Israeli and Palestinian Fantasies

News Abroad

Mr. Toplin, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, is a writer for the History News Service.

As any viewer of television news knows, those who comment on the Arab-Israeli crisis offer many different explanations for the current outbreaks of violence. Rarely mentioned, though, are the unrealistic expectations that keep hostilities going. Both Palestinians and Israelis cling to fantasies about settling their peoples in the territory of their adversaries. As long as each group continues to indulge in these fantasies, significant compromise will be difficult to achieve.

The principal fantasy of the Palestinians finds expression in demands that their families uprooted in Israel's 1948 war for independence have a"right of return." Israelis, in turn, are committed to the fantasy of maintaining settlements in the Israeli-controlled Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinians ask for resettlement in Israel of their nearly five million refugees and descendants. Arab leaders agree with this request, for they cheered the peace plan suggested recently by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that included a right of return.

Mindful of the Jewish people's historic experience with persecution, Israelis consider proposals for massive Palestinian resettlement totally unacceptable. The genocidal Nazi policies that destroyed six million European Jews followed three millennia of repression, intimidation and slaughter of Jews. Modern Israel grew out of a determination to create a safe homeland for Jews. Israel's settlers vowed never again to live as a persecuted minority under the thumb of a hostile majority.

Placing millions of additional Palestinians within the tiny nation of Israel could lead, eventually, to an Arab majority in the country. (The high birth rate of Palestinians presently living in Israel is, in itself, alarming to the Israelis.) The continuing violence involving Palestinians and Israelis suggests that a large infusion of Palestinian settlers would create a volatile mix of cultures. Resettlement would also allow terrorists to take up residence in or near all Israeli communities.

Not surprisingly, Jews consider peace proposals that include plans for resettlement grossly flawed. They will not accept arrangements that could make them vulnerable to a second Holocaust. Therefore, if Yasser Arafat, the Saudi crown prince and other Arab leaders wish to advance the cause of peace, they will have to remove this emotion-laden proposal from their plan.

While the idea of resettlement is a Palestinian fantasy that greatly complicates efforts to resolve the crisis, Israelis, too, indulge in a fantasy that is an obstacle to peace. The Israelis have constructed numerous cities and villages in the West Bank and Gaza since the 1967 war. They have answered the Palestinian fantasy of resettlement in Israel with their own fantasy of settlement in Palestine.

More than 200,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the West Bank. Jewish settlers travel regularly over highways connecting their communities, and soldiers in the Israeli army guard the routes and stop Palestinians at checkpoints. These practices, appropriately criticized by the Palestinians as forms of"occupation," fuel Palestinian resentment. Israel's proposals for Palestinian nationhood contrast glaringly with the global trend since World War II of giving peoples absolute control over their own contiguous territory.

The Israelis have created a unique map for Palestine that is unlike the design of any independent state in the world. Imagine if Mexico controlled California and then promised to turn the area over to the Californians but demanded continued Mexican control of"settlements" in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities as well as military control of numerous highways connecting these urban centers.

Would the Californians calmly accept such a strange approach to nationhood? No doubt, they would cry out against foreign occupation, much as the Palestinians do today with reference to the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

In view of Israel's disregard for the modern concept of nationhood, it is not surprising that the Palestinians have been cold toward all recent Israeli proposals, including Ehud Barak's generous offer during the last days of the Clinton administration, because Barak's plan included retention of some Israeli settlements. As long as the Israelis demand that Jewish communities remain within Palestinian territory, they will find their opponents unreceptive. Palestinian leaders, Yasser Arafat included, cannot accept such a compromise and retain political support among their people.

If Israelis continue to indulge their fantasy about holding onto these communities, they are likely to face growing problems with violence in the years to come. Israel's commitment to the settlements also angers international friends whose sympathy and moral support were essential during the country's first half-century of struggle for recognition and respect.

Suggestions for solving the current crisis are doomed to failure if they do not challenge both Palestinians and Israelis to turn away from the fantasies of resettlement in Israel and settlement in the Palestinian territories. Politics, including the kind associated with international negotiations, is the art of the possible.

This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.

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Ari - 7/8/2003

Toplin is right in recognizing the impossibility of Arabs returing to the homes in pre'67 Israel they left or were evicted from during Israel's War for Independence.

But he makes a crucial flaw in claiming a priori that Judea and Samaria (the Jewish biblical hearland, aka the West Bank) is "Palestinian (Arab) Territory."

