It is a compelling story: a thirteen-year-old boy, whose family was forced from home as wartime refugees, still yearning more than six decades later to return.
It is also a familiar story: exile and the yearning for return, after all, are embedded in the memory of the Jewish people. Precisely that yearning framed Zionism and the birth of Israel. Indeed, Jewish history and geography are so compelling that Palestinians enthusiastically embrace them.
The thirteen-year-old boy was Mahmoud Abbas. Writing in The New York Times (May 17), the Palestinian Authority president claimed Palestine as “our homeland.” But he neglected to say why “our Palestinian state remains a promise unfulfilled.” It is because Palestinian leaders have persistently rejected every proposal for a two-state solution since 1922 and have repeatedly gone to war to prevent it.
Abbas reiterated familiar Palestinian tropes with a new twist. Following the UN partition recommendation of 1947, he asserted, “Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future State of Israel, and Arab armies intervened.”
That is exactly backward.
It was the Arab invasion (“intervention”?) not “Zionist forces,” which triggered the war in 1948 that impelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee from their homes. Indeed, thirty-five years ago Abbas himself acknowledged (in the official PLO journal) that invading “Arab armies,” entering Palestine, “forced [his family] to emigrate and to leave their homeland.”
The day before Abbas’s op-ed appeared, Prime Minister Netanyahu reminded the Knesset that the “root of this conflict never was a Palestinian state, or lack thereof. [It] is, and always has been, their refusal to recognize the Jewish state. It is not a conflict over 1967, but over 1948, over the very existence of the State of Israel.”
Netanyahu firmly stated Israeli peace terms: the Palestinian Authority (with its recently restored partner Hamas) must recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish nation. The Palestinian refugee problem, manipulated to bludgeon Israel for sixty-three years, must be solved outside Israel’s borders. Any peace treaty must safeguard Israel’s security, with Jerusalem as its united capital.
Natanyahu did not itemize the “painful concessions” required of Israel, but they were immediately evident. He insisted that (unidentified) “settlement blocs” must remain part of Israel, but that would leave 120,000 Jewish settlers living outside the “blocs” to face expulsion from their homes.
Implicit in their removal would be Israel’s relinquishment – forever – of all but a tiny sliver of Judea and Samaria. That aligns Netanyahu with the Israeli secular left, which has insisted that all claims to the biblical homeland be ceded to the Palestinians.
Among the Israelis implicitly slated for expulsion by Netanyahu’s exemption are the residents of Elon Moreh, where God promised Abraham, “To your descendants I will give this land.” Their exodus would be shared by the inhabitants of nearby Shilo, site of the sanctuary for the Ark of the Covenant, brought from Sinai after the exodus from Egypt; residents of Beit El, where Jacob dreamed of the angels; and the Jews of Hebron, the oldest Jewish city in the land of Israel, where the tombs of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs are located.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Knesset critics responded furiously to his settlement “bloc” statement. National Union party chairman Ya’akov Katz decried the prospect of the prime minister “drawing up a list of who will be expelled and who will not.” Likud leader Danny Danon suggested that Israel consider extending its jurisdiction over all Jewish settlements and uninhabited land in the West Bank.
MK Tzipi Hotovely reminded Netanyahu that a return to 1967 borders would also mean the repartitioning of Jerusalem, without the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, or the Old City remaining inside Israel. Left unsaid was that any attempt to forcibly evacuate 120,000 Jews would provoke a violent, perhaps irreparable, rupture.
But it was President Obama’s May 19 speech that blew the lid off the land-for-peace pot. “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state,” he warned – echoing the mantra of Jeremy Ben-Ami’s J Street – “cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.” Then came the clincher: “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”