Does the Palestinian right of return negate the right to national self-determination of the Jews? Does it mean a return to Israel or to the future state of Palestine? Would it mean the state of Israel would dissolve into a Greater Palestine with Jews as a tolerated minority? These are questions asked by the Israeli peace camp and Karma Nabulsi’s comments are ambiguous on such fundamental points.Although West Bankers feel less passionate than those who left or were expelled in 1948, the bitterness aroused by the intifada has allowed the Palestinians who reject Oslo to bring the matter to the top of the agenda. For them, it means that if every last Israeli soldier was withdrawn, every settlement dismantled, every settler returned to Israel, then the conflict would still not be over because of the absolutist interpretation of the right of return to only Israel.
The Clinton plan – which Arafat has now accepted together with the Israeli left – suggested a package of $30bn-$35bn to pay for the deployment of Israeli troops and compensation and resettlement for the refugees. In the heat of the intifada, Arafat prevaricated because he did not wish to confront his rejectionists. The Israeli negotiator, Yossi Beilin, and his Palestinian partner, Nabil Shaath, began to discuss the issue at Taba and narrowed the gap despite the reservations of both Arafat and Barak. It is only a continuation of that discussion which will bring justice for the Palestinians.
Dr Colin Shindler
School of Oriental and African Studies