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An e-newsletter delivering updates and analysis on current issues about Israel and the Middle East conflict

November 2, 2010

Why no Middle East peace? Palestinians still insist that millions of ancestors of refugees be allowed to settle in Israel

While President Obama has invented the issue of Israeli settlements as a linchpin for successful Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, this issue misses the point completely.

What the Israelis want and what the Palestinians will never give is acknowledgement of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. Why? Because for decades, Palestinian leaders have been telling their people that the Jews are interlopers---newcomers---in the Holy Land and that Palestinians will one day return to rule this land "from the river to the sea." Some 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes in what is now Israel during Israel's war of independence in 1948---many in fear, most urged to get out of the way by invading Arab armies, and some expelled by Israel for security reasons.

The overwhelming majority of these refugees were packed into refugee camps by the Egyptians, Jordanians and Lebanese, which controlled most of the areas to which the refugees fled. These fleeing Arabs---they didn't call themselves Palestinians until 1967---were denied citizenship and most rights by their host countries, and no attempt was made to integrate them. Rather they have been consistently promised for decades that the Arabs would someday conquer Israel and return their land to them. (In the meantime, about 750,000 Jews were expelled from Arab lands during this same period, nearly all of whom have been long repatriated in Israel.)

While most of the 700,000 Arabs who lived in Israel have now died off, many of their heirs still live in refugee camps and have been continuously promised their "birthright"---the "right to return" to their abandoned property in Israel. Here's the rub: If the Palestinians recognize Israel's right to a Jewish homeland, they would in essence give up their right to take it back over---a notion they have always recoiled at.

This week's FLAME Hotline, by Ben S. Cohen, Associate Director of Communications for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), exposes the Palestinians' continuous rejection of peace with Israel for the hoax that it is: They won't accept peace because they don't want peace. What a tragedy for the dispossessed millions of Palestinians being held in limbo for 60 years now, nurturing the bizarre and patently false hope of conquering Israel.

Please review this piercing op-ed and pass it along to your friends and correspondents using the "Forward to a Friend" button at the bottom of the article. We need to spread the truth, and this is one important way you can help. (You might also want to check out the short video that is linked near the bottom of the article.)

Thanks for your continued support of FLAME and Israel!

Best Regards,

Jim Sinkinson
Director, FLAME


How many times have you heard someone complain that "Israel just doesn't have good public relations"? Maybe you've even said the same yourself. But have you seen FLAME's latest hasbarah---our ad on "The Unrelenting and Virulent Hatred of the Arabs: Will peace ever be possible under those conditions?"---which has appeared in publications nationwide, including college newspapers, with circulation in excess of 5 million? Please take a look at it, and if you agree that FLAME's brand of outspoken public relations on Israel's behalf is critical, I urge you to support us. Remember: FLAME's powerful ability to influence public opinion comes from individuals like you, one by one. I hope you'll consider giving a donation now, as you're able---with $500, $250, $100, or even $18. (Remember, your donation to FLAME is tax deductible.) To donate online, just go to Now more than ever we need your support to ensure that Israel gets the support it needs---from the U.S. Congress, from President Obama, and from the American people.

The Palestinians and Israel: Just Say No
by Ben S. Cohen, Huffington Post, October, 28, 2010

The persistence of refugee status for millions of Palestinians has been the physical bedrock of rejectionism, both expressly, as in the infamous "three noes" of the Khartoum conference of 1967, and by implication, as demonstrated by the recent Palestinian decision to withdraw from direct talks.

I wonder how many of those commentators who diligently monitor the "muzzling" activities of the "Israel Lobby" will note the story of a UN official who made a perfectly reasonable observation at a recent conference, and now has everyone from Hamas to the government of Jordan demanding his head on a plate.

The official in question was Andrew Whitley, the New York Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA,) the UN body charged with providing aid and services to Palestinian refugees. When UNRWA began its operations in 1949, there were approximately 700,000 refugees; now there are close to 5 million, by dint of the fact that, in marked contrast to other refugee populations, Palestinians registered with UNRWA can pass down refugee status to subsequent generations. It's also a pertinent fact that explains why Whitley said what he did.

"We recognize, as I think most do, although it's not a position that we publicly articulate, that the right of return is unlikely to be exercised to the territory of Israel to any significant or meaningful extent," Whitley told an audience at the National Council for US-Arab Relations conference. "It's not a politically palatable issue, it's not one that UNRWA publicly advocates, but nevertheless it's a known contour to the issue." Instead of entertaining that "cruel illusion," he continued, Palestinians should start considering "their own role in the societies where they are, rather than being left in a state of limbo where they are helpless."

For simply articulating a truth known by very many, not the least the Palestinian leadership, for decades, Whitley was chastised by the Jordanians, while Hamas angrily demanded his dismissal: one more example of how speaking your mind can land you in scalding water with those who regard freedom of speech as contingent on what you say.

Still, it's hard to fault Whitley's logic. Of the 50 million people who lost their homes because of war and conflict in the twentieth century, practically none of the original displaced returned to their homes, never mind their descendants. The historical record shows that refugees—like those 17,000 displaced Jews administered to by UNRWA back in 1950—are invariably absorbed by host countries.

What's different in the Palestinian case is that the refugee question, and its associated "right of return," has been deliberately positioned by the Arab side as the single biggest obstacle to a final settlement of the conflict with Israel. Accepting that the refugees will not go home, that they will live free of the apartheid conditions imposed on them in states like Lebanon and Syria, and that they might even receive some financial compensation on top, is the height of political incorrectness in the Middle East. It means accepting not only that Israel has the right to exist, but also the right to define itself as the democratic state of the Jewish people.

More than settlements, or (ultra-right Israeli politician) Avigdor Lieberman, or any other variable you might care to mention, it is this refusal to break with the narrative of Zionism's original sin which has derailed the peace talks for nearly two decades. As I was researching a new short film on the peace process, I was struck by how the offers made by Benjamin Netanyahu's predecessors would have resulted in a contiguous, viable Palestinian state in nearly 100 per cent of the West Bank, had they been accepted.

They were rejected because resistance to the notion of two states side by side—which, let us remind ourselves, is where President Obama wants the parties to be one year from now—runs counter to the main currents of Palestinian nationalism.

The persistence of refugee status for millions of Palestinians has been the physical bedrock of rejectionism, both expressly, as in the infamous "three noes" of the Khartoum conference of 1967, and by implication, as demonstrated by the recent Palestinian decision to withdraw from direct talks. Could Andrew Whitley's carefully worded remarks mark the beginning of a seismic shift on the Arab side, given that he has arrived at these conclusions as a friend of the Palestinians? I don't want to predict. All I will say is this: those who call themselves peace advocates could prove themselves by encouraging the liberation of the Palestinians from what, to the western flotillistas and their ilk, seems like a noble dream, but is, for the people living the reality, a quixotic struggle with no end.


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