Right of return not negotiable

“To the extent that Israel must exist exclusively for the Jewish people, the enfranchising of the roughly four million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation today does pose a threat to its existence.” (Yotam Ronen/ActiveStills)

Washington insiders are now touting a misguided Obama-dictated plan to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Most recently, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Stephen Solarz took to the pages of The Washington Post to float the idea of an imposed peace, which largely undermines non-negotiable historic Palestinian rights. The authors call for the annulment of the Palestinian right of return, and the creation of a “demilitarized Palestinian state.”

The trial balloon avoids any talk of Israeli parliamentary dynamics and the incapacity of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cede anything without sowing the seeds of its own dissolution, something Netanyahu probably realized while negotiating the composition of his coalition government. But its most glaring failure is the presumption that Palestinians will meekly accept American dictates regarding the right of return. As a Palestinian, I believe that any plan that seeks to sacrifice our inalienable human rights to ensure race-based majorities in Israel will fail.

Brzezinski and Solarz begin their piece by paraphrasing a statement made by Israel’s current defense minister, Ehud Barak. They write that the “absence of the two-state solution is the greatest threat to Israel’s future.” Presumably, Barak is indirectly referring to the one-state solution, or the growing call by Palestinians and anti-Zionist Jews to create a democratic state in all of historic Palestine. It is telling that the Israeli defense minister — and Brzezinski and Solarz — appears to view a growing movement in the Holy Land for equal rights and enfranchisement as “the greatest threat to Israel’s future.”

In a sense they’re right. To the extent that Israel must exist exclusively for the Jewish people, the enfranchising of the roughly four million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation today does pose a threat to its existence. But so do the approximately 20 percent of Israelis who are non-Jews (mostly Palestinian citizens of Israel) who are growing more rapidly as a population than Jewish Israelis. It is this anachronistic obsession with the racial makeup of the state that created the Palestinian refugee problem in the first place. Mandate Palestine was ethnically cleansed by Zionist armed forces in 1948 to create room for a Jewish majority state, as documented by the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Incidentally, it is this original sin that Brzezinski and Solarz seek to reward by obliterating the Palestinian right of return which is enshrined in international law. One wonders what prescriptions Barak, Brzezinski and Solarz will offer in the event of a Palestinian baby boom within Israel in the coming decades.

Putting aside the racial justification that underpins the existence of the Jewish state for a moment, it’s worth examining the reasons any two-state solution cannot work today. First, as previously noted, Palestinians will not relinquish the right of return. Mahmoud Abbas, who cannot claim any electoral or moral legitimacy, is hardly in a position to negotiate the right away. Second, there are approximately 500,000 Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and no one is capable of removing them from their homes. One can talk about land swaps, but the reality is that the Israeli state has done a thorough job of colonizing large swaths of land around Jerusalem and deep into the West Bank, effectively cutting it in two. Territorial contiguity is enormously important when engineering a state and it doesn’t appear likely here. Third, the Holy Land is relatively arid. Much of the water Israelis consume comes from the coastal and mountain aquifers, both of which lie under Palestinian land. Notwithstanding international law and the prevailing sentiment of much of the world, Israel simply will not relinquish control of such strategic freshwater reserves.

Finally, there are Israeli security considerations. As Brzezinski and Solarz generously admit, Israel will never agree to a Palestinian state with a conventional military. A state without a military option isn’t really a state at all, especially since Israel will likely continue to conduct raids into Palestinian territory.

Because the two-state solution is unworkable, both for practical and moral reasons, there is only one outcome that satisfies basic American liberal values of freedom of speech, race-blindness, equality under the law, etc. That’s the one-state solution. When I lived in New York, I lived alongside people who hailed from places around the world, many of whom were American Jews and Israelis. However, I do not have the same right in my country of birth. Reasonable people can ask why Jews can live alongside Palestinians in America, but cannot fathom living alongside Palestinians in Israel.

The road to the one-state outcome is fraught with much difficulty. The struggle is likely to be as protracted as South Africa’s struggle, and contentious issues like national rights, official languages and a suitable flag will need to be hammered out. But many Palestinian and Jewish activists have already embarked upon this road. Many of these individuals have come to support the one-state solution after accepting that the two-state solution is never going to materialize; Bantustans are all the international community can realistically offer the Palestinians, something few Palestinians will agree to.

My advice to the American president is to accept reality for what it is. We Palestinians will struggle for equal rights in our country in the same way blacks in America fought for their rights. We will persist in overwhelmingly demanding the implementation of our right of return. Our right of return is our right to sit anywhere on the bus, or attend any school. It would be a tragic irony if America’s first black president leaves office with a legacy of supporting the world’s last apartheid state.

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American freelance journalist living in Beirut. He was born in the Gaza Strip, Palestine. This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post and is republished with permission.