On the Corner of Acre and Safed Streets

But when a veteran Fatah activist, a refugee himself, is asked what he thinks about Sha'ath's statements about fulfilling the right of return inside Israel as part of a peace agreement, he answers without hesitation, "he's a liar."

Aka Street (as in Acre) in El Bireh was recently upgraded like all the other streets in the northeast neighborhood of the town, and connected to the sewage grid. At the intersection with Safed Street, a traffic circle was installed. Right next to it a traffic island was built, full of colorful flowers, and in the center a bronze statue of a tall peasant holding a giant key that stands beside him like a spouse. The keffiyeh on his head is shaped like a map of the greater land of Palestine. The upgrading project was paid for by the German government and the United Nations Development Project. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, born in Safed, lives on Acre Street, five houses away from the statue.

Add the statue and the street names to the lengthening list of proof of the Palestinians' hidden (seemingly or not) intentions to take over the state of Israel after "they get" a state of their own. Regard them as more proof of how the Palestinian authorities encourage the people to stick to their demand for return and thus foil any attempt at putting an end to the conflict. Like the statements of their foreign minister, Nabil Sha'ath.

But when a veteran Fatah activist, a refugee himself, is asked what he thinks about Sha'ath's statements about fulfilling the right of return inside Israel as part of a peace agreement, he answers without hesitation, "he's a liar." In other words, according to that Fatah activist, Sha'ath knows full well there's no chance for Israeli recognition of the right of return of the Palestinians, let alone fulfillment of that right, as part of any sort of peace deal that the current Palestinian leadership could sign in the foreseeable future. Sha'ath cannot give his voters the right to leave their city to enable them to go to the doctor or pray at Al Aqsa. Like the entire Palestinian cabinet, there's nothing he can do to prevent the expansion of the Israeli settlements in Gush Katif spreading westward from Khan Yunis. So how can he promise them the right of return?

There are a lot of questions about the demand for the fulfillment of the Palestinian right of return. For example, to what extent do those who demand the right believe they can roll back the wheels of history, to what extent are they using it to prevent any success in political negotiations, or the contrary, are they raising the issue as a bargaining card that they'll be ready to drop in exchange, for example, for Israel dismantling settlements? To what extent are they responsible for spreading the illusion among the Palestinian public - or are they victims of the same illusion?

But there are also questions that should be asked of those Israelis who believe in the two-state solution but oppose recognition of the right of return (and of Israel's responsibility for the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes), and are only ready for a right of return "to the new Palestinian state." These are not moral questions. Israel is not up to moral debates nowadays. These are practical questions.

How do those Israelis expect the Palestinians to fulfill their right of return in a country that will be a collection of four to six enclaves cut off from one another, lacking any land reserves? Many of the Israelis, even those who call themselves part of the Israeli peace camp, regard the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim an inseparable part of Israel, because of its location and the number of Jews residing there, even though it cuts the future Palestinian state in half and prevents any development of a Palestinian Jerusalem. And what will those same Israelis do in another year and a half with the crowded built-up areas now under construction in the heart of the West Bank, connecting isolated settlements and closing in on the outskirts of Ramallah and Bethlehem from every direction?

With a hand on your heart, how many people among the peace supporters in Israel, who regard the right of return as such a tangible threat, will, in another year, demand the evacuation of all those population blocs and the dense construction, as part of a peace agreement? How many of them won't say to the Palestinians, "be realistic" and understand that the Israelis don't regard Givat Ze'ev as a settlement, so it won't be evacuated, and it's impossible to move the tens of thousands of Israelis who moved into the contiguous settlements between Qalqiliyah and Ramallah, or Beit Sahur and Hebron?

And let's assume the Palestinians finally do get "realistic" and agree to call the cluster of enclaves they are given, a state. How long will Israelis who consider themselves democratic be able to deny Israeli Arab citizens the same rights enjoyed by Jews (beyond budgetary equality)? For example, the right to see their relatives who live overseas come back to settle alongside them, as citizens? For example, the right to live not only in Karmiel and Upper Nazareth, built on expropriated Arab lands, but also in Kedumim and Ariel and Givat Ze'ev. Or the right to build a neighborhood or settlement on vacant lands, some of which are called nowadays "state lands," meaning Jewish lands, but in the past belonged to the village of their parents that was destroyed in 1948?

Will the Israeli peace camp, after it succeeds in persuading the Palestinians to be realistic, continue to turn its back on basic democratic values in their own sovereign state, just to make sure it preserves its Judaism?