In fact, the land in question west of the Jordan river is disputed territory between Jews and Arabs, and by no legal means can be called "Palestinian (Arab) Terroritory." Furthermore, a solid case can be made for Jewish claim to this area based on history and security concerns.

There is though a very large part of Palestine that is presently Arab controlled and contains a Palestinian Arab majority. This place has a natural border with Israel (the Jordan River) and has room and resources for the Arabs currently living west of the Jordan river. That's right - the Kingdom of Jordan.

Wouldn't two countries for two peoples seperated by a natural and recognized border make the most sense?

It's time for Jordan and the rest of the Arab world to stop using the "Palestinians" as pawns, and to start helping them to build a normal existence as every person deserves.

Chris Messner - 4/30/2002

Bakho chooses one incident, from 1953 (not 1948), a retaliatory attack by Mr. Sharon, as evidence that the Israelis drove the Arabs from Israel. Note please:

1. The West Bank, where this occurred, was not under Israeli control in 1953, it was part of Jordan.
2. The 'Palestinian refugees' involved in this attack were under the government of Jordan; please show me what Jordan (and Egypt for that matter, who controlled the West Bank) did to economically develop this area and these people when they controlled the area.

Israel's Proclamation of Independence of May 14, 1948 invited the Arabs to remain and become citizens in the new state. The Arab majority chose to leave under the threat of Arab armed forces attacking the Jews, or in anticipation of returning when te Jews were defeated. Had the separate Palestinian state been created as originally planned, no refugee would have existed. The original partition allotted to the Israeli state consisted of 60% desert (Negev), based on the regions of highest Jewish population. The Arab areas were more highly developed and cultivated; a Palestinian state at that timewould have been economically viable. Instead the Arab residents and neighboring countries attempted to drive the Israeli state into the sea - and lost.

I agree that Israel is not going to accept the Palestinians as citizens, and this is a sticking point in the negotiations. They should not be obligated to, just as the Arab countries aren't going to take back the Jews they expelled. Compensation is warranted, but it should be a two way street, or none should be accepted.

I will agree that, as a neighbor, a democracy, and a good economic base, Israel is obligated to work with and help the Palestinian people, but only a PEACEFUL Palestinian people, who take responsibility for their government and their actions. Israel is under no obligation to pay for the homicide bombers and a PA that is importing arms from Iran to further the distruction of the Israeli people. If you don't understand that, nothing further is expected. To ask someone to help another whose intention is the first person's murder, is illogical, not humanitarian. The same goes for those who call on Israel to stop retaliatory attacks and to give up the territories, without the Palestinians first giving up terrorism. Even open conflict is better than teenagers sent with bombs or knives to attack non-military targets.


bakho - 4/30/2002

Chris, I would refer you to the official biography of Mr. Sharon.

To quote from his official biography, "In 1953, he founded and led the "101" special commando unit which carried out retaliatory operations."

The "retalitory operations" included an attack on the West Bank village of Qibya, on October 14, 1953. Sharon's unit blew up 45 houses and 69 Palestinian civilians were killed.

Chris, would you have waited around for the next "retalitory operation"? This is only one example of many. I am not saying that the Palestinians were innocent in 1948 or now, but the truth is that there was a war, civilians on both sides were killed and it is quite common for people to become refugees in the face of the advance of an opposing army. What war is there that does not create refugees fleeing the war zone? This is why most people agree that most Palestinians (although not all) were "forced out".

I agree that the PA has not spent the money given to it wisely in some cases. Money for Palestine needs to be tightly targeted to development projects. While it is true that the UN oversees the refugee camps, it is the Israelis that have controlled access in and out of the camps and control access to jobs and economic betterment. The building of settlements and connecting roads has carved up remaining land into a series of small areas that are economically less viable because of the transportation difficulties imposed. Israel did not base its settlements policy on leaving an area for the Palestinians that could be an economically viable state. The total effect of the policies is to create a permanent economic underclass with little hope of economic progress. The Israelis have access and privileges that the Palestinians do not. Apartheid is never a just system. Without justice, they will not achieve peace.

While the Palestinians would be better off as Israeli citizens, and perhaps the whole area would be better off as a single country, the Jews are not about to make the Palestinians full Israeli citizens because then the Palestinians would outnumber the Jews and that would be the end of the Jewish state or if Palestinians were non-voting citizens, the end of their democracy.

