A Palestinian ‘right of return’ to Israel could mean Jews ending up as a persecuted minority, one diplomat says
Last Wednesday, the Dail, the majority of whose members had spent the day trying to ignore a very large crowd who were outside trying to speak to them, voted unanimously to call on the Government to recognise the state of Palestine.
A well-intentioned motion, one would think. Who could oppose self-determination for such a victimised people as the Palestinians? Recently, I asked this very question of Israeli diplomat Dr Einat Wilf, who was visiting Ireland. Einat is exactly the kind of politician I like: tough, intelligent, feminist, left-leaning, atheist and a supporter of the Israeli-Palestine two-state solution.
We meet in the lobby of The Merrion Hotel, where she has her two-year-old son in tow – he’s just got a new Lego aeroplane and he’s delighted with himself. As we search for a seat, I recall that, historically, Ireland and the European Left were staunch supporters of the state of Israel. When we sit down and sort ourselves out with coffees and ice cream, I ask Dr Wilf, where did it all go wrong?
“I recall the moment I realised something was happening. About 10 years ago I was invited to address the socialist members of the European Parliament. I was asked as a colleague, a member of the Israeli Labour Party, a socialist and so on… However, the more I talked to them as a Labour Zionist, the more I realised that the mere fact that I was a Zionist put me beyond the Pale as far as they were concerned”.
“Can you define ‘Zionism’, then?” I ask. “Yes … It is the self-determination and liberation of the Jewish people in their homeland”.
So, I say, to be “anti-Zionist” means to be “anti” the existence of the state of Israel? “Yes”. “But do people realise that?” Einat considers. “Some of them do. There is an intellectual trend on the Left gaining ground that looks at Israel as a country born in sin. There are a lot of people who question why the Jewish State should be given – by the rest of the world – the continued right to exist”.
“So”, I ask, “what do they think will happen, if Israel ceases to exist?” “Oh, one version is that Israel will become a Jewish minority in an Arab State … or some feel that the West has put its violent past behind it and the Jews can live once again as a minority in Western countries”.
I explain to Einat that many of my friends and peers would consider themselves anti-Israel because of their concern for the plight of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories – and that if Israel would just consent to return to pre-1967 borders they would have no issue with its legitimacy. This is, indeed, what Ireland’s official position is on the matter: “A two-state solution allied to a return to pre 1967 borders unless amended by agreement between the two parties, an agreed solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees who fled/left their houses in 1948 and 1967…”
Einat nods. “There are a lot of people of goodwill who believe that – all they seek is peace, to ameliorate the plight of the Palestinians. But there’s a kind of colonial attitude in what they say … because they fail to admit that the Palestinian people are making conscious choices, which have led them to where they are today …On November 29, 1947, the UN voted for partition between a Jewish state and an Arab state (there was no Palestine at the time). The Jews said ‘yes’, even though they felt they were conceding a lot, the Arabs said ‘no’ because as far as they were concerned the Jewish people do not belong there and should have received nothing … And so, they continually refuse to recognise the right of Israel to exist.”
“But,” I ask, “what would going back to the pre-1967 borders achieve then?” “Nothing”. “Why not?” “Well, after the war of partition [1947-48] Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt militarily controlled the Gaza Strip and none of them gave Palestine independence”.
“But what do we mean when we advocate a “two-state solution and a return to pre-1967 borders then?” I ask.
“If,” says Einat wearily, “people were truly informed what they should mean is that there would would be an Arab State of Palestine on the West Bank and Gaza that is sovereign and independent while maintaining Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people”.
“But isn’t that what Irish people support?” I say. “People,” answers Einat, “think that is what they support but when they say, “I have solidarity with Palestine” … what they don’t understand is that to most Palestinians, “Solidarity with Palestine” means Greater Palestine, the entire area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, which will supersede the Israeli state. Now, I know people will say, that’s not what we mean, but they never make that clear to the Palestinians who do mean that”. She continues: “Many people of goodwill support the two-state solution but they don’t realise that they are being roped into a project that is not peaceful and does not acknowledge the right of the Jewish state to exist.
“I know”, says Einat, “that Ireland is considering recognising Palestine but if Ireland really wants to promote peace, it will have to say that its support of Palestine is in addition to – and not opposed to – support of Israel. It will have to realise that people living in Palestine cannot be recognised as refugees from Palestine”.
I ask, “what’s the problem with that?” “Well”, says Einat; “If all those third-generation Arabs came [not returned, as they have never lived there] to Israel they would join the 2 million Arabs already there to make a 7 million majority and the Jewish people would become a minority in their own home. Broadly speaking, the Arab world is not a place tolerant of minorities and the Jewish people would not survive long under those conditions”.
Einat believes that, worldwide, people’s hearts and minds are being prepared for the destruction of Israel and that words like “occupation, racism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and genocide” being used to describe Zionism is a way of stamping in people’s minds that Israel is evil and should be eradicated by means fair or foul.
“If historically, you look at the world’s greatest atrocities, they have been preceded by a preparation of people’s minds”, she says.
“Will there ever be peace?” She is dubious of any lasting settlement in the near future but says, “the moment the Arabs accept that the Jews are an integral, indigenous, equal part of the region with the right to self-determination, then we can lay down our arms in the knowledge that no one will try to drive us away…”