The litmus test of Palestinian intentions is the return demand – or what they refer to as the “right of return.” The demand for a return of refugees into Israel amounts to a fundamental, rather than tactical, rejection of any agreement – because it contradicts the partition principle.
Partition in addition to the right of return would mean that the Palestinians accept two states - yet both of them with an Arab majority. This also explains their consistent refusal to recognize the Jewish State’s right to exist. They recognize the State of Israel’s right to exist, on condition that it does not define itself as the Jewish people’s national home.
Some think that Israel’s insistence on this matter is not justified. Some of these people are anti-Zionist, yet some Zionists also think that way. The anti-Zionists argue that the objection to the refugees’ right of return attests to Israel’s racism. The fact is, they say, that Israel has a Law of Return that automatically permits Jewish naturalization, and this is being complemented by explicit objection to a Palestinian return. That is, only Jews are allowed to return.
The assumption here is that the Palestinian right of return and the Israeli Law of Return are similar or parallel – yet the similarity is deceiving.
The Law of return allows Jews to become citizens of the State of Israel. On the other hand, those who argue in favor of the right of return do not talk about a return to the Palestinian state to be established, but rather, about a return to the homes of the former refugees (as noted in UN Resolution 194.) That is, the Palestinian right of return is not similar to the Law of Return, but rather, to the same “right” demanded by the settlers – the right of Jews to live in all parts of Eretz Yisrael, including areas that will be part of a future Palestinian state.
The Law of Return is justified when it pertains to a people with a Diaspora, such as the Jewish people. The European Union, which comprises several states with similar laws, also recognized this kind of legislation (for example, in the case of Poland, Greece, Germany, and Finland.)
Once the Palestinians will have a state, they too will be entitled to a law of return, which will allow the Palestinian Diaspora to return – but not to the State of Israel or to their “former homes.” They will have the right to become citizens in their own nation-state, just like the Jews have this right in their own state. Hence, members of the Palestinian Diaspora will not have a right to become citizens of Israel, just like we shall not have this right in Palestine.
However, some Zionists who recognize the legitimacy of the Law of Return nonetheless believe that Israel can recognize the right of return – on condition that the Palestinians announce that there will be no mass return in practice. This is a dangerous argument. First of all, because international law does not recognize the right of return, and UN Resolution 194, which both the Palestinians and Jews rejected at the time, does not have the status of law.
The moment Israel recognizes such right, it will become binding in terms of international law. And then, should the return of Palestinian refugees into the State of Israel be recognized, renouncing this right in practice may not be valid. As such return would become a personal matter, each and every one of the millions of Palestinian descendents would be able to demand a return to Israel, and this right will be applicable regardless of the numbers worked out between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships.
From an Israeli point of view, that would be a disaster: The end of Zionism. Yet this will also constitute the end of the Palestinian national dream. A perpetual civil war will deprive them (and not only us) of the possibility for political self-determination.
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