The Israelis don't want to be responsible for the Palestinians much as the US does not want to be responsible for its Amerindian populations. However much Israel does not want it, the obligation to the Palestinians was secured the moment Israel took the territory.


Chris Messner - 4/29/2002

If the Israelis are responsible for the Palestinians, then what is the PA? Why does the PA get all the money from Europe and the US for ecomonic development, shouldn't it go to the Israelis? And why does the UN have oversight over the camps if the Israelis are responsible? I agree that it would be better for the Palestinians to become Israeli citizens; Israeli Arabs enjoy more freedoms and opportunities than Arabs in Arab countries (elected to parliment, better legal rights, etc.). As a recent Palestinian detainee reflected on his time in Israeli custody said, "All in all, its better than being in an arab jail."

As to the statement, "No one believes that the Palestinians left "voluntarily" in 1948. Sharon is even proud of his role in helping to force the Palestinians out." Please provide the evidence to back this up; I seem to find more in the opposite direction. You make the claim, please cite evidence.

bakho - 4/29/2002

I understand what you are saying right up to the sentence "The Palestinians still want to make all of Israel disappear." You really need to rethink this point. Is it true or overstated? I agree that some Palestinians still want to make all of Israel disappear. I also agree that some Israelis want to make all the Palestinians disappear. But this does not mean that ALL Palestinians and Israelis want each other to disappear. If that were true, there would be no solution short of genocide.

Unfortunately, both sides are currently engaged in a "kick the dog response". The owner who "kicks his dog whenever it does something he does not like will create a mean and viscious dog that cowers under threat but bites others when the back is turned. So Sharon and Arafat are busy kicking dogs. Kick the dogs long enough and you have to shoot them or otherwise put them down. The other approach is to reward the dog for good behavior and isolate it when it misbehaves. This approach requires love and patience. This is not a virtue that I would ascribe to either of the bitter old men kicking the dogs out of fear and rage.

bakho - 4/29/2002

MY point is that Israel could find all this money to build houses and roads in the West Bank, but it all went exclusively to Israelis. Meanwhile, what did Israel do for the Palestinian refugees who were camped on the area that was occupied by Israel, controlled by Israel and built upon by Israel?

When the United States took over and occupied the lands once owned by the Indians, we became responsible for the Indians. Certainly the US has not done a very good job, but neither has Israel. If Israel is going to occupy and administer the land, then they need to make sure that a viable economy is established, that the people have food, housing, utilities and other infrastructure necessary to having a viable modern society. Anything less smacks of oppression.

If Israel is not going to live up to its responsibility it should get out. This is not a matter of "reward or punishment", or military strategy. This is about OBLIGATIONS and SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES that are incumbent on any administration to provide equally for all the people. Israel will get much farther in stopping terror by supporting an advanced society and incumbent social structure that it will with all its checkpoints, harassment and inattention to the sufferings of the Palestinians.

PS- No one believes that the Palestinians left "voluntarily" in 1948. Sharon is even proud of his role in helping to force the Palestinians out.

Chris Messner - 4/29/2002

Hard war/soft peace applies to the destruction of the terrorist infrastructure that has embedded itself in the Palestinan Authority, then develoment of a peace plan/Palestinian state with a people no longer capable of terrorism. In other words, allowing the Israelis to do what they are doing i.e. defending themselves, and working with the Palestinians to relize that terror is not going to give a state.

As to extremists, Arafat is the #1 extremist in the region, far outshining Sharon (remember, Arafat is the one drawing a gun on his own advisors in meetings, I don't recall Sharon doing so to the Arab-Israeli knesset members who heckled him).

The Palestinians need to dump Arafat and get new leadership, and Europe needs to stop putting money in Arafat's pocket; all the aid Europe gives goes to this man's comforts, not to rebuilding nad educating his people.

One note on peacekeping forces: if a suicide bomber gets through, what is the appropriate response? Do they allow Israeli retaliation, does the peacekeeping force go in armed to arrest individuals, if that doesn't stop it do they respond with force? Peacekeeping forces are going to be in situations that do not exist anywhere else, and if the role is to be equitable the Palestinians will have to accept armed incursion in response to suicide attacks.

