How about some facts on the “right of return”?

A recent Guardian editorial on the never neglected subject of the “Israel-Palestine conflict” seemed to endorse the idea that Obama should impose a “solution”.  The piece concluded with the rather smug observation that “Mr Netanyahu would kick and scream against an imposed plan, but that is the consequence of rejecting lesser demands now.” Revealingly, one of the complaints the editorial writer listed was that “no one could imagine Mr Netanyahu conducting any meaningful negotiations” on the Palestinian demand for a “right of return”.
No doubt that a Guardian editorialist would find it hard to imagine that out there in the real world, there are lots and lots of reasons why any Israeli politician would have considerable difficulties to conduct “meaningful negotiations” about a Palestinian “right of return” to Israel. For starters, one could point to how refugees fared in Europe and the rest of the world in the wake of World War II; one could also refer to the doubtful legal basis of Palestinian demands regarding a “right of return”,  and one could even mention recent headlines like “Right of Return Dealt Grievous Setback by European HR Court” – describing a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that decided against Greek refugees from Northern Cyprus who tried to claim a right of return.
Well, but then we all know that the Jewish state must be held to different standards than everyone else…
Protestations that holding Israel to different standards than the rest of the world have nothing whatsoever to do with antisemitism often rely on the fanciful notion that Israel is a relic of European colonialism. In this view, Jewish immigrants from Europe snatched land from the noble native peasants of Palestine who had worked the soil of the Holy Land for centuries.
But over the years, a lot of evidence has been accumulated showing that the economic development of Palestine spurred by Jewish immigration attracted a large influx of Arab immigrants. One blogger who has repeatedly written on this subject is the Elder of Ziyon, and he recently added some fascinating material from an article that was published in August 1935 in the Palestine Post (nowadays known as the Jerusalem Post).  The article is based on a report in the Manchester Guardian (nowadays known as the Guardian) that provides a synopsis of a British Treasury report on the economic situation in Palestine.
Under the title “Prosperity in Palestine”, the article explains:

“The prosperity of Palestine is becoming almost a wearisome theme. It has continued for more than two years in spite of constant presages of a boom that will be followed by a slump. And during the last year it has been more impressive than ever.”

The article goes on to highlight the “extraordinary surplus of the Government and the immense increase in the Customs revenue”, which are attributed to “the increasing immigration”. Quoting an “authoritative estimate”, the number of Jewish immigrants for 1934 is given as 50,000; compared to 38,000 in 1933, and 15,600 in 1932.
But the report also notes:

“The immigration, however, is not restricted to Jews. There has been a steady infiltration into Palestine of Arabs from Syria (the Hauran) and from Trans-Jordan. And it is notable that the illicit immigration of the non-Jews recorded in the report of the Government is more than double that recorded for the Jews.”

Obviously, this means that if some 100 000 Jews immigrated to Palestine between 1932-1934, more than 200 000 Arabs immigrated illegally in the same period – and, interestingly enough, some of these illegal Arab immigrants came from the very part of Palestine that the British had decided to cut off from the Mandate area to create an exclusively Arab state from which Jews would be barred.
Of course, even back then, it was fashionable to claim that Jewish immigration caused terrible hardship for the “natives” of Palestine – but, as one contemporary British official dryly noted:

“This illegal [Arab] immigration was not only going on from the Sinai, but also from Transjordan and Syria, and it is very difficult to make a case out for the misery of the Arabs if at the same time their compatriots from adjoining states could not be kept from going in to share that misery.”

Similarly, historian Efraim Karsh highlighted a relevant passage from the 1937 Peel commission report which stated:

“The general beneficent effect of Jewish immigration on Arab welfare is illustrated by the fact that the increase in the Arab population is most marked in urban areas affected by Jewish development. A comparison of the census returns in 1922 and 1931 shows that, six years ago, the increase percent in Haifa was 86, in Jaffa 62, in Jerusalem 37, while in purely Arab towns such as Nablus and Hebron it was only 7, and at Gaza there was a decrease of 2 percent.”

