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Maintaining illusions of equality during negotiations

Echoing previous statements regarding Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to recognise the Palestinian right of return, Israeli government officials have declared their refusal of “a symbolic acceptance of the so-called right of return”. A report by the Chinese news agency Xinhua states that US Secretary of State John Kerry had proposed the return of 80,000 Palestinian refugees to Israel.


Israeli officials reacted to the news, stating that: “In the framework of two states for two peoples, those Palestinians who want to return to the Palestinian state will be able to do so, but the idea that Israel will take in any of the grandchildren of people who fled the fighting in 1948 is simply a non-starter.” Last Sunday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared that Israel would face immense pressure if Palestinian descendants, whom Israel does not recognise as refugees, were allowed the possibility of return.

In conforming to the recent propaganda regarding alleged Palestinian incitement against Israel, comments on social media likened the proposed return of a small number of refugees to incitement against the Zionist state. Such statements are conveniently oblivious of the fact that the creation and recognition of the settler-colonial state constitute the initial tangible incitement that paved the way for legitimate Palestinian resistance.

Within the framework of negotiations, symbolism retains precedence over a comprehensive discussion of Palestinian rights and Israeli accountability. Israel, together with the US as a biased mediator, is seeking to safeguard the Zionist settler-colonial state to the detriment of distorting the definition of peace. The Palestinian right of return, Jerusalem, security concerns and borders are mentioned as key issues for further negotiation. According to the Jerusalem Post, the core issues will be presented to Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, to check “where one side is willing to show flexibility on one issue, which might then lead to the other side showing flexibility on another”. However, discussing these issues within the portrayed illusion of equality between both parties only serves to allow further leniency to Israel in its efforts to minimise any possibility of Palestinians working towards tangible recognition and self-determination.

Symbolism for Israel is ingrained within the Zionist social imaginary to erroneously validate its claims to national identity. For Palestinians, whose reality has been disfigured by colonisation, discussions pertaining to the right of return go beyond symbolic or perfunctory gestures to appease the population.

The negotiations remain intentionally detached from the history of colonisation which has ravaged Palestine. With Israel and the US seeking to prioritise cooperation and foreign policy to further their imperialism, Palestine remains sidelined as a less significant negotiating partner, yet expected to acquiesce to Israel’s demand for recognition of the settler-colonial state as a Jewish state. Kerry has been hailed by Lieberman as consistent about Israel’s demands for Jewish recognition. The more profound consistency lies in the complicity of colonialists and imperialists in attempting to negotiate further appropriation while disassociating themselves from the history and violations. Without adequate recognition of the oppression which Palestinians have endured, the negotiations will bequeath insignificant fragments of compensation to Palestinians while implementing further expansion of Israel’s settler-colonial state.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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