For those who still plan to “liberate Palestine from the river to the sea,” so went President Mahmoud Abbas’s statement about not returning to Safad. But what he said could be a great crime; historically, Palestine is all “ours” and the returnees should be able to choose any place to live.
For those, Israel, with all its power, nuclear arsenal, close links to the West, and international recognition, is nothing but an insignificant detail.
As for those who support the two-state solution, they know that Abbas has never crossed a certain line that extended from the PLO declaration of the “10 points” or the “local program” in the mid-1970s to Madrid in 1991 then Oslo in 1993. If it is true that Abbas’s statements meant abandoning the “right of return,” then such a stance should have been announced following a long series of negotiations rather than be offered on a silver platter like Abbas did.
Most importantly, the “right of return” is not equivalent to the two-state solution, especially as far as demographics are concerned. It will be extremely naïve of us to assume that Israel would accept the return of five to six million Palestinians, who are Arabs and Muslims, to live amongst them. This is an illusion that basically undermines the two-state solution and will eventually eliminate it, especially with the astounding demographic imbalance in favor of Arabs that is bound to happen if the “right to return” is granted.
In a region that is unable to solve the problem of Kirkuk and decide whether it is Arab, Kurdish, or Turkic, the return of Palestinians to the Palestine of 1948 is as diabolic as it is naïve since it would never lead to peace and will never put an end to the suffering of Palestinians.
We are not even sure that the Palestinians of 1948 would want to “return” to place to which they are only linked with a few songs and even those are gradually diminishing, for they have now become Syrian or Lebanese or Jordanian more than they are Palestinians. This is of course unless there is some eternal Palestinian essence inside them and which is never affected by historic factors and altering circumstances and this is another illusion.
Palestinians who wake every morning thinking of nothing except liberation and return do not exist. What do exist are regular human beings who think of carrying a passport, making a living, and educating their children.
Mahmoud Abbas was probably brave enough to admit that it is a myth. He knows more than all of us that Palestinians are weak and is aware that the division between Gaza and the West Bank is more than a “brotherly” misunderstanding between Hamas and Fatah. Over and above, Arabs are more concerned now with their domestic affairs than with the Palestinian cause and they are investing all their energy in that. In the meantime, Israel is becoming more arrogant and extremist, therefore more inflexible.
As for those who want to “liberate Palestine from the river to the sea,” we and Abbas know that they have no tools to do so except the Iranian-made Ayoub drones.
(The writer is a columnist at the London-based al-Hayat, where this article was published on Nov. 6, 2012)