The Greater Land of Israel delusion
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has no real chance of garnering political support for the diplomatic program he is now formulating in his latest attempt to end the Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed, because it is based on the evacuation of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has no real chance of garnering political support for the diplomatic program he is now formulating in his latest attempt to end the Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed, because it is based on the evacuation of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. The cumbersome plan proposed by Labor MKs Shlomo Ben-Ami and Haim Ramon - "the unilateral separation program with multinational support, as an interim step before a comprehensive settlement with the backing of the international community" - is similarly destined for the dustbin of history. It too is based on the assumption that it would be possible to dismantle dozens of Israeli settlements built in the territories. The decisive fact is that no government has yet dared to move as much as one settler from Judea, Samaria and Gaza because these areas fell into Israeli hands as a result of the Six Day War. On the contrary, all Israeli prime ministers of the past 34 years, along with their deputies and their cabinet ministers, have in fact implemented the vision of those who believe in the Greater Land of Israel. Two of them, Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres, today hold key positions vis-a-vis the mess they themselves cooked up.
The historical logic of the Oslo agreement is based on the assumption that Israel and the Palestinians have both arrived at the realization that they must relinquish their respective dreams and divide the land between them. Whether stated explicitly or implicitly, in the discussions or in signed agreements, the Oslo agreement heralded mutual recognition and acceptance of the necessity of providing the other side with living space in which it would be able to realize its right of self-determination without having to constantly worry about threats to its existence.
In fact, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza doubled in the eight years that have passed since the signing of the agreement. Not a single settlement has been dismantled, and not a single step has been taken to make the settlers understand that they will eventually have to move back to within the Green Line. When it was proposed to then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin that the nettlesome Jewish enclave in the heart of Hebron be removed following the massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in the Cave of the Patriarchs, he recoiled at doing so, arguing that it would represent a precedent. Ehud Barak spoke about creating settlement blocs, but in actual fact, he lent a hand to the growth of the settlements.
An identical process occurred among the Palestinians. They too refused to relinquish their dream of a greater Land of Israel. They too continued to articulate the concept of the right of return of Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel and to preach its implementation. Just seven months after the signing of the Oslo accords, Yasser Arafat declared at the PLO Central Committee in April 1994, "Why do they say no to the PLO? Because the PLO means the return." On November 15, 1998, Arafat announced, "The right of return is a sacred right and the campaign on this matter is the hottest and most central issue. Fifty-five percent of our nation are refugees and I am one of them. That is the heart of the Palestinian problem."
Arafat's public declarations on this matter over the past eight years have been continuous and consistent, and the message implicit in them is unequivocal - no one may concede the right of return. This issue is identical in importance to the Palestinian claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Military Intelligence reports that Arafat has adhered to the same line in internal debates as well - the implementation of the right of return within the Green Line, at least for the 300,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon. According to Military Intelligence assessments, Arafat's commitment to the implementation of the right of return within Israel carries the weight of a historical vow that he cannot rescind.
Statements made by Arafat's associates after the failure of the Camp David summit (for example, Abu Mazen in an interview with Al-Hayat published on November 23 and 24, 2000) prove that for the Palestinians, the right of return means the return to Israel ("When speaking of the right of return, we are speaking about the return of the refugees to Israel, because it drove them out and because their property is there," according to a translation by The Middle East Media Research Institute) The only one to voice a different opinion on this matter has been Dr. Sari Nusseibeh.
Until both sides to the conflict free themselves of their Greater Land of Israel delusions, the conflict cannot be resolved.