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The right of return is for individuals to decide, not for Abbas to concede

Yet again, we hear that President Mahmoud Abbas has more or less conceded the lawful right for Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. Last year he told Israelis that although he would like to visit his birthplace in Safed, which is now in Israel, he did not expect to live there. Now he has told a group of Israelis visiting Ramallah that he has no wish to "drown the Jewish character" of Israel with returning refugees. This is an astonishing thing for him to say because its implications are so serious.

For a start, let us make it clear that the right to return is an individual right so it is not within the Palestinian Authority leader's power to concede it on behalf of anyone other than himself. It may be that he was well aware of that when he signalled his own reluctance to return to Safed but his latest statement is worrying for the millions of refugees festering in squalid UN-run camps around the region.

One journalist said that Abbas's comments "seemed to signal a significant concession on the so-called right of return – the Palestinian demand that several million descendants of 700,000 refugees expelled during Israel's 1948 war of independence be allowed to go back to their homes." For the benefit of the Daily Telegraph's Robert Tait, it should be remembered that the right to return is not a "Palestinian demand", it is enshrined in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 dated 11 December 1948: "…refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date…" Israel's membership of the UN was conditional inter alia on it implementing this resolution, something which, of course, it has never done.

Israel's unilateral "Declaration of Independence" of 1948 is clear that it was established as "the Jewish State in Palestine". Among other things, the founding document insists that Israel "will loyally uphold the principles of the United Nations Charter", among which is a commitment to implement resolutions; Israel has ignored more UN resolutions than it has ever implemented.

This "Jewish State" was recognised implicitly by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1993 when the former "terrorist" group came in from the cold and recognised Israel's "right to exist". That being the case, it must be asked why Benjamin Netanyahu is insisting on Palestinian recognition of the "Jewish character" of Israel as a pre-condition for a peace agreement.

Experience shows that Israel is an expansionist state; it has never declared its borders and has grown exponentially ever since it was created. Indeed, even by then it had morphed itself from the "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine mentioned in the infamous Balfour Declaration of 1917 to a "Jewish State" by 1948. The land it occupied by the 1949 armistice was greater in area than the allocation of the UN Partition Plan of 1947; this was increased yet again when Israel launched the Six-Day War in 1967 and occupied all of historic Palestine. While not occupying the Gaza Strip physically since 2005, Israel controls its borders, territorial waters and air space; it is an occupation legally and in all but name. As the "negotiations" (a euphemism for Palestinian concessions) drag on for 20 years and counting, Israel creates more facts on the ground, grabbing ever more land for its illegal settlements, settler-only roads, military zones and "nature reserves". I think that it is fair to say that Israel's leaders have no intention whatsoever of giving up any land upon which Jews are now living as they push to create "Eretz Israel", the Greater Israel that is Zionism's dream.

Recognition of the "Jewish character" of Israel will give it the green light to complete the ethnic cleansing started in 1948, with the 20 per cent of non-Jewish Israeli citizens being "transferred" to the rump statelet of Palestine that may or may not come into being; ideally, from a Zionist perspective, the transfer won't end there and life will be made so miserable for Palestinians in the West Bank that they will cross into what many Israelis already call the state of Palestine; the rest of us know this as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This is the "alternative homeland" scenario dreaded by Palestinians who have no wish to leave their historic homeland.

Israel will cite "security" concerns in order to get its way, though, and willing dupes like US Secretary of State John Kerry, ever-ready to do the pro-Israel Lobby's bidding, will put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to concede even more than it has already. This includes agreement to a strong Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, so that an "independent state of Palestine" will be nothing of the sort; it will have an army of occupation on its territory from Day One.

Once Israel is cleared of the "demographic time-bomb" of its Palestinian citizens it can claim, with hand on heart, that it is indeed both Jewish and democratic in nature. Fear of being an obvious apartheid state with a democratic façade is genuine; Jewish students in America are already being coached about how to defend the case for declaring a Jewish state while basically disenfranchising 1-in-5 of Israel's citizens and implementing a raft of discriminatory laws.

That is why Mahmoud Abbas needs to wake from his stupor and understand that while he is free to give up his own right of return, he has no right whatsoever to concede that right for all Palestinian refugees. Israel and its Western backers will, of course, continue to ignore the UN resolutions in any case and so won't mind that the legal niceties are chewed up and spat out as long as what Israel wants, Israel gets. But that will never produce a just and lasting peace in the region. Maybe that doesn't bother the military-industrial complex upon which Israel is so reliant; it certainly won't bother the neoconservatives running America. Their plans for the Middle East don't include a state of Palestine; they want to see US-Israeli hegemony at any cost.

More than anything else, Abbas's ill-advised statements demonstrate the ridiculous nature of the whole peace process, which is producing neither peace nor much of a process at the moment. The one-state solution is being talked about in all sorts of circles these days, as more and more people realise and accept that two-states are a non-starter. If the message can get through to Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies in Ramallah on board the Palestinian Authority gravy train, maybe peace will have a chance after all.

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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