Jacob Goldfinger - 4/27/2002

I said in my first comment that politics requires not just doing the right thing, but doing it at the right time and for the right reasons. Israel cannot be expected to recognize an unconditional right of return while Arab nations relegate Palestinians to second-class status, with the apparent intent of eliminating the state of Israel.

Palestinians have always been a pawn in this game: shunned by Arabs, oppressed by Israelis. Yet terrorism was the first option, and they can't claim any moral high ground. In fact, there is no moral high ground. No side has a monopoly on righteousness or responsibility.

Nobody outside the Middle East can impose or prescribe a solution, but I am convinced of three things:
1) No war can be won, by either side;
2) There must be an international peacekeeping force that creates conditions that make it possible for negotiations to continue;
3) The United States must lead the way.

I don't think that's going too far out on a limb.

Pierre Troublion - 4/26/2002

Mr. Spaisman and other interested visitors can find answers to some of his questions by reading previous postings to this website including in the "archives".

Counterfactual history can be enjoyable but is probably not the best way to gauge somebody's views on contemporary problems. Nevertheless, I would like to think that if Barak had been prime minister on September 11th, he would have seized the opportunity that this obvious setback inflicted upon Hamas and Islamic Jihad to have gone after them aggressively while keeping a conduit of conversation open to Arafat and Palestinian moderates. Sharon's policy seems to be just the opposite. He and the Palestinian extremists, working together in many ways, give every indication of being determined to destroy all hope for peace by isolating, weakening or wiping out moderate Israelis and Palestinians alike.

As for what should happen to this Le Pen of Israel, I am open-minded. But as an American taxpayer, I certainly don't enjoy seeing my money going to support his egomaniacal rampages. If America had a real president, instead of an electoral fluke, he might act to suspend funding from the parliamentary fluke Sharon who is running amok in the Mideast. Assuming the wimps who call themselves Congressmen went along, the choice would then be up the Israelis. Send Sharon to the Hague, or just into an early and permanent retirement ? They are a democratic people and can decide for themselves, but if they really want Sharon to proceed with wiping out 30 years of peace-making, I think they should pay for that themselves and not stick us with the tab.

I also think that Arafat's wishy washy stand on terrorism qualifies him quite eminently for a swift and final retirement, but I don't hear much support for him around here so I guess we pretty much agree on that issue.

In principle, I think these comments are supposed to pertain to the original article or opinion-piece and have something to do with history, so let me say I agree that fantasies are a barrier to Mideast peace. Among the most ridiculous is the fantasy that whatever Sharon does is best for Israel, and whatever Israelis want is best for the United States. A number of interesting historical parallels suggest themselves but I think I'm close enough to my 800 word limit already.

David Spaisman - 4/26/2002

Mr. Troublion:

How much rhetorical bombast are you capable of?

Can you clearly and cogently state your position on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict without blasting Ariel Sharon?
I am new to HNN. If this HNN forum is intended for constructive criticism and solutions, based upon supposed historical fact, I haven't seen it in regard to this issue.

It is obvious that Mr Sharon, to you, is the issue and the source of the problem. If that's the case, can you state your position and a constructive solution to the current Mideast crises with just one brief sentence alluding to that?

If Mr Barak were Prime Minister, what would your solution be?

And Mr Arafat? What approach should he take? Does his current approach have merit? If not, why not?

Perhaps your detailed response can have bullets, emphasizing your strong argument with positive points of action and, of course, past negative actions that have contributed to the current impasse?

I presumed this is what this forum was about, If I am wrong, can someone point out where I have erred? After all, this is supposedly for historians, or those --professional and amateur -- individuals whose love of history motivates them tohave some valid and worthwhile contributions to make!

Thank you


Pierre Troublion - 4/26/2002

Well Chris, you've made a suggestion finally, but I'm not sure how constructive it is. In fact I don't really understand how hard-war-plus-soft-peace might apply to the current mess between Israel and Palestinians. Do you mean something like what the West did in Kosovo (after first dithering about it for ten years) ? Should NATO blast its way in, take the area over and impose the two-state solution every body seems to say they want but which appears to be the object of continual sabotage, not the least of which is that coming from the hands of Ariel Sharon ? Seems to me the West tried to intervene aggresively centuries ago during the crusades - and that sort of violent approach strikes me as being roughly as likely to fail now as it was to fail then.

If you think America should support moderates in the region rather than extremists I agree, and the most prominent and powerful, if not quite the most extreme, extremist also happens to be the one over which our country, America, has the most direct leverage. His name is Ariel Sharon.

