The PJ Tatler

On the 'Right of Return'

I know something about The Right of Return since I wrote a novel with that title.

The right of return is the essence of the Jewish-Arab conflict in the Middle East. The descendants of the Palestinian Arabs cannot give up the dream of returning to the areas that are the Jewish homeland since 1948. Their return would mark the end of the Jewish state – and that is precisely what the plan is.

When the Palestinian Arabs (there has never been an Arab country called Palestine – the name is an AD 135 Roman invention to punish the Jews for their revolt) have their own country without the explicit end of their Right of Return demand, violence will intensify. Most Palestinian Arabs are already ruled by Palestinian Arabs. A sizable piece of the West Bank is under Israeli military control in order to limit the chance of terrorist attacks. Withdraw the military and violence will explode.

The Palestinian Arabs have to explicitly end the Right of Return demand – it would terminate the conflict. Of course, terrorist groups will continue to attack Israel, but at least two of the three Palestinian states (Jordan, Palestine, Gaza) could live in peace with Israel.

Is it possible for the Palestinian Arabs to give up this dream? I’m afraid they can’t. They are by now defined by this dream, which allows them avoid the heavy task of building a decent civil society with decent civil institutions. The moment they have given up the Right of Return, they are responsible for their own fate. They cannot blame the Jews anymore.

The mythical narrative of the Right of Return (‘once we were rich and happy in the lands now occupied by the Jews’) is the beating heart of what is now called the Palestinian people. Once this Right of Return is gone, there will be nothing that distinguishes them from other Arabs. The Right of Return is what makes Palestinian Arabs different. Most Arabs claim that they suffer because their dictators are being supported by evil Western imperialists, which by now sounds shallow, but only the Palestinian Arabs can claim that they are really driven out from their fertile grounds by racist Jews, who confiscated their riches. This is the strongest argument imaginable in the Arab world. They would be crazy to give it up.

Back to the 1967 lines with some adjustments? Great – but only under the explicit condition that there will never be a Right of Return.