Option to Return

Jonathan has some absolutely solid analysis of the minor riot in Ramallah today. The real story is that a respected and independent pollster, Khalil Shikaki, is about to release a new poll of the Palestinian public that reveals that although 95 percent of Palestinians residing in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and the occupied territories want the right of return to be recognized in a final peace treaty, far fewer of them would actually exercise it. In fact, only 10 percent of the 4500 households that took part in the survey intended to reside permanently in Israel, and the proportion decreased even further "if the refugees were told that they would have to take Israeli citizenship or that their old homes were gone." In contrast, 54 percent were willing to accept compensation and the right of return to a Palestinian state in lieu of Israel, and 23 percent expressed the desire to move to other countries or stay where they were. (I've just cut and pasted Jonathan's summary).

Jonathan finds great optimism in this poll, and reflects on how it might mean that Right of Return is not nearly the Sword of Damocles over the Peace Process that everyone had imagined:

Perhaps most importantly, these poll numbers indicate that it may be possible for Israel to allow a conditional right of return at little risk to its integrity. Of the four million Palestinians who claim descent from the 1948 refugees, it is likely that fewer than 250,000 would insist on returning to Israel, particularly if they were required to become Israeli citizens. If a peace accord included an assurance that Palestinians could become citizens of the countries where they now live, this number would be even smaller. The 250,000 figure, assuming its accuracy, is approximately equal to the number of Palestinians who are currently living illegally - and, for the most part, peacefully - in Israel.

This suggests a possible compromise on one of the most contentious issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians. The broad outline of such a compromise would involve Israel symbolically recognizing that it is the homeland of the 1948 refugees, but limiting the actual number of returnees to 250,000 - a limit that is unlikely to be tested. Returnees would be required to accept Israeli citizenship and undergo a security check, with Israel having the right to exclude all persons associated with terrorist groups. Those exercising their right of return would be admitted over a five-year period, which would ease the strain of absorbing them into Israeli society and would allow the project to be reviewed or canceled if any returnees engaged in terrorist activity. Priority would be given to refugees with family in Israel, who would at once be the most compelling humanitarian cases and the least likely to commit terrorist acts.

Those not returning to Israel - the vast majority - would have the choice of returning to Palestine or becoming naturalized citizens of their host countries, with full civil rights. "Full civil rights" is admittedly a relative term in countries like Lebanon or Syria, but it would result in the refugees obtaining passports and being freed of property, educational and occupational restrictions. In addition, both returnees and those who remained elsewhere would receive compensation in lieu of their former property - a solution that has been adopted by Eastern European countries with respect to property that was confiscated by Communist governments. Ideally, a final settlement would also provide for compensation for those Jews who became refugees after the establishment of Israel, but this would require the agreement of many more countries. Possibly these refugees could be compensated indirectly by placing most of the burden of repaying the Palestinian refugees upon the international community rather than upon Israel.

I see the pelting with eggs of Shikaki by a Arafat-loyalist mob as a great sign - because it is a clear sign of a dissonance bweteen a political elite and the people the nominally purport to represent.

The average Palestinian is quite aware of cause and effect. Assertions that the bulk of the P population support violent terror attacks directly contradict the common sense axiom that all people are rational actors - and therefore the assertion that the majority support terror that is clearly detrimental to their efforts at survival is clearly flawed.

So I'm not surprised either, and in fact the Binational State solution is way ahead of Jonathan, as they explicitly deal with the Right of Return is a way much as he describes. In fact one of the major critiques that I encountered when last I blogged about the binational state was that its solution regarding Right of Return was too optimistic (cue the menacing Palestinam Demographic Majority and the instant destruction of Israel theme music). This poll does a lot in my mind to think that a federal system implemented in I-P with demographically-derived borders would NOT be derailed by the Right of Return issue at all.

No comments: