September/October 2000

Jerusalem as a Red Herring

Camp David II ostensibly broke down over refugees and control of Jerusalem. Jerusalem received the most attention, being important not only to Moslems and Jews, but to Christians - who make up the bulk of American news professionals. This week’s orchestrated rioting is also ostensibly about Jerusalem. Secondarily, the Arabs claim, the rioting is about Palestinian "frustration" over Israeli "occupation." Red herrings, both.

The Israeli occupation has been over for years. Palestinians control their own schools, taxes, police, airport and seaport. As for Jerusalem, PM Barak had already made enormous concessions over the city and its holy places. The Palestinians were set to declare an independent state with recognition from most of the world, including Israel and the U.S. They would have gotten 90-95% of the territories (including the vital Jordan Valley and the mountains); 100,000 or so Palestinians resettled INSIDE Israel; and partial control of Jerusalem. In exchange, they had to agree that these Israeli concessions fulfilled the last Palestinian demands for territory, i.e., agree that the war was over. But Arafat couldn’t do it - not because of Jerusalem, but because of the refugees.

The problem isn’t compensation or even where the refugees will live. Arafat demands the Palestinian "right of return." Not simply an ability to do it, but a right to do it. Not to live inside Israel because Barak allows it, but because it is their right regardless of the wishes of the Israeli government.

[When JINSA visited Jordan, we were told, "If the Palestinians have the right to return to their homes inside Israel, they won’t do it, but they need to be told they have the right. Like Jews," he said, "who have a right to go to Israel, but live in America." Not quite. Jews can immigrate to the Jewish State; the corollary would be Palestinians going to Palestine, not Israel. Furthermore, many Palestinians live at the mercy of Arab governments that don’t care much for them. If Palestinians suddenly had a "right" to go to Israel, it doesn’t take much to imagine Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia and even Jordan tossing their refugees over the border. Much like they tossed the Jews in 1948, actually.]
The sine qua non of sovereignty is the right of a government to control its borders; to determine who is allowed to visit, who is allowed to stay, and who has to leave. If the Palestinians, not the Israeli government, have that right, then the Israeli government is not in control of the country - not sovereign. The Palestinians are. Oh.
The current riots are in part designed by Arafat to keep all eyes on Jerusalem, diverting attention from an irresolvable fact. If the Palestinians get the "right of return," there will be no Israel and the Israelis won’t accept that. But if the conflict ends with Israel intact, the 50+ years the refugees wasted in camps at the insistence of Arab leadership becomes a sacrifice in vain and Arafat can’t afford that.
This is not a problem the U.S. can, or should, resolve for him. But we must be clear that the United States fully expects Arafat to reconcile himself and the Palestinian people to the legitimacy of the sovereign State of Israel. Nothing less will be acceptable.

© Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs {JINSA} 2000

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