Cutting through the bullshit.

Wednesday, 9 August 2006

Palestinian diaspora

This morning I noticed an interesting article on ZNet, entitled ‘Palestinian Diaspora Is Cause of Conflict’ by Gary Olson, ‘chair of the Political Science Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA’.

The plight of the refugees, some of whom have been living in squalid refugee camps for 58 years, is central to the issue of Palestine and I was very pleased to see someone raise it. The last two paragraphs of the article, however, prompted me to write to Professor Olson.

Dear Professor Olson,

Thank you for raising the little discussed issue of the Nakba and the Palestinian diaspora, which I found at

In this context, it was a little surprising to read, ‘There are courageous and highly principled dissenters in Israel who do not have a moral blind spot where their government is concerned.’ While this is certainly the case, I think it would have been useful to note that even among those dissenters, very few indeed have relinquished their moral blind spot when it comes the founding principles of Zionism and Israel’s ‘right to exist’ as a Jewish state.

You go on to write, ‘The solution is to end the Israeli occupation and face up to the fundemental 1948 issues’. As I think the earlier paragraphs make abundantly clear, foremost among the fundamental 1948 issues is the refugees’ right of return. Israel has insisted that it can never countenance implementation of UN General Assembly resolution 194, much less just redress for the refugees, as it would eventuate in ‘national suicide’. I believe they intend this to be interpreted in terms of their mantra, widely internalized and assumed by the media, that ‘the Arabs want to drive all the Jews into the sea’. But at a more mundane level, what it means is that an influx of returning refugees and their descendants would undermine the project of establishing a Jewish majority, and this is one of the few areas where I concur with their view. I depart from them, however, in evaluating this prospect. Specifically, if justice for the refugees spells the end of a sectarian Jewish colonial settler state intended to act and in reality acting as a bastion of European imperialism in the Middle East, that would benefit everybody, not least those condemned to live with the racism at the heart of Zionism.

Clearly, among the steps that will inevitably form part of a lasting solution are those you specify, ‘Palestinian land occupied in 1967 must be relinquished, the Apartheid Wall dismantled, some 9,800 kidnapped Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli jails released, Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah must be freed’.

But you go on to write, ‘a fair division of Jerusalem negotiated and equal rights for all recognized at an international conference.’ A division of Jerusalem suggests that it be divided between two (or more?) jurisdictions. I gather from this that you envisage some kind of partition of Mandatory Palestine into separate Jewish and Palestinian states. In my view, a truly economically and politically viable state comprising the West Bank and Gaza has never been feasible for a number of reasons, particularly the impossibility of securing the corridor between the two enclaves from Israeli interference. But more importantly, a just solution to the refugee crisis precludes the existence of a Jewish state, as I argued just now.

Regarding Jerusalem itself, even the 1947 partition resolution, a poorly thought out concept in principle and a downright atrocity in light of the disastrous partition of India just three months earlier, provided, ‘The City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations.’ That has always struck me as the most sensible aspect of 181 and probably remains a fairly good idea.

In light of the consistent failure of international conferences, including the UNGA and the UNSC, to guarantee anything resembling equal rights for all, it’s not clear that the one proposed in your piece will contribute to a resolution.

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