Israel Israeli occupation Middle East peace process Palestinians Peace Now

Will the next generation figure out how to deal with the “Right of Return?”

Last Monday evening, I decided not to give up hope for peace in the Middle East. Every honest person involved in this issue needs to consciously make that decision from time to time, even when there is almost no rational basis for hope. The Italian communist, Antonio Gramsci, famously wrote of “pessimism of the spirit; optimism of the will.” When searching for shards of hope in the Middle East, too often one needs to rely on optimism of the subconscious, a kind of elemental energy that keeps surging of its own volition, in defiance of unrelentingly bleak news.

But sometimes there are more tangible reasons for optimism. This time, my reasons include a young Palestinian lawyer from Abu Dis, Abed Erekat, and a young Israeli Peace Now organizer from Tel Aviv, Noa Epstein. Together, and with the help of New York City psychologist and Americans for Peace Now activist Warren Spielberg, they have reinvigorated Peace Now’s Youth Dialogue Program, which offered hope in the 1990s but collapsed under the weight of the Intifadeh. They shared their experiences with a small group at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in New York City, as they wound up a brief U.S. road show. Richard Greenberg of Washington Jewish WeeK saw them a few days before, and wrote;

The Israelis and the Palestinians have finally made peace.

At least a few of them have.

The symbolic accord (in the form of a broad conceptual framework for an agreement) was crafted in the fall during a seminar involving 50 Israeli and Palestinian college students meeting in a village midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

They negotiated under the supervision of two pragmatic optimists (one Arab, the other Jewish) connected with the Youth Dialogue program of the organization Peace Now..,demonstrating that an eventual resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not inconceivable, according to Noa Epstein, the Israeli half of the partnership.

“The idea is not to lose hope,” said Epstein, 25, a full-time activities coordinator for Peace Now who has a degree in international relations from Hebrew University. “If there is no hope, there is no point in staying in Israel. You have to cling to optimism and be an active optimist.”

She works in conjunction with Abed Erekat, a 27-year-old lawyer who lives in the West Bank community of Abu Dis, and whose command of English is not as accomplished as Epstein’s. Erekat said negotiations (at any level) are important because they serve as “nonviolent resistance to the [Israeli] occupation.” Asked if he, too, is optimistic, Erekat said: “Yes, but there must be a lot of work…

…The basic framework agreement the students hammered out last fall calls for a two-state solution to the conflict, with the borders of each state roughly coinciding with the 1967 lines of demarcation, according to Epstein. The Israelis and the Palestinians would each have a national capital in Jerusalem, with sovereignty of the Old City portion of Jerusalem being covered under a joint or international agreement.

In exchange for Israel removing its settlements in the territories and recognizing in principle the Palestinians’ “right of return” to Israel proper, the Palestinians would not exercise that right. Palestinian refugees would be compensated financially, although the issue of Middle Eastern Jews who were displaced in 1948 and thereafter was not discussed, according to Epstein.

Nobody forced these college students to get together. They did it of their own accord. When I asked Erekat how they had managed to figure out the question of the refugees, which they addressed in a manner that is similar to the formula proposed in the Geneva Initiative, he said, “Palestinians are starting to look at the `right of return’ as something impractical…We know we can’t have millions of people return. We can see from this group that there is a way to discuss this `red line.'”

Israelis, and their Diaspora supporters, need to start looking at how “impractical” it is to pretend there is a solution to this conflict without at least acknowledging the “principle” of the right of return, and without finding a way to acknowledge that Israel bears some reponsibility for the “Naqba,” although the Arab states and Palestinian leadership at the time were hardly blameless.

In response to the previous post on this blog, Jonathan Mark and Richard Witty, along with a few others, went back and forth repeatedly about the refugee question. Jonathan believes the right of return is a non-starter and should be off the table completely, that Palestinians should be persuaded to accept the formula of “land for peace” and nothing else. as if their narrative and their demand for an apology for what occured in 1948 can simply be wished away. Or, as our “Teddy” noted in his comment, “The apology and the acknowlegement are vitally important to the Palestinian people and the constant recitation of the other narrative, the Zionist narrative, is not going to change that.”

At the other extreme are those who insist that an influx of Palestinian refugees to homes abandoned 60 years is a realistic optiion. It is easy to sit in the U.S. and make such pronouncements. Palestinians in Abu Dis and Ramallah and Israelis in Tel Aviv and Ashkelon do not have that luxury.

We might have to wait for another generation or two or three to figure this one out. But it is heartening to see that young people on both sides of the Green Line are forcing themselves to confront problems that most of their elders believe are either intractable or capable of being resolved by wishful thinking.

12 thoughts on “Will the next generation figure out how to deal with the “Right of Return?”

