Olmert on negotiating the refugee issue

Posted: June 23, 2013 by Rex Brynen in Israel, peace process, right of return
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I recently came across videos of two talks by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in which he discusses the resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue. Both are quite interesting.

The first of these (posted below) arises from comments he made to the Hudson Society in March 2013 or so. The former PM is given a somewhat leading question that seems to be designed to elicit criticism of the Palestinians:

Do you believe that the Palestinians really believe in the “right of return,” and if not why do they keep pushing the issue instead of preparing [their] population [for] what they need to do, as no Israeli or American leader would ever agree to a “right of return?”

In his reply, however, Olmert argues that he believes the Palestinian leadership to be realistic on the issue. He then proceeds to tout his own proposal for very limited symbolic return of 5,000 Palestinian refugees to Israel, coupled with apparently unlimited absorption within a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and compensation to both Palestinian and Jewish refugees. Certainly, this falls short of the Palestinian position. However, it does forcefully undermine the twin notions that 1) the issue is unsolvable, and that 2) the Palestinians are fundamentally intransigent on the issue. He even manages to get in a positive mention of the Arab League peace initiative, correctly noting that it effectively provides Israel with a veto over refugee arrangements.

Olmert also refuses to get drawn into a sustained condemnation of the Palestinian leadership for failing to prepare their people for possible future compromises. Instead, he responds by highlighting the failure of successive Israeli governments to adequately prepare Israelis for the necessity and value of withdrawing from the Palestinian territories.

The second clip (also posted below) is from a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in March 2012. Here he criticizes the notion that Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state should be considered a prerequisite for peace negotiations (2:15), and also discusses how the refugee issue might be resolved (3:21).

None of this, of course, means that any progress should be expected on the refugee issue under the present adverse political circumstances.

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