In an op ed in the “Comment is Free” section of The Guardian online, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon argues that “Jewish refugees must not be neglected in peace talks.”
The negotiations for a final status resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflict are not merely about the creation of two states for two peoples; they are about historic reconciliation, justice, peace and security. There is also the issue of redress, and the Jews who were forced out or expelled from Arab lands are deserving of that.
It’s a familiar argument, which I’ve addressed before. Among other things, in rejecting Palestinian refugee return Ayalon points to a March 2010 decision of European Court of Human Rights which dismissed any notion of an ongoing legal right of return for Greek Cypriot refugees displaced from Northern Cyprus in 1974. Of course, the Cypriot case is a bit of a double-edged sword, since others might point to Article 3 of the (failed) 2004 United Nations plan for a political settlement —the Annan Plan—which did provide for a limited right of refugees to return, within the context of a reunited, federal Cyprus.
That’s not what really caught my eye, however. Rather, I was struck by this:
It is also worth considering how deep-rooted the refugees were in their respective lands. British colonial officials in the early part of the 20th century estimated that the Arab immigration from neighbouring states into mandatory Palestine was “considerable”. CS Jarvis, governor of Sinai from 1923-36, said in 1937: “This illegal immigration was not only going on from the Sinai, but also from Trans-Jordan and Syria.”
So while many of the Palestinian refugees were newcomers and fresh economic migrants, the Jewish refugees by contrast were being pushed out of the lands that they had lived in for thousands of years, predating even Islam and the subsequent Arab invasion and occupation of the region, which placed on all non-Muslims a dhimmi or subjugated status. [emphasis added]
It would seem that Ayalon is asserting that the Palestinian refugees aren’t really Palestinian, or somehow not Palestinian enough.
Certainly, there was some Arab immigration from other former parts of the Ottoman Empire during the period of the British Mandate. Most would accept, however, that it represented only a rather small part of the Palestinian population. Moreover, one’s right not to be forcibly displaced and dispossessed doesn’t somehow require multi-generational presence, does it? This is especially the case, one might add, when the Section 1.C.3.1 of UNGAR 181—the November 1947 UN Partition Resolution that gave birth to the state of Israel—explicitly recognized all residents (legal or illegal, immigrant or locally born) as citizens. Had it not done so, the large number of Jewish illegal immigrants in Palestine would have been stateless and without rights. Ironically, therefore, the logic of Ayalon’s effort to delegitimize Palestinian refugee claims would equally weaken Israel’s claim to statehood—which I’m sure was not his intention.
Of course, we’ve recently had some Palestinian Authority officials—with equally deep historical insight—arguing that Jews have no real historical or religious attachment to the Temple Mount or Western Wall. Sigh.
…none of which suggests that—left to the parties—a productive peace process is likely any time soon.