If what you mean by hard war is blind support of Sharon as he smashes everything in his path, then count me out.

Chris Messner - 4/26/2002

You talk about Israel being a democracy and a signee of the laws. But you cite the UN in reference to the refugees and their rights. Do not the Arab countries who exiled the Jews belong to the UN? Doesn't UN membership imply a requirement to comply with UN resolutions and Human Rights?

I do not mean to contend that Israel should not compensate refugees that can be shown to have been displaced, and to allow repatriation of those with current family ties in Israel (all of which Israel has shown a readiness to do). I do take issue with Israel being held to a higher standard than the other parties in this conflict. Yes, Israel is a democracy; but being a democracy does not mean an obligation to commit state suicide when the autocratic despots of the Arab countries do not comply or compromise. If all parties complied with these standards, much would be accomplished; but don't hold one party to comply when that party would then be at the mercy of the others who don't.


Chris Messner - 4/26/2002

Another constructive response by Mr. Troublion.

Actually, I truly wish for a functioning Palestinian state, especially one able to achieve democratic leadership and economic success. It would be the best example to despotic arab countries that hold their people in bondage and educate their children in a cult of death.

Like General Sherman, I believe in a hard war and a soft peace. A hard war, because that is the only thing that will finally convince the extremists that the costs are too high; a soft peace, because that is how friends are created. Like Germany and Japan after WWII, I will willingly and openly support all possible aid to a peaceful, democratic Palestine.

My point, which you quickly sidestep and disgard, is that the previous commentors seem to believe that the Palesinians are the wronged party, and Israel is responsible for all the compromising. Number one, this is blatantly not true. Number two, if the Palestinians continue to negotiate with one hand, and send homicide bombers with the other, an Israeli compromise is a reward for negative behavior and a reinforcement that terror works. Chamberlain learned this lesson thanks to Hitler, unfortunately many in the present don't learn history's lesson.

Please feel free to respond, with or without a point.


Pierre Troublion - 4/26/2002

To any mathematicians or geologists among the readership, please accept this correction: I meant 2,000,000,000 years ago (left out 3 zeros)

P.S. Troublion

Pierre Troublion - 4/26/2002

To any mathematicians or geologists among the readership, please accept this correction: in my earlier comment I meant to say 2,000,000,000 years ago (left out 3 zeros).

P.S. Troublion

Jacob Goldfinger - 4/26/2002

The fact that Arab countries do not honor the rights of displaced Jews does not give Israel license to violate the rights of Palestinians.

The law is not optional - not for Arab nations, not for Israel. Israel is a democracy, and has signed and ratified the international covenants it now violates. The claim that because not enough is being done for Jewish rights in Arab countries, Israel is somehow absolved of any obligation to obey the law with respect to Palestinians is flawed both logically and morally.

By that reasoning, would any unpunished atrocity give all nations of the world license to disregard all international human rights and humanitarian law?

If Israel and the Palestinians are ever going to negotiate a settlement, they will have to confront their own wrongs. Pointing to past or ongoing violations by other countries serves no purpose other than to excuse their own blatant human rights violations.

Pierre Troublion - 4/26/2002

Suggestion to Mr Messner:

If you're truly "sorry to disagree", why not look for real areas of agreement instead of always rushing to get a word in to support your beloved and law-abiding Ariel Sharon ?

To say that law should be void whenever it is applied imperfectly or unequally is to advocate a law of the jungle (or desert, maybe?) instead.

Pierre Troublion - 4/26/2002

And 2,000,0000 years ago the Mideast was somewhere under the ocean or within the earth's mantle. Therefore it really belongs to fish or to lava ?

This kind of back and forth nonsense leads nowhere, and that is exactly where Mr. Messner wants to go. No meaningful discussion, no constructive suggestions, no compromise, just ceaseless hammering in support of Ariel Sharon.

Chris Messner - 4/26/2002

Ah, but it was not the Palestinians for almost 2000 years. The Arab muslims did not overrun the area of Israel and the territories until the 600's AD. Prior to that there had been many rulers, not the least of which were the Jewish kingdoms. Assyria, Babylon, Egypt (which was not Arabic in origin) and Rome all have laid claims. So please be careful with your assertions. BTW, there has always been a Jewish presence in the area, the diaspora notwithstanding.

