhere

would choose (b), thus making it possible for a right of return to be granted without actually overwhelming the Jewish majority in Israel. Things just don’t have to be as cataclysmic as the extremist rhetoricians on both sides would like you to believe.

The HH (who is far and away the blogosphere’s most knowledgeable, calm, and fair-minded commentator on these issues) also points out that a large fraction of the (a)-choosers are probably old folks actually born pre-1948 in what is now Israel, and that Israel could certainly at least let them in with no trouble (they number only about 200,000 and include no hot-blooded teenage suicide bomber wannabes).

I’d add that the US could go a long way toward solving the rest of the problem not only by chipping in on the compensation fund, as Jim Henley suggests, but by giving as many Palestinians as feasible green cards and maybe even fast-tracking them for citizenship.

Indeed, there’s no reason to wait for a final settlement to start doing this. It advances both Israeli security and Palestinian individual rights, it fits in well with the grand “lift my lamp beside the golden door” tradition, and it’s the least we can do given how much American money has been spent maintaining the occupation. Anybody know what current American policy is toward Palestinians trying to enter the US, and whether there might be a viable constituency for liberalization of that policy?

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Detached Observer 04.15.04 at 11:42 pm

The Palestinian refugees chose to leave; the Arabs that did stay in Israel are Israel’s citizens today. Those that decided to leave have no moral claim on the land they left behind.

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Detached Observer 04.15.04 at 11:45 pm

By the same logic: should the US allow “right of return” to British citizens who left the US after the American revolution?

What if the people that left the US for England after the revolution had refused to assimilate? Would that make their claim to US soil have more substance?

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anti something 04.16.04 at 12:00 am


The Palestinian refugees chose to leave; the Arabs that did stay in Israel are Israel’s citizens today. Those that decided to leave have no moral claim on the land they left behind.

So when I leave my home, I can forget getting back in again. I choose to leave so, well, tough luck, no property rights, no citizens rights nothing. All forsaken because I left my home.

This madness is still law in Israel. If you are no Israeli citizen and live in East Jerusalem and leave for a period longer than 7 years you have forsaken your right to get back in, whether you were born there or not. This law has softened a bit in 1999 but is still in place.
This law is there for the ethnical cleansing of Jerusalem, ofcourse this law doesn’t apply for Jews.

http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/archive/articles/1999/East%20Jerusalemites%20will%20not%20be%20stripped%20of%20Permane

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roger 04.16.04 at 12:39 am

Now we know — if only Saddam H. had planted settlements in Kuwait, he’d be in the clover with the current prez. Have to respect a thing like that.

So what is the deal for the Palestinians? They get less land, the good parts are committed to Israel, and they have to squeeze more people into the land they are able (at the moment) to retain. Lucky guys get to present their papers at various fences extruding into their land, and if they are really lucky, get jobs as janitors at the Israeli settlements that are being subvented with U.S. government grants. And of course, the possiblity of a lightharded ethnic cleansing of the rest of the Arab population in Israel is in the offing.

So that is the deal.
We are in a moronic decade, that’s for sure.

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Detached Observer 04.16.04 at 12:43 am

anti-something,

if you abandon your home, then, yes, its not longer yours. i don’t see whats so mad about it.

61

anti something 04.16.04 at 12:57 am


anti-something,


if you abandon your home, then, yes, its not longer yours. i don’t see whats so mad about it.

Don’t tell your neighbours that, otherwise you may be homeless tomorrow :-)

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.16.04 at 1:05 am

“So what is the deal for the Palestinians?”

The Palestinians have had their chances at deals. Now they will get what they get out of a unilateral withdrawal and a fence.