  1. “””In exchange for Israel removing its settlements in the territories and recognizing in principle the Palestinians’ “right of return” to Israel proper, the Palestinians would not exercise that right. “””

    Settling Palestinian refugees’ descendants inside of Israel is not required under this proposal.

  2. To me, one of the primary questions isn’t which political solution will be adopted.

    I mourn (imagining a possible future, and actual past), that the logic of law becomes subsumed under the logic of politics.

    I mourn that the Israeli society has disempowered its Supreme Court relative to the Knesset in its absence of constitutional structure, absence of precedent and REQUIREMENT to incorporate fundamental universal features into its laws and method (14th amendment clarification of the right of equal due process under the law to all persons).

    There is a difference between a society that operates under the rule of Law and the rule of laws. Consistency of laws is a component of the rule of Law, but it is at most a secondary means to a larger end.

    It is possible to form a strong majority jurisdiction in Israel, retaining its character as a state of Jewish self-affirmation, while remaining truer to establishing a real Jewish state, one built on the humane principles that are the nut of Jewish identity, rather than the shell.

    “Honor the stranger as you were once strangers in a strange land.”

    “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.

    “Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor’s”

    “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

  3. Richard, I admire you for this idealism. One problem is that Jewish identity itself is being attacked in places like MondoWeiss and the Arab media. The idea of voluntarily choosing to live in Israel because it is an expression of your Jewish identity is greeted with hostility…It doesn’t matter how ethical we are or how law abiding. It wouldn’t matter to them if Israel let in 10,000 or 50,000 refugees. They don’t want Jews to live there. All the rest is commentary

  4. “It doesn’t matter how ethical we are or how law abiding. It wouldn’t matter to them if Israel let in 10,000 or 50,000 refugees. They don’t want Jews to live there. All the rest is commentary”

    My sense is that the vast majority of Palestinians adopt a more conditional view than your characterization.

    The most important term in a conditional attitude is the word “IF”.

    “IF you keep my commandments, I will give you the rain in its time.” “IF you don’t keep my commandments, your nation will be as dust in the wind.” (From “G*d”, not from Ahmenijad)

    “If you keep your treaty obligations, your border will not be violated.”

    *If you treat others well (sincerely), most likely they will treat you well.*

    *If you leave us alone, we will leave you alone.*

    The commitment to truth and righteousness, includes cutting through rationalization.

    I heard a speaker, an editor at the Jerusalem Post, on Tuesday. He came to my shul to encourage Jews to feel pride in Israel, and to defend Israel.

    He said a few things that I don’t know if he really understood well. One was the encouragement for Jews to get informed. His emphasis was so that Jews had “weapons” to confront those that demean Israel opportunistically or misrepresentatively.

    When I suggest that people get fully informed, it is based on a different logic, that the truth itself is the most convincing, and that embellishment or rationalization is not necessary. That in fact adhering to embellishment or rationalization usually ends up degrading a society.

    It really is true that Arabs in Israel live in a Jim Crow type setting, even though they are citizens of Israel and theoretically entitled to all the rights that any citizen of a democratic state is entitled (equal due process under the law, please don’t dismiss that as “idealistic”. Its how us American Jews get to live comfortably and confidently here).

    And, it really is true that Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza live in a more suppressed and neglected state than even Jim Crow.

    To me the slogan “NEVER AGAIN”, is just an opening theme. Not yet music.

    I think the completion of the theme is “NEVER AGAIN, to anybody (and not by my hand)”

  5. “I think the completion of the theme is `NEVER AGAIN, to anybody (and not by my hand)’”

    Nice, Richard.

  6. Rich, your sense that the Palestinians are more moderate or conditional. Please enlighten me, what brings you to that conclusion. Is that not a little bit racist. I think that the Palestinians are grown up adults. The Hamas platform is very explicit, the people voted for it. Where is the big mystery here.

  7. I’ll answer that on Richard Witty’s behalf.

    The answer is sagacity, law. The punctification of the return is not in absolutes, but in finding the nonsensibilities of your neighbors. Is that not what the teachings of the prophets are about?

  8. Silliness boys.

    Did you get the term “conditional”.

    The key word is “IF”. IF you treat me well, I will treat you well.

    You don’t like the 14th amendment Jonathon? Do you even know what it is?

  9. A distraction, Jonathon.

    Do you get my point about preferring law to be the basis of title questions, rather than politics?

    The significance of that is that title questions are meant to result in the consent of involved parties.

    By decree, even legislated (with a stacked deck though), the status of contested title remains. Such a court determination is NOT consented, NOT perfected.

    There is none. I saw a reference to a proposed amendment to allow gun ownership. Are you actually advocating for that?

    The 14th amendment affords equal due process under the law to all persons.

    Its what makes America worth living in.

  10. For Israel,
    Now is the time to come in for the landing.

    Israel won. To keep the war going, is to create unnecessary risk.

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