Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Borders or existence?

Bernard Lewis is not optimistic about the prospects for some sort of settlement at Annopolis. Is it a question of borders, or a question of existence?

A good example of how this problem affects negotiation is the much-discussed refugee question. During the fighting in 1947-1948, about three-fourths of a million Arabs fled or were driven (both are true in different places) from Israel and found refuge in the neighboring Arab countries. In the same period and after, a slightly greater number of Jews fled or were driven from Arab countries, first from the Arab-controlled part of mandatory Palestine (where not a single Jew was permitted to remain), then from the Arab countries where they and their ancestors had lived for centuries, or in some places for millennia. Most Jewish refugees found their way to Israel.

What happened was thus, in effect, an exchange of populations not unlike that which took place in the Indian subcontinent in the previous year, when British India was split into India and Pakistan. Millions of refugees fled or were driven both ways -- Hindus and others from Pakistan to India, Muslims from India to Pakistan. Another example was Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, when the Soviets annexed a large piece of eastern Poland and compensated the Poles with a slice of eastern Germany. This too led to a massive refugee movement -- Poles fled or were driven from the Soviet Union into Poland, Germans fled or were driven from Poland into Germany.

The Poles and the Germans, the Hindus and the Muslims, the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, all were resettled in their new homes and accorded the normal rights of citizenship. More remarkably, this was done without international aid. The one exception was the Palestinian Arabs in neighboring Arab countries.

The government of Jordan granted Palestinian Arabs a form of citizenship, but kept them in refugee camps. In the other Arab countries, they were and remained stateless aliens without rights or opportunities, maintained by U.N. funding. Paradoxically, if a Palestinian fled to Britain or America, he was eligible for naturalization after five years, and his locally-born children were citizens by birth. If he went to Syria, Lebanon or Iraq, he and his descendants remained stateless, now entering the fourth or fifth generation.

The reason for this has been stated by various Arab spokesmen. It is the need to preserve the Palestinians as a separate entity until the time when they will return and reclaim the whole of Palestine; that is to say, all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel. The demand for the "return" of the refugees, in other words, means the destruction of Israel. This is highly unlikely to be approved by any Israeli government.


Hazar Nesimi said...

The question is simple - do both sides want to return on the previously lived in lands. In case of Jews (who assimilated into their host countries) this is clearly not the case but not so with stateless Palestinians. If they were allowed to get citizenship they would have become other Arabs - easily, and thus not raise grievance. This satisfies Israeli needs and thus is opposed.

Take Azerbaijan and Armenia who are at war. We had a major population exchange accompanied by ethnic cleansing on all sides and also up to a million internally displaced persons from occupied territories, mostly rural people. The refugees lost all hope of returning to Armenia and occupied territories . While being granted a refugee status they still have Az. citizenship - but nw they have pretty much been settled in cities, where they enjoy completely different lifestyle. In case of conflict resolutionof them will want to return to previous places of inhabitance - they are already saying so - and government will have a resettlement problem on their hands.

Hazar Nesimi said...

I meant to say - they WILL not want to resettle