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Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The right of return

Jimmy Carter has been all over (well, at least on the Rachel Maddow Show and Democracy Now!) with his new book and his two-state peace plan. One of the aspects of that plan I didn't comment on below is what he has to say about the right of return:
"And the third thing is the return of Palestinians. They have that right guaranteed under International Law. But I don‘t think it's possible for a massive number of Palestinians to return to Israel. They can return to the west bank and Gaza, and those that don't have a chance to return, then they can be compensated monetarily for the loss of their property."
Carter distinguishes himself from other American politicians by actually acknowledging the right of return, but says it isn't "possible" for a "massive number" to return. If a settlement along the lines he proposes does occur, I have little doubt that "massive number" would be zero.

But there is another "right of return", known in Israel as the "Law of Return", and also known by it's Hebrew name aliyah, the law (and it is a law, not like "the laws of God" but a real law of the state of Israel) that allows Jews to immigrate (and obtain citizenship) to Israel. And indeed, just the other day I recommended an article by an American who is thinking of "making aliyah," i.e., emigrating to Israel.

And that's precisely what we need to think about in assessing the validity of what Carter has to say. It's certainly "possible" to find room for one more Jew from Brooklyn to "return" to someplace they never left. Why is it "not possible" for a Palestinian refugee, who might still hold the key and the deed to a house they were forced out of, to exercise their right of return? There are an estimated four million Palestinian refugees, which is indeed a lot, but it's fair to say that most of them undoubtedly don't want to return. But what if a million do? Well, as it turn out, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, over one million Soviet Jews have emigrated to Israel. One of them was the new "kingmaker" of the Israeli elections, the hard-right racist Avigdor Lieberman, the one who, now that he's been allowed in, would like nothing better then to expel all the Arabs who were living there long before him. And the Russians aren't the only ones for whom there's no problem making room - over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews, tens of thousands of Argentinians and French, and more than 100,000 North Americans (many of whom fill the ranks of the most rabid settlers).

Exercising the right of return "not possible"? Oh, it's possible alright. For the "right" people.

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