As to historical claims, the Jewish peole populated the Arabian peninsula, Syria, Iraq, and northern Africa for centuries, until exiled by the post World War II Arab governments. Do they also have right of return, or at least compensation?


Chris Messner - 4/26/2002

I'm sorry to disagree, but that is the point. If international law is held to one party, and not to another, it no longer is a binding law. You say that just because one party doesn't abide, it doesn't mean the other party can't be held to it; but with that violation the law is unenforcable and void. This is the trouble with International law and International courts; a morally correct concept is quickly subverted to political arguments and soon the laws themselves are used to immoral ends and nullified.

There is no penalty to the Arabs in refusing resettlement or compensation the the Jews, so Israel sees no incentive for the arabs to negotiate the point, and the Arabs continue to take the hard line on right of return.

"But as I said, these political realities do not alter the demands of the law or diminish the right of Palestinian refugees to ultimately return to their homes."

Nor would it diminish the right of Jewish exiles to compensation from the Arab countries, but it won't happen.


J. Bartlett - 4/25/2002

Professor Stowe provides a sober and realistic assessment of Mideast realities. This is vastly more productive than the competitive denunciations between Israelis and Palestinians so prominently featured in the American news media lately (as if whichever side achieves the greatest decibel level in shouting down the other might win the contest for American sympathy).

I wonder though, whether "occidental" fantasies or "oriental" intractability are the most serious stumbling blocks to Mideast peace and stability. There is little sign of “oriental” reticence towards accepting "occidental" money or weaponry or in tapping "occidental" news media outlets to influence "occidental" opinion. The biggest western fantasy probably rests not upon the premise that peace is possible, but that it can be achieved without cost, without paying more for gasoline in America, or doing anything that might jeopardize relations with suppliers of cheap oil, or disrupting any political log-rolling in the U.S. Congress, or paying any more attention to extremism within Israeli politics than the French paid to extremists in their recent election.

Comment - 4/25/2002

The suspicion of those of us who live and work in Israel is that those outside, especially in the US,
view the Middle East in terms appropriate for a dispute between two members of the European Union. Robert
Toplin certainly does. Yes, he is correct that the Arab demand for a right of return (there were
originally no more than 750,000 refugees, by the way, not millions) is a myth, and he is correct that the
settlements policy of Israel must change. After that, he has missed the point, not to mention that when
he speaks of Palestinian lands, he would do well to refer to the UN Partition plan of 1947, which did
draw Palestinian borders--even if this would drive everybody crazy today, but, then, the Arab countries
rejected these borders from the start--not the 1967 cease-fire lines, for in that case he should speak
(technically) of Jordanian occupied territories (in 1948) that Israel took under its control in 1967.
The crux in the Middle East--apart from the small size of the eventual Palestinian State, about 5,000
sq. km.--is the unwillingness of so many on either side to give up fantasies of controlling everything.
The Palestinians still want to make all of Israel disappear; the Israeli settler movement views things
messianically. It is no small matter that Islamic sites on the Web mix Islam, anti-Zionist propaganda,
and anti-Semitic materials together as though the link is integral. Is it? Israel's Benny Elon and the
National Religious Party speak of the Biblical right to the Land, an idea that is OK for dreaming, not
living. Of course, if Israel can host a 19% Arab population, then the Palestinian State should be ready
to host some Jews, certainly in today's terms of multi-ethnic presence. But the Palestinians do not want
any Jews; and the Jews there (settlers) would not accept, as they should, Palestinian citizenship or any
form of Palestinian control.
Is the problem open to a resolution. Likely not. But whatever the case, at least it should be
described in real terms, not ones that create an additional fantasy, the fantasy of rational, occidental
resolution. Of fantasy in and about the Middle East we already have enough.
Kenneth Stow
Professor of Jewish History
University of Haifa

Robert Harbison - 4/25/2002

What does Nazi theft from European Jews have to do with the Palestinians right to live in a country that that was THEIRS for almost TWO THOUSAND YEARS? If you feel that something needs to be done petition the German Governament to give back candlabras and paintings. But this is irrelevant to the right of return. The Israelis have it, why should the Palestinians not?

Rob Harbison
MA Candidate

Jacob Goldfinger - 4/25/2002


Other nations' violations of the rights of Jewish refugees does not give Israel the right to violate the rights of Palestinian refugees. It never has.

