Op-edA call to reform unique definition of 'Palestinian refugees'

World must tell Gaza’s Hamas-abused masses the truth: There will be no ‘return’

Palestinians are being mobilized for a ‘right’ they do not have and a ‘return’ that will not happen. Why does the international community insist on helping Hamas delude them?

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

A Palestinian protester holds bolt cutters amid black smoke from burning tires near the fence during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, May 11, 2018.  (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
A Palestinian protester holds bolt cutters amid black smoke from burning tires near the fence during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

After Monday’s terrible violence and loss of Palestinian life on the Gaza border, the world owes the Palestinians some painful but simple truths.

Weeks of Hamas-spurred “March of Return” rallies — with their accompanying riots, bids to cut through the border fence in order to carry out attacks inside Israel, dispatch of blazing attack kites, trashing of the Gaza aid infrastructure at the Kerem Shalom crossing, et al — are not going to work. Just like terror tunnels, and rocket fire, and suicide bombings, car rammings and drive-by shootings haven’t worked.

The Hamas strategy won’t work, no matter how successfully it captures the international narrative of what is playing out here. Anguished by the loss of life, Israel will nonetheless defend its borders.

What the terror group calls “Palestine” — i.e. Israel — is not going to be “liberated.” Majority-Jewish Israel isn’t going anywhere. Most specifically, given the current Hamas tactic for bringing Gazans to the border, the “refugees,” in their ostensible millions, are not going to “return.”

After another awful day like Monday — especially after a day like that — the world owes it to the Palestinians to make that clear.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen this latest tactic of mass protests and violence led by Hamas members at the border widely and falsely described internationally as constituting opposition to the Israeli occupation of Gaza. There is immense suffering within the Hamas-run Strip and highly restrictive security without, but there is no Israeli occupation; Ariel Sharon forced the thousands of Jewish settlers there to leave in 2005, and brought the army out with them.

We’ve also seen the protests described as nonviolent — including by a Hamas leader, Khalil al-Hayya, on Monday night. Words fail.

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires near the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City, during protests on May 14, 2018 (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

We’ve seen the protests described as aimed at seeking an end to the “blockade” on access to and from the Strip. In fact, the security blockade is a function of Hamas rule, and would end if Gaza’s leaders were ever to stop trying to terrorize Israel. Hamas has exploited every crack in that security envelope to try to import weaponry in its relentless, avowed struggle to destroy Israel. It wants to build up the kind of force in the Strip that Hezbollah has accumulated in Lebanon — 140,000 missiles, all aimed at Israel. Israel is not about to freely open access to Gaza, when the inevitable immediate consequence will be the import of rockets, missiles and other weaponry to be used for our intended elimination.

And since Monday, we’ve seen the protests described as opposition to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and as marking “Nakba day,” when the Palestinians mourn what they call the “catastrophe” that befell them with the establishment of modern Israel — the revived Jewish state that the Arab armies tried in vain to kill at birth.

Now we’re getting closer to what this is actually all about.

Islamist Hamas terror group leader Yihya Sinwar shouts slogans and flashes the victory gesture as he takes part in a protest near the border with Israel east of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip on March 30, 2018. (AFP/ Mohammed ABED)

In truth, as their organizers made plain from day one, the mass border protests are being mounted not against the “occupation” of Gaza, or the blockade on Gaza. For all the misreporting, they were planned and are being held with the undisguised goal of putting an end to the State of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, whose legitimacy in any borders Hamas rejects. Hence the particularly large mobilization in outraged opposition to the legitimizing of Israeli Jerusalem as signified by the new US embassy; hence the particular resonance of Nakba day.

“March of Return.” It’s right there in the name. The people of Gaza are being mobilized by their terrorist rulers for a “return.” They are being assured by their leadership that this “return” is imminent. That their “homeland” will soon be restored. That the Nakba will be reversed. And that those of them who lose their lives in violence at the border in the cause of that “return” will find their place in paradise as martyrs to their divinely blessed struggle.

The world owes it to them to shatter this illusion. And there’s a straightforward means of doing so.

The current unique UN definition of ‘Palestinian refugees’ enables millions of Palestinians to assert, to dream of, to follow cynical leaders who champion, and in some cases to risk their lives for, an unfounded ‘right’ of ‘return’

Unlike every other refugee population on this planet, the UN extends refugee status not only to those Palestinians who lived in what is today’s Israel and fled or were forced from their homes 70 years ago. It also, with ongoing counterproductive consequence, extends refugee status to their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and onward into eternity.

And in so doing, the international community — via the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA) — perpetuates the very Israeli-Palestinian conflict it ostensibly seeks to solve. It skews a refugee dispute that should relate to the few tens of thousands of actual refugees who are still alive today, and instead enables millions of Palestinians to assert, to dream of, to follow cynical leaders who champion, and in some cases to risk their lives for, an unfounded “right” of “return.”

The “right” of “return,” demanded by Yasser Arafat and then by Mahmoud Abbas, has helped doom all efforts to date to negotiate a two-state solution. The assertion of a “right” of “return,” right now by Hamas, is bringing ever greater suffering to Gaza. The Palestinians’ unwavering insistence on a “right” of “return” has all but killed off belief inside Israel that a two-state solution can ever be attained.

A Palestinian man tries to cut through a section of barbed wire at the border fence with Israel, east of Jabalia in the central Gaza city, during a protest on April 13, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

The world owes it to the Palestinians to correct its definition of Palestinian “refugees” — and it can do so, incidentally, without in any way impacting any aid assistance it provides for Gaza and the West Bank.

It owes it to the Palestinians to make clear that Israel will not be required or pressured to commit national suicide as a Jewish state by absorbing millions of descendants of Palestinians who used to live in what is today’s Israel. Just as Israel, following the division of Mandatory Palestine by the UN in 1947 and independence in 1948, built a thriving state in its revived historic home, including by absorbing hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern and North African countries, so the Palestinians should be encouraged to build a thriving Palestinian state alongside and in true peace with Israel as the home to their millions — a first ever Palestinian state, in a framework that was spurned by the Arab world 70 years ago and that they tragically continue to reject.

The world owes it to the Palestinians to push for a genuine two-state solution — for a Palestine at peace with today’s majority Jewish Israel, not for a Palestine that simultaneously insists on destroying Jewish Israel. To help both sides move toward a genuine two-state solution that would give the Palestinians independence and enable Israel to maintain its democracy and Jewish character — a negotiated separation.

Want to alleviate the ongoing tragedies of Gaza? Want to prevent the endless repetition of horror days like Monday? Make plain to the Palestinians that they have no “right” of “return.” Tell them that they deserve leadership that doesn’t lie to them and abuse them. And make it clear that their independence can only be achieved through a genuine readiness for coexistence, alongside majority-Jewish Israel.

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