Good News - That Will Come To Nothing.
In what should be (but won't be) a breakthrough for Israel/Palestine peace, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to severely limit the number of Palestinians entitled to move into Israel proper under the "right of return". This according to an interview he gave to the Israeli paper Haaretz. Other reports, in the Jerusalem Post, and various Arabic papers (AlHayat and AlSharq), confirm this, and further tell us that the actual number he has agreed to is a mere 20,000 over 10 years.
This should be fantastic news for any supporters of the two state solution. Fear that granting the right of return would allow hundreds of thousands - or even millions - of returning Palestinians would swamp the demographic balance of the Jewish State, has been a major stumbling block for many liberal Zionists who want to achieve a fair peace with the Palestinians but also want to preserve the Jewish majority in the State of Israel. Current Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, and his foreign Minister Tzipi Livni claim to be in that camp.
But I predict this will come to nothing. The Israeli government is too weak to respond. Too many Israelis prefer - to paraphrase Moshe Dayan from an earlier era - the West Bank without peace, to peace without the West Bank. Too many Israelis think they are the strong party, and don't need peace, and don't need to give up something dear. Too many Israelis think time is on their side. Too many Israelis think the Palestinians don't deserve a state of their - or any rights for that matter. Too many Israelis don't trust the Palestinians - no matter what they do or say.
Pray that I am wrong.
Other interesting quotes from the Haartez interview:
[Abbas] dismisses the threats of colleagues, ... to replace the negotiations over two states with a demand for equal rights between Israelis and Palestinians in one state. He also promises that, just as he opposed the second intifada, he will not support a third one.
He is aware of the arguments in Israel about his political weakness. "It's a good excuse for Israel not to fulfill its obligations," he says with a bitter smile. ...
"We have restored order to the West Bank cities, we are taking steps against anyone who tries to undermine security and stability, whether it is Hamas, Islamic Jihad or even Fatah. In Israel and in the United States they are well aware that the Palestinian security forces have prevented many attacks. We even dismantled Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Today there is one armed force and one authority in the field."
Abbas' situation in public opinion surveys conducted in the territories is better than ever. The chaos that reigned in the cities of the West Bank has been replaced by the Palestinian police. The security systems are garnering praise from those very senior Israeli officials who in the past leveled penetrating criticism against their functioning - including the head of the Shin Bet security service, the defense minister and generals in the Israel Defense Forces. The economic situation in the West Bank is also improving. And nevertheless, Abu Mazen knows that without a diplomatic agreement, all these achievements will evaporate and the Palestinians will return to Hamas' embrace.
Do you remember that Saturday, September 13, is the anniversary of the Oslo Accords?
"Because it didn't succeed. Fifteen years have passed since then, and we are still far from an agreement."
Jordan's King Abdullah said recently to a French newspaper that he is not convinced that Israel wants to solve the conflict, due to the absence of a long-term vision. Do you agree with that statement?
"I tend to agree with King Abdullah. ..."
Is it clear that on the issue of the right of return, the refugees will return only to the areas of the Palestinian state?
"Not at all. This issue is not at all clear. There are today five million Palestinian refugees whose forefathers were expelled from the area of Israel, not from the West Bank and Gaza. We understand that if we demand of you that all five million return to Israel, the State of Israel would be destroyed. But we must talk about compromise and see to what numbers you can agree.
"We have to talk about Israeli recognition of its responsibility for the refugee problem, and then discuss the right of return in practice. The Palestinians who don't return to Israel can return to Palestine. If they decide to remain in the countries where they are living, they will receive compensation, as will the countries that absorb them. There is a central issue that Israel tends to ignore: the assets of the absentees. That is a very important issue, almost the basis of the problem.
"We intend to hold talks with Israel about the number of refugees who will return to its area. I am criticized for not demanding the return of all five million, but I say that we will demand the return of a reasonable number of refugees to Israel. ...
What do you think of the calls by senior Palestinian officials, in light of the failure of the negotiations, to dismantle the PA, transfer responsibility to Israel and establish one state for two nations?
"That is an issue that came up in the Arab League, too. But in my opinion, we should stick to implementing a solution of two states for two nations. That is the best proposal. But you must not prevent this solution and push people into a corner. A continuation of your dangerous policy in the West Bank - construction in the settlements, the roadblocks, the raids on West Bank cities - will only distance the two-state solution."
"We don't want one state for two nations, and various people who are doing that ... are doing it out of despair. You must treat the Palestinians with respect, as full partners, human beings like you. ...