There are certain issues that can be resolved between Israelis and Palestinians alone. The right to return will require action on the part of other Arab nations to be fully resolved.

But as I said, these political realities do not alter the demands of the law or diminish the right of Palestinian refugees to ultimately return to their homes.

Chris Messner - 4/25/2002

"Israel pushed them out and created the refugees in 1948"

The vast majority were not pushed out by the Israelis; many voluntarily left, thinking the ywould come back when the Jews were defeated (didn't happen). Others were induced to leave by the Arab forces, either to shut down city services or to get out of the way of the Arab armies. There are cases where the Israelis did forcibly move Arab citizens, but this is small compared to the rest. So the 'refugees' for the most part created themselves or were a product of the Arab forces.

"So there they fester in refugee camps."

Camps supposedly administered by the UN, who could care less until the Israelis attack them beause of the terrorists they shelter. As to economic issues, look to Arafat and the PA. I couldn't think of another organization that receives such massive aid, per capita, than the PA does from Europe, the US, and various Arab nations. What happens to the money? Infrastructure? Jobs? Economic development? No, Arafat feeds his retirement accounts, buys arms from the Iranians, and funds Hamas, Fatah and the other extremists.

Back in 1967, maybe Israel should have claimed their 'responsibility', as you put it, and annexed the conquered territories. But instead the UN and the Arabs railed against the occupation, and Israel treated the areas as occupied, instead of part of Israel. Sure would have been better for them, and the Arab citizens thus created. Arafat wouldn't have had anything then, other than his attaks on Jordan and Lebanon.

"The Arabs reply, "You, Israel, created the problem."

What isn't added is "by existing". The territory was designated for TWO nations, an Arab nation and a Jewish nation. The Jewish nation was created, the Arab nation wasn't. Why? Because Egypt and Jordan seized the lands, and refused to allow the nation to be created. And the Palestinians at that time didn't really care; after all, the Jews were about to be driven into the sea anyway. Of course, it didn't quite turn out that way, and here we are.

Stop putting the reward before the behavior, btw. Without an end to terror, there will be no peace. Rebuild before the terror is renounced, and the terror will continue.


Chris Messner - 4/25/2002


Do you tuly believe that Libya, Egypt, and Iraq are going to take back the Jews they exiled as part of the ongoing mideast troubles? According to your citations, this would also have to happen, and if it didn't all bets are off. I don't think compensation would even be offered.


Patricia Jennings - 4/24/2002

I agree with Diane, also, what about the 900,000 Jews that were living in Arab lands before 1948 who were expelled from their lands? Not only do they not have the right to return but they were never compensated for their loss. This should not be forgotten in the negotiations!

Jacob Goldfinger - 4/24/2002

* The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 13 (2));
* Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees;
* U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 (III): "11. ...refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date...";
* the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 12);
* See also, U.N. Human Rights Committee General Comment on Art. 12 of the ICCPR.

Refugees may integrate locally in their countries of residence, or they may settle in a new nation if there is eventually a Palestinian state. But these options do not extinguish the right to return. The law is easy here. The politics are complicated.

As long as Palestinians remain second-class citizens in Arab countries, the right of return will continue to be a sticking point.

Diane Anderson - 4/24/2002

As translated by CNN, the Saudi plan states that "The summit rejects all forms of resettlement of Palestinians which conflicts with the special circumstances in the Arab host countries."

So if the Palestinian Arabs don't go to 1948 Israel, where can they go? I think these are code words that negate your reasonable interpretation that there should be some sort of financial settlement.

I think this is a PR ploy rather than any real change in Arab views. If the Arab League really wanted to negotiate, why didn't they take up Sharon on his offer to visit the summit in Beirut?

Diane Anderson - 4/24/2002

There have been resettlements of populations throughout history, including after World War II.

If the Palestinians have an "absolute" right, what about the European Jews whose property was stolen during World War II?

I believe the Israelis would be willing to give up most of the settlements if they could really achieve a peace. But it seems that negotiation or compromise is viewed as a sign of weakness. The Israelis pulled out of Lebanon, but they're still getting shelled from there.

Arafat's lack of even a counter-offer to the last round of negotiations at Camp David and Taba is getting a lot of revisionist history. To me it shows that he never was serious about the *peace process.*

Jacob Goldfinger - 4/24/2002

International law offers very clear answers to the intractable issues preventing peace between Israel and Palestinians. The settlements are unambiguously illegal. And the right of return, for those Palestinians with ties to land in Israel, is absolute.

