The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, January 08, 2004

Palestinian right of return - escalation towards war?

Way back when what became the Good Friday Agreement, between the various parties in Northern Ireland, was being negotiated, there was such a thing as constructive ambiguity: which was each side believing that the agreement meant differing things, and Tony Blair confirming each in its (mutually exclusive) version.

It held for a while - long enough for a lot of the hand of history stuff that floats Tony's boat - then fell apart.

As the great man said, You can fool some of the people all of the time...

The Palestinian right of return is just such a thing as most stands in need of CA: there is absolutely no way in which any Israeli government could accept it in terms of actual movement of bodies; and it's one of those totems that the Palestinians have persuaded themselves is integral to their existence as a group.

Any solution would have to involve lashings of CA - which would need to be managed down to the sort of thing that happened to England's claim to France after Joan Arc and her friends threw us out: reduction to symbolism (Kings of England called themselves Kings of France down to the Peace of Amiens in 1806, from memory).

Now, we have Karma Nabulsi who was apparently
adviser at the peace talks 1991-93
for the Palestinians, saying in the Guardian today
For those Palestinians in the mainstream who have been seeking a viable settlement, a personal position on the right of return hardly matters. Once understood that the Palestinian people (over 50% of whom are under 18 and are temporarily beaten but not vanquished) consider it the essence of their identity, the very basis of their struggle, then peaceful negotiations with Israel mean that this simple truth is recognised as the starting point of any authentic peace process.

The Geneva Accord, which has generally been portrayed as a sort of liberal festival of drutherism, she condemns for proposing that Palestinian refugees should
effectively to give up the right of return to their original homes and properties inside Israel as the necessary "painful compromise" for peace.

It's a numbers question, of course: whatever the solution (in terms of territory ceded to a Palestinian state), the numerical predominance of Jews in Israel cannot be jeopardised. (Already, the tendency of the Arabs in Eretz Israel to breed like rabbits, and the fall-off in Jewish immigration that, up till now has kept the scales in some kind of balance, place that predominance at risk.)

The sensible solution would be an exchange of populations, combined with a Palestinian state. But I suspect even Bush would, right now, be a little squeamish on the point.

But bringing up the issue of return is a forward policy on the part of the Palestinians [1], saying that even Geneva (which is way too generous for Sharon) is not generous enough. If taken up by the PA, it would, in effect, be a means of playing for time, with the hope that a change of heart, if not administration, in Washington, combined with the eventual departure of Sharon, will secure a better deal.

The Palestinians aren't going away; external forces can't be much worse for them than they are now. They can wait another ten or twenty years, surely, having waited since 1948! Whereas, it may be more likely that, at some stage, the Israelis may come to feel boxed in by political and demographic pressures, and may feel the need to escalate towards expulsions of Arabs, by any means necessary.

I've mentioned here before that (supposedly) Sharon has A Savage War of Peace on his bedside table: the pressures on Israel vis à vis Palestine are - analogy alert! - not dissimilar in some ways from those of France in relation to Algeria during the 1954-62 war. Being led by the nose by settlers, the imperative not to be swamped by Arabs [2] - but France, of course, had the advantage of Israel in having a separate country to pull its people back to, and a decent tract of sea between it and the Arabs.

And, for the Palestinians, the refugee question has the advantage of being a hardball issue, but not tied up with terrorism...

  1. If the PA do it; I don't know with what authority Nabulsi speaks - I'm assuming, none.

  2. And Berbers.


The folks over at Crooked Timber are addressing the Rousseauvian angle to Nabulsi's piece. (The author is a woman, I learn.) I suspect she raises Rousseau for the catchy lede: but, knowing nothing worth telling about philosophy, I'm happy to interplead on the substance.

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