Thursday, August 25, 2011

Right of return revisited

The debate on the term return to 'an ancient homeland,' whether on the Zionist definition of the land or on the Palestinian definition, exposes an abyss between the two national movements fighting over the country.

Salman Masalha

Right of return revisited

A political tsunami is expected in September, the politicians keep warning us. Obviously the recognition of Palestinian statehood, if adopted, is expected to yank the rug from under the feet of the refugees who were raised on the dream of returning to the fig tree, the spring and the village that no longer exist.

Don't forget, the Palestinians who broke through the fence in the Golan and those who demonstrated near the Lebanese border on Nakba Day were not demonstrating only against Israel. They were demonstrating first and foremost against the Palestinian Authority. That's because all the PA's recent efforts have been focused on a United Nations debate on the request to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

The change in the Palestinian leadership's approach to the "right of return" is reflected in Mahmoud Abbas' statement at an education and culture forum that gathered in Ramallah in May. Abbas announced "the Palestinian leadership will never give up the right of return. The return to the homeland is our final destination to end the life of dispersal as refugees."

To avoid any vagueness he said "the return is in practice, not a slogan."

"Palestine is ours, and whoever comes from the north, the center or the south and lives anywhere in it is in fact living in the homeland."

Abbas gave an example from his own life. "When I return to Ramallah or Nablus I have my foot in the homeland," he said.

His words were not mentioned for some reason in the Hebrew-language media. Apart from a brief report, the Arab media didn't mention them either.

Only Dr. Faiz Abu Shamala of Gaza commented that Abbas' statement was "a political Palestinian eclipse." Shamala said he was astonished "such dangerous declarations are evoking no reaction from the Palestinian factions" and wondered "is the right of return, on Nakba Day, diminished to the return to Gaza and the West Bank?"

He mocked Abbas, saying "if the return to Palestine meant return to Gaza and the West Bank, UNRWA's work should have been stopped, as millions of refugees in camps in Gaza and the West Bank are thus implementing their dream of return."

Shamala took the trouble to explain to Abbas the real meaning of return. "The right of return, as every Palestinian Arab understands it, is Abbas' return to Safed and Yasser Abed Rabbo's return to Jaffa. That is the right that must continue nestling in the soul, even if the current political circumstances require an agreement on a Palestinian state in the 1948 cease-fire borders."

In this case, the debate on the term return to "an ancient homeland," whether on the Zionist definition of the land or on the Palestinian definition, exposes an abyss between the two national movements fighting over the bleeding country. The collision is between two completely different national approaches and two completely different worlds.

So even if a Palestinian state is established in the West Bank and Gaza, there is no chance the refugees will implement the "right of return" in it. Because unlike the Zionist "homeland" perception, the Palestinian refugees will not see the Palestinian state as a "homeland" but as another stop on the voyage of the refugees.

It is fortunate for the Palestinians that the Israeli government is rightist and recalcitrant. Because if Israel had an "analytical" government it would certainly have prepared a surprise for the world and voted in favor of Palestinian statehood in the UN in September. This would have turned the entire dispute on its head.
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Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, 25 August 2011

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