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msg 04.16.04 at 1:18 am

The statute of limitations on anything is an arbitrary measure. It seems like there’s cultural traditions regarding redress, probably most of them evolve according to the power or powerlessness of the individuals involved, rather than to some higher moral standard.
The idea that 100 years is a good cutoff is saddening, but so is the idea of 2000. Or ten.
I doubt there’s an inch of populated ground on the planet that isn’t colored by blood somehow.
And it seems the voices that get heard, even if it’s only to have their questions dismissed, are, as usual, the ones who can emphasize their claims with the noise of violence, or economic leverage.
It wasn’t, it seems to me, until Japan had become a rocket of new technology that it behooved the American government to recognize the barbarian domestic internment of Nisei civilians during WWII as a mistake, and attempt reparations.
The position that no living members of any First Nations people can legitmately claim to have been the victims of land-grabbing theft is illogical, and in context, false.
It’s an alien argument, that one place is like any other, that a home is worth a certain amount of money, that two homes valued at equal sums are equal. And it’s a condemnation that for most people this is now nonetheless true.
One thing leads to another.
Bitterness takes manifold complex forms as it settles in to the family.
Action and reaction blur into squalid bloody madness, from which the only exit is over piles of the dead.
Eventually the balance of conflicted power tilts to one side or the other, and the lesser is silenced. A quieter madness.
And then that bitterness again.
Fairy tales were once a great repository for the template, great literature can solve some of the residual pathologies; the Bible has graphic illustrations of the vagaries of martial fortune, though it’s pretty biased toward one particular people.
We are these things.
Bloody and cawing madmen all.
Calmer when well-fed, and most dangerous when on top and threatened with imminent fall.
That’s the crux. To begin to ascribe right and wrong to the way things are at the moment is to begin to trace the trail of blood back to the lawless courts of the natural world. The valence is artificial and so tenuous. Might not only makes right, it defines and enforces it.
The Biblical illsutration most apt for this time is still that sword of Solomon’s, ready to divide the infant equally, while the wise man’s eyes look for grief in the disputants.
It’s the grief that should be the measure in these things, but it’s impossible to fix in numbers, and the sound of it’s already deafening.

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Jack 04.16.04 at 1:50 am

Andrew: The right of return is only unrealistic because the Palestinians could not force the Israelis to grant it but that is just saying that the Israelis are more powerful militarily and that is mostly because of massive US aid. Once that becomes a justification for anything the world gets pretty nasty.

Detached Observer: It isn’t just to Israel that the right to return applies. the effect of Bush’s statement is that any change to the highly illegal status quo is now a concession on the part of the Israelis. Palestinians are being dispossesed as we type. It is also not as if they only started complaining about things now. If the lesson is that a slow solution is no solution what would you do? In particular would you be less radical or more radical in your actions?
It is quite shocking that a country founded on the importance of govenmental accountability should be so willing to inflict itself on others.

65

Tom T. 04.16.04 at 2:01 am

Isn’t it the case that Arafat walked away from the peace talks at Taba because Clinton and Barak refused to recognize the right of return? How does Bush’s announcement on this point represent any change of existing US policy?

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cac 04.16.04 at 3:02 am

Detached observer:

The Palestinian refugees chose to leave; the Arabs that did stay in Israel are Israel’s citizens today. Those that decided to leave have no moral claim on the land they left behind.

Not entirely true as recent research shows. True, many did, in the knowledged that they would return after the Jews had been expelled and my view on them is tough luck, they got it wrong. But many were expelled by military force or left because they feared becoming the next Deir Yassin. Are you conceding they should be allowed back?

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Detached Observer 04.16.04 at 3:18 am

Cac,

Yes, I am (sort of) conceding that. If any were forced from their homes, they should be allowed to return; or, perhaps, compensated monetarily with what their home would be worth now. If they incorrectly thought they were going to be harmed once jews came to power — you can’t hold the government of Israel responsible for this mistaken notion.

I’m not so sure this would apply to their children; this strikes me as very similar to the slavery reparations debate in the US.

When I was in school, my textbooks said that Arabs fled in 1948 either hoping the jewish state would fail, or due to unjustified fear of retribution once palestine became a jewish state. But then I grew up in Israel.

Perhaps you could answer the question I posed above: do british citizens who fled America in 1776 — or their children — have a right of return to the US?

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Phill 04.16.04 at 4:11 am

You know what, the more I read the writings of Israeli appologists for laws that say one thing for jews and another for non-jews the more I think ‘screw them’. No the world would be a better place if the State of Israel were disolved and replaced by a democracy.

69

nick 04.16.04 at 5:11 am

Maybe Tony Blair could use the White House influence he has gained, by backing the war in Mesopotamia, to revive the road map?

Maybe Tony Blair could use the experience he’s gathered from negotiations in Northern Ireland, where ‘final status’ negotiations haven’t been foreclosed in the way that Bush and Sharon seem to have managed, and the peace process has advanced in (yes, stuttering) incremental steps in order to create sufficient distance from armed conflict to make it easier, eventually, to accept necessary compromises than to step back towards violence?

That’s to say, the time publically to address the right of return is not while armed conflict continues.

70

cac 04.16.04 at 5:26 am

I’m not sure that post Deir Yassin one could regard fears that Arabs would be harmed as completely without foundation. The Israeli historian Benny Morris has done signficant work in this area and it is clear that what you were taught is only part of the reason for why Palestinians left. Some were driven out literally at gunpoint while others feared they would be murdered.