For a lot of additional interesting material on this issue, check out the post by Daled Amos: Zionists Kicked Palestinian Arabs Out Of Palestine? Why Do You Think Arabs Came In The First Place? [Updated]
What emerges quite clearly from the historical documentation is that a considerable percentage of the Arab population that lived in the part of Palestine that became Israel consisted of recent illegal migrants who had been attracted by the economic opportunities created by the Jewish immigrants. One can obviously only speculate as to how many of these recent immigrants decided to flee the war declared by the Arab states against the new Jewish state, but since the illegal Arab immigration had been considerable by all accounts, it is clear that the refugees must also have included many of the migrants who had come to British Mandate Palestine to take advantage of the economic opportunities created by Zionist development.
Needless to say, in a forum like CiF, this would be brushed aside as irrelevant. The call for “meaningful negotiations” about Palestinian claims of a “right of return” raised in the Guardian editorial illustrates the enduring appeal of the Palestinian “narrative” that blames the “evil Zionists” for the cruel “ethnic cleansing” of hundreds of thousands of “native” Palestinians. Just as the massive Arab immigration into British Mandate Palestine is ignored in this “narrative”, no other relevant historical fact is allowed to get in the way of the “right of return” myth. However, anyone interested in countering this myth can find plenty of material in some of Abba Eban’s UN speeches on this subject.
In a speech in May 1949, Abba Eban rejected accusations of a deliberate Israeli effort to drive out the Arab population by relying on a relevant article published in The Economist the month before:

“A vivid account of the circumstances could be found in the April 1949 issue of The Economist of London. The French representative on the Conciliation Commission, who had undertaken a detailed interrogation of Arab refugees, had stated at a meeting of the Commission on 7 April 1949 that it was wrong to describe the refugees as having been driven out; rather, they had fled in an atmosphere of fear, insecurity and danger inseparable from war.”

Abba Eban added:

“So many passions had been aroused by the problem of refugees that the issue of initial responsibility presented itself again and again. That responsibility lay with the Arab States which, by virtue of having proclaimed and initiated the war which had rendered those refugees homeless, were under moral obligation to take a full share in the solution of their problem, even apart from their own ties of kinship with the refugee population.”

In another speech delivered in 1958 – which was recently reprinted by The Jewish Press – Abba Eban highlighted some contemporary statements acknowledging the Arab responsibility for the refugee problem, and he also addressed the deliberate prolongation and political manipulation of the refugee issue:

“Apart from the question of its origin, the perpetuation of this refugee problem is an unnatural event, running against the whole course of experience and precedent. Since the end of the Second World War, problems affecting forty million refugees have confronted governments in various parts of the world. In no case, except that of the Arab refugees – amounting to less than two percent of the whole – has the international community shown constant responsibility and provided lavish aid.
In every other case a solution has been found by the integration of refugees into their host countries. Nine million Koreans; 900,000 refugees from the conflict in Vietnam; 8.5 million Hindus and Sikhs leaving Pakistan for India; 6.5 million Muslims fleeing India to Pakistan; 700,000 Chinese refugees in Hong Kong; 13 million Germans from the Sudetenland, Poland and other East European States reaching West and East Germany; thousands of Turkish refugees from Bulgaria; 440,000 Finns separated from their homeland by a change of frontier; 450,000 refugees from Arab lands arrived destitute in Israel; and an equal number converging on Israel from the remnants of the Jewish holocaust in Europe – these form the tragic procession of the world’s refugee population in the past two decades.
In every case but that of the Arab refugees now in Arab lands, the countries in which the refugees sought shelter have facilitated their integration. In this case alone has integration been obstructed.
The paradox is the more astonishing when we reflect that the kinship of language, religion, social background and national sentiment existing between the Arab refugees and their Arab host countries has been at least as intimate as those existing between any other host countries and any other refugee groups. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the integration of Arab refugees into the life of the Arab world is an objectively feasible process which has been resisted for political reasons.
Recent years have witnessed a great expansion of economic potentialities in the Middle East. The revenues of the oil-bearing countries have opened up great opportunities of work and development, into which the refugees, by virtue of their linguistic and national background, could fit without any sense of dislocation. There cannot be any doubt that if free movement had been granted to the refugees there would have been a spontaneous absorption of thousands of them into these expanded Arab economies.
The failure or refusal of Arab governments to achieve a permanent economic integration of refugees in their huge lands appears all the more remarkable when we contrast it with the achievements of other countries when confronted by the challenge and opportunity of absorbing their kinsmen into their midst.
Israel with her small territory, her meager water resources and her hard-pressed finances, has found homes, work and citizenship in the past ten years for nearly a million newcomers arriving in destitution no less acute than those of Arab refugees.”

Given all these undisputable considerations, what could the Guardian editors possibly have in mind when they demand “meaningful negotiations” on the Palestinian “right of return”?

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