But politics requires not just doing the right thing, but doing it at the right time and for the right reasons. Israel will not dismantle settlements in response to terrorism (although building should have stopped long ago). Israel also cannot be expected to recognize the right to return while nothing is done about laws in Arab nations that relegate Palestinians to second-class status. The intent seems to be to undermine Israel's existence. To be fair, the Palestinians themselves never suggested that the right of return was the most important issue.

What is abundantly clear is that neither side can be trusted to enforce the law. Israel cannot attack Palestinian refugee camps and pursue a peace plan at the same time. The Palestinians similarly cannot crack down on terrorism and resist Israeli attacks while simultaneously negotiating a settlement. These are incompatible goals. Nobody outside the region can impose a settlement.

It is up to the United States and international community to impose a peace in the occupied territories that makes it possible for the two sides to talk peace. They very clearly cannot and will not do it themselves.

bakho - 4/23/2002

Palestinians are a "problem" that all sides just would prefer to ignore. Israel pushed them out and created the refugees in 1948, then swallowed them whole in 1967. Israel cannot make Palestinians citizens or the Jews would be out voted. Neighboring Arab countries don't want Palestinians or can't absorb them. So there they fester in refugee camps.

Israel complains to the Arabs, "They are your brothers. Why don't you use your oil money to help them?" The Arabs reply, "You, Israel, created the problem. You need to solve it." So the plight of a people is reduced to a running debate over the last 3 decades.

It is time for the US and its ally Israel to put up or get out. An independent Palestine without a thriving economy will always be a threat to Israel because they will have nothing to lose. A thriving Palestine that can be damaged by military attacks will keep the rogue elements under control. The US and Israel need to re-channel money from the Israeli military and start improving the lives of the Palestinians. The Israelis need to stop building settlements for Israelis and start building infrastructure and housing for the Palestinians. If Israel insists an controlling all of Palestine, they cannot be allowed to ignore the needs of the neediest people under its occupation. Israel and the US are 3 decades behind in their abandonment of THEIR RESPONSIBILITY. They assumed their responsibility when they conquered the territory in 1967. The US and Israel have not lived up to their responsibility. They need to start the rebuilding now. Without rebuilding, there will be no peace.

Lance Gay - 4/23/2002

I, too, like the tone of this article as opposed to others recently. But:
1. Suggest you take a second look at the text of the Saudi peace plan, which speaks only of a "just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem" rather than invoking the traditional drumbeat of right of return. The Palestians certainly still talk about right of return, but the Arab League, in embracing this language last month, seems to open the door towards some monetary settlement that will buy off Palestinian land claims _ a big change in Arab views on this very controversial issue.

2. You say "The Israelis have created a unique map for Palestine that is unlike the design of any independent state in the world..." etc. Not so unique, considering Russia continues to own Kaliningrad, and has rights from Poland of use of the highways/rail system to go through Polish lands to get there.

J. Bartlett - 4/22/2002

This column is a welcome relief from recent polemics which have threatened to turn the History News Network into the Propaganda Broadside Network. Nevertheless, Professor Toplin's creative dichotomy doesn't quite work.

Undoubtedly, the Holy Land would be much improved if the warring parties there were to agree to dismantle West Bank settlements in exchange for abandoning the right of return. But even if this trial balloon flies, its basic trajectory produces an uneasy queasiness. Palestinians are surely fantasizing if they think 5 million of them are going to squeeze back into Israel proper. But the Israeli settlements are more than just fantasy, they actually exist and are doing what they were designed to do: erode the feasibility of "land for peace".

What Toplin's tradeoff basically boils down to is: "You do something nice (renounce the right of return) and we'll stop doing something bad (building monstrously ugly compounds on occupied land). This is not as awful as for instance, "remove your checkpoints and we'll stop suicide-bombing your supermarkets", but it has a similar air of asymmetric unreality.

Here's an alternative approach. Instead of "do something nice and we'll stop doing something atrocious", how about flipping that tradeoff into: "Stop doing something atrocious and we'll do something nice" ? For example, the U.S., EU, and whoever else wants to join them, could (if their leaders had a bit of political backbone) take the following stance: "Unequivocally renounce the right to blow up each other's civilians whenever you feel like it and we will restore the aid and funding we have suspended, for human rights reasons, to double the previous level."