Re the British loyalists, of course there is no case for compensation and I think they were resettled in Novia Scotia with the rights of British subjects in any case. But I wouldn’t necessarily be so definite if this were 1836 and there were people still alive who’d lost their property as a result of the revolution. Intuitively I feel these sort of claims start to erode at the third or fourth generation when you would think that the impact of dispossession must be outweighed by more immediate factors.

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Detached Observer 04.16.04 at 5:58 am

Cac,

Interesting. Why third or fourth generation? I can appreciate that intuitively this seems right to you, but is there any objective reason for saying no to 225 years ago and yes to 50 years ago? What if 225 years down the line, the descendents have not fully assimilated into the societies they currenly live in? Does that turn the no into yes?

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Detached Observer 04.16.04 at 6:13 am

“I’m not sure that post Deir Yassin one could regard fears that Arabs would be harmed as completely without foundation. “

Even if this were true — can a state be held accountable for the (logical) deducation of those who abandon their homes?

Hypothetical: suppose that I am an American citizen of Arab descent who concludes, not illogically, based on the numerous cases where American citizens were held without a right to trial, that I’m in grave danger. I decide to flee the country. If it helps make this more realistic, assume I’ve given money to some charity that I found out later was linked to terrorism. Not keen on the possibility of being flown to Guantanamo, I leave the country.

Can descendants demand the right of return 50 — or 225 — years down the line?

73

Gary Farber 04.16.04 at 6:35 am

“They have, as a matter of morality, a right to return, and if subsequent history — and the conflicting right of today’s citizens of Israel — means that that right cannot or should not be enforced, then they should be appropriately compensated.”

That’s a key line, and I fully agree they should be compensated (of course, the overwhelming majority of those claiming the right of “return” are descendents, but that makes no matter in this regard).

As a Jew, I’ll agree that Bush went too far in endorsing Sharon’s most extreme proposals. Jonathan Edelstein has made a couple of excellent posts I agree with, here and here. I endorse and recommend them.

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cac 04.16.04 at 7:09 am

Detached observer: No, no objective reason at all. My reasoning runs along the lines that if we can identify someone who has been harmed then to the extent that they did not contribute to that harm (which means I think a hierarchy of compensation with the Arab ordered out of his village at gunpoint at the top and the Arab who left happy in the prospect of returning a few weeks later to find all the Jews dead at the bottom – and I think the evidence is pretty clear that the cases did range across this spectrum)then we either compensate them or reinstate them in full. But their children are certainly disadvantaged as a result of this and so have some claim but not as much because one would expect other factors to become significant in determining their life outcomes. The third generation even less so and by the fourth generation one would expect the impact of dispossession to have been largely dissipated. This doesn’t mean incidentally that I don’t accept the Palestinians are still suffering from the effects of the Nakba, rather that by now other factors should have countered this. The fact that they have not is only in small part the fault of the Israelis.

I should add as a somewhat gratuitous aside, any situation where a Palestinian right of return erodes in this way is to say the least inconsistent with the current situation where a Jew in New York can decide he would like to live in the West Bank and move there tomorrow. If the right of return is to be abrogated by the Palestinians and I think it must be to a great extent, then there can be no case for a Jewish right outside the 1967 borders unless you approach it from the perspective of a religious Jew, which I presume most posting here are not.

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Warren 04.16.04 at 10:18 am

The region of Palestine became a legal entity with defined borders when Great Britain was given the Palestine Mandate by the League of Nations in 1920. There was no Palestinian nation nor any record of a distinct Palestinian people at this time.

The UN Partition of Palestine in 1947 was a Partition into an Arab part and a Jewish part. Given the circumstances, everybody in the UN who proposed or voted for the resolution knew that Partition meant the forced relocation of people. There is no other possible meaning.

In world still wracked by the results of WWII, compensation seemed impossible. There were too many other outstanding disasters in China, Japan, Germany, Poland, Russia, Czechoslovokia, Yugoslovia, Great Britain, Israel, and so on.

These other disaster zones have “Compensated” themselves by economic growth, and the relocated Arabs should have done likewise. Instead, they refused to deal with their situation and insisted that they would be refugees forever until the Partition was annulled.

Under these circumstances, dreaming of orange groves was dreaming of bloodshed. I don’t even know if there were any orange groves there in 1947.

The current poverty of the Palestinians is the result of their lust for war, not of the Partition of 1947. Indeed, the presence of the Jewish State has created employment for the Palestinians and has raised their standard of living .

The land of the West Bank and Gaza is, like antarctica, outside the boundaries of any country, and both Jew and Arabs are allowed to live there under the terms of the various treaties of the 20th century that created the modern middle east. In particular see the San Remo Conference of 1920 that created the modern middle east.

