Europe and the right of return
The European reservations about Bush's speech related only to the question of the borders and to the need for agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on this matter, but did not add that in the matter of the right of return, there is also need for such agreement.
The European reaction to U.S. President George W. Bush's speech at his meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was interesting for what it did not contain: There was an obvious lack of any reservations whatsoever concerning Bush's explicit comments on the issue of the Palestinian refugees non-right of return.
The absence of any such mention is a hundred times more obvious in view of the hysterical reaction from Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and from Saeb Erekat on this issue and their reiteration of the ultimate demand that every refugee must be granted the right of return to Israel, with no restrictions.
The European reservations about Bush's speech related only to the question of the borders and to the need for agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on this matter, but did not add that in the matter of the right of return, there is also need for such agreement. Europe's silence is not unintentional. No European body has joined the Palestinian demand in the matter of return, and the European Council has explicitly rejected this demand.
In Europe, there is no right of return to rectify the injustices that were done at the end of the 1940s, and there is no right of return for Germans who were denied their property and their rights and expelled with great cruelty from areas of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, where they had resided for hundreds of years.
On the eve of the Czech Republic's entry into the European Union, rightist circles have indeed voiced a demand to rescind the "Benes decrees" - promulgated by Eduard Benes, who was the president of Czechoslovakia after the war - which expropriate the property of the Sudeten Germans and were adopted afterward by the Czechoslovakian parliament - and the cancellation of the amnesty the Benes decress granted to those who at the time committed serious crimes against the ethnic German inhabitants. In contrast to the demand of the rightists, the European Council determined that there is no need to rescind the decrees in order to allow the Czech Republic membership in the EU.
During German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's visit to Prague in September, 2003, the two sides declared that even though "the past must not be forgotten, it must not be an obstacle to the future."
Between Germany and the Czech Republic, relations are better than correct, and no one talks about the right of return even though for the Czech Republic, this is not a matter of an existential threat and the loss of the Czech majority there. This is also the case with respect to German-Polish relations.
Not only is there no moral basis for the Palestinian demand - as its aim is to destroy Israel from within - but there is also no legal basis.
The only explicit United Nations recommendation on the matter of return is the recommendation in General Assembly Resolution 194 from 1948. The resolution is directed at the (defunct) Conciliation Commission that was established at the time and includes other instructions that concern, for example, the internationalization of Jerusalem. The resolution relates to the Palestinian refugees who wish to return to their homes and live in peace with their (Jewish) neighbors and determines that they should be allowed to do so as soon as possible.
But the resolution, even if it did have legal validity, is not relevant, as it deals with a world that no longer exists today: It speaks about the refugees themselves, whereas now the Palestinians are demanding this for their descendants, who have been raised on bottomless hatred for Israelis and Jews and are incapable of living in peace with Jews and being loyal citizens of the state.
The resolution was passed before the massive expulsion of Jewish refugees from the Arab countries and the expropriation of their property under racist and anti-Semitic laws and for this reason alone it is devoid of meaning - as today it is necessary to take into account the balancing of property rights with respect to the refugees from both sides.
Therefore, it is very regrettable that the formulators of the Geneva initiative saw fit to base themselves on a resolution that deserves a dishonorable burial; although they have limited with unclear definitions the proportion of refugees who will be entitled to return to Israel, the fact of the mention of the resolution is a strategic mistake with which it is difficult to come to terms.
President Bush, the European Council, and Sari Nusseibeh (in the joint document with Ami Ayalon) did well to have defined the Palestinians' right of return by restricting it to the Palestinian state and not to the Jewish state, which the right of return aims to eliminate.
The leaders of the EU, in their silence, also give grounding to this position.