1948, not 1967

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley argue that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue misses the point if it only tries to deal with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank:

The exchange, for the first time in a long while, brings the conflict back to its historical roots, distills its political essence and touches its raw emotional core. It can be settled, both sides implicitly concur, only by looking past the occupation to questions born in 1948 — Arab rejection of the newborn Jewish state and the dispossession and dislocation of Palestinian refugees.

Both positions enjoy broad support within their respective communities. Few Israelis quarrel with the insistence that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state. It encapsulates their profound aspiration, rooted in the history of the Jewish people, for a fully accepted presence in the land of their forebears — for an end to Arab questioning of Israel’s legitimacy, the specter of the Palestinian refugees’ return and any irredentist sentiment among Israel’s Arab citizens.

Even fewer Palestinians take issue with the categorical rebuff of that demand, as the recent Fatah congress in Bethlehem confirmed. In their eyes, to accept Israel as a Jewish state would legitimize the Zionist enterprise that brought about their tragedy. It would render the Palestinian national struggle at best meaningless, at worst criminal. Their firmness on the principle of their right of return flows from the belief that the 1948 war led to unjust displacement and that, whether or not refugees choose or are allowed to return to their homes, they can never be deprived of that natural right. The modern Palestinian national movement, embodied in the Palestine Liberation Organization, has been, above all, a refugee movement — led by refugees and focused on their plight.

Their piece follows some of the logic of one of their previous pieces that argued that the two-state solution had been endorsed by so many people that it had become mundane.   In this latest piece, they argue that now that Israeli PM Netanyahu and Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal, “two-state solution” is a meaningless phrase: “This nearly unanimous consensus is the surest sign to date that the two-state solution has become void of meaning, a catchphrase divorced from the contentious issues it is supposed to resolve. Everyone can say yes because saying yes no longer says much, and saying no has become too costly.”

Jeff Goldberg, whose post led me to Hussein and Agha’s piece, takes note of their concluding statement that the key to the conflict is not the definition of a Palestinian state, but the Israeli state:

This reads to me like an unfortunate bit of pussy-footing. Events are moving me into the camp of people who believe there isn’t an actual solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and it seems as if events are moving Agha and Malley in this direction as well. But if they’re arguing that the conflict will only end when Israel ceases to define itself as a Jewish state, they should say it outright. It’s not an appealing notion — that there is room in the Middle East for twenty-three Muslim-majority states, but not room enough for one Jewish state , but they should state it if they believe it.


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