There never has been a Palestinian state and there is no record of a distinct Palestinian people until the PLO started claiming this in the 1960’s. So to claim that the settlements in the West Bank or Gaza are “Illegal” is to repeat a lie. What law do they violate?

The rules against keeping conquered territory were created to prevent aggressive war. Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in a defensive war that was started with the stated purpose of annhilating Israel. And the West Bank and Gaza was seized from Jordan and Egypt, respectively, who had ABSOLUTELY NO LEGAL RIGHT to that territory, merely having conquered it in recent wars! Furthermore, Israel offered to give up the territory in return for a peace treaty and recognition from the Palestinians, who refused.

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Jonathan Edelstein 04.16.04 at 3:16 pm

The practical side mandated by the fact that in this world property rights are valid is handled easily by the distribution of a sum of money to the existing refugees. [McGill] puts the number at 3.2M. Give each one $50,000. That’s $155B.

Your numbers are both too high and too low. On the one hand, compensation is likely to be by household rather than by person – the heirs of each property owner will share his claim. There were about 750,000 refugees in 1948 – say, about 180,000 families at a generous estimate – and that’s how many claims will exist.

On the other hand, $50,000 per claim is far too little, because it’s (1) less than the fair market value of the properties today, and (2) less than the WB and Gaza settlers are likely to receive for their evacuation. I doubt the Palestinians would settle for less than what the settlers get, so instead of 3.2 million claims at $50,000, there would be 180,000 at $250,000 to 500,000.

In any event, I didn’t see anything in Bush’s statement that ruled out financial compensation or even the United States’ right to insist on such compensation. Needless to say, I think the refugees should be compensated, and this is true no matter who was originally at fault for the refugee problem, simply because Israel has benefited from their property.

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davec 04.16.04 at 3:38 pm

It is my understanding that it is a capital crime in Jordan to sell land to a Jew, and the Palistinian Authority takes this as their law, and in fact executes people who are suspected of doing so.

Now, there are quite a few Muslim Arab property owners in Israel, but it appears to me that the Jews must be held to a different standard. The Palistinians must have a right to return, but the fact that it is against the law for a Jew to be a citizen of Jordan is quite proper given historical precedent dating to the beginning of the 20th century.

The Palistinians cannot be compensated for land seized by the Jews; Jews have no right to own any property whatsoever because property rights are trumped by religion and tradition.

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Bill Carone 04.16.04 at 4:24 pm

Steve,

“I would deny the great-nephew of the woman who fled in the 1930s the right of compensation. There was no harm done to the great-nephew. What is he being compensated for? You may be able to inherit property — in an ideal world, I’d be against this, but I think people have to be able to dispose of their stuff as they wish — but you can’t inherit a moral claim.”

The woman still had title to her property; the property can be stolen, but not the title. She can then transfer title to her great-nephew, either by bequest or other methods. That means that the great-nephew has a right to the property.

I don’t know enough of the history to tell if this is what happened, but in this case it is clear that the great-nephew has a claim, no? He is suffering harm by not being allowed access to his property (i.e. property to which he has title).

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Peter 04.16.04 at 8:43 pm

There never has been a Palestinian state and there is no record of a distinct Palestinian people until the PLO started claiming this in the 1960’s. So to claim that the settlements in the West Bank or Gaza are “Illegal” is to repeat a lie. What law do they violate?”

Even if “there’s no such thing as the Palestinians”, the residents of the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza Strip have a right to to the protection of international law. The United Nations, human rights groups, and virtually every nation (except for the United States and Israel) regards the settlments as a violation of international law. Here’s what B’tselem, an Israeli human rights group, says:

Israel is obligated to act according to the principles of international humanitarian law. According to these principles, Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories violate two principles of international humanitarian law:

a. Prohibition on transferring civilians from the territory of the occupying state to the occupied territory

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly provides that, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The commentary of the International Committee of the Red Cross to this article states that the article

is intended to prevent a practice adopted during the Second World War by certain Powers, which transferred portions of their own population to occupied territory for political and racial reasons or in order, as they claimed, to colonize those territories.

b. Prohibition on creating in occupied territory permanent changes not intended to benefit the local population

A fundamental principle of international humanitarian law relating to territory subject to belligerent occupation is that occupation is essentially a temporary situation. The temporary nature of occupation entails limitations imposed on the occupying power regarding the creation of permanent facts in the occupied territory.
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The rules against keeping conquered territory were created to prevent aggressive war. Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in a defensive war that was started with the stated purpose of annhilating Israel.

Leaving aside the question of whom attacked whom in 1967, this is clearly wrong. The prohibition against annexation of territory by war applies to all wars, including wars of self-defense. Go back and look at the text of Resolution 242; it explicitly emphsizes the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”

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