Malley on refugees, settlers, etc

I realize I promised to put something on the blog about the presentation that Rob Malley made during Thursday’s discussion of Hussein Ibish’s latest anti-one-state screed. Let me convey just the main points here.
Rob started off by noting that all the attempts to get a two-state outcome that have been undertaken since the conclusion of the Oslo Accord in 1993 have failed. (He later referred to “serial failures.”)
He was, of course, part of the diplomatic team, based in the Clinton White House, that was responsible for many of those failures. (But only a junior member.)
He asserted that, “The one-state solution doesn’t meet even the basic needs of Israeli Jews.”
If I’d had more time, I’d have loved to ask Rob to be a lot more specific. Which basic needs, precisely, of Israeli Jews does he see it as not meeting?
He said, “I haven’t given up on the two-state solution. Rather, I’ve soured on the methods used until now to attain it.”
He (like, I think, both the other people leading the discussion– Hussein Ibish and Aaron Miller) made one or more references to the need to attain a conflict-ending two-state solution.
But he said the US needs to do two main things different in the methodology it pursues, than what it did in the past. (And he, like the others, was still talking very definitely about a diplomacy that would continue to be led by the US.)
The main ideas in what he said were familiar, actually, from the NYRB article he co-authored with Hussein Agha back in June.
His first suggestion for a change in methodology was to ask, “Have we left out some vital actors: on the Palestinian side, the refugees and the Islamists, and on the Israeli side the religious and the settlers?”
He argued that in all the rounds of diplomacy carried out since 1993, members of all those groups were excluded and “treated like lepers.”
“We need to stop doing that,” he said, “Because we will need as much endorsement as we can get from all those groups for any eventual peace deal, because they are so present and so well-mobilized.”
His second methodological suggestion was that the people running the diplomacy should realize that, to be conflict-ending, the final peace agreement “has to deal with the issues of 1948, as well as 1967.”
He defined “the issues of 1948” as consisting, on the Israeli side, of a continuing demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and on the Palestinian side, a “demand that they get acknowledgment and some form of reparation for what happened in 1948.”
These two “methodological changes” are, of course, linked to each other– particularly in their recognition that, to be sustainable, any peace deal has to address the concerns and at least some of the claims of the Palestinian refugees.
It does strike me that the first of his two suggestions– focusing on being more “inclusive” towards the religio-nationalists on both sides and also towards both the Palestinian refugees and Israeli settlers– is a little “unbalanced” in the diagnosis on which it is based: All the peace efforts carried out between 1993 and now have been very attentive indeed to the concerns of Israel’s settlers and religio-nationalists… To the point that all US presidents have endorsed final border lines that would annex huge chunks of settler-populated occupied Palestinian territory to Israel, while the Israeli governments they have negotiated with have always included representatives of Israel’s religio-nationalists; and indeed, Israel’s religio-nationalists, like its settlers, are all fully enfranchised within the Israeli political system…
Whereas on the Palestinian side– ?
The Clinton White House, just like the GWB White House, tried to completely downplay and minimize the concerns and claims of the Palestinian refugees. They worked hard to keep the Palestinians living in their Diaspora– all of whom, of course, are refugees– disenfranchized within the Palestinian system, by pursuing the idea that the Interim PA in Ramallah somehow represented “all” the Palestinian people. And they either encouraged (Clinton) or actively instigated (GWB) extremely brutal crackdowns on the leaders and members of the Palestinians’ principal religio-nationalist movement.
Also, it is a little misleading to claim that the interests of the settlers should in any way correlate with, or should be “balanced off” against, those of the refugees.
The settlers, who now number around 500,000, are people who for varying numbers of years now have been– usually quite wittingly– the beneficiaries of Israel’s highly illegal project to implant, and provide generous subsidies to, settlements that use land and other natural resources stolen from its rightful Palestinian owners.
So it hard to see why the claims of these people “deserve”, in any moral sense, much attention from anyone. Of course, as a matter of common humanity they should be addressed as human equals who need a place to live, preferably inside their own country. And as a matter of political expedience, it is probably wise to do a few things to try to reach out to them.
However, they have been illegally living off the fat of someone else’s land for varying numbers of years now. So let’s not go overboard in efforts to accommodate them, maybe?
The Palestinian refugees, meanwhile, consist of around 6.8 million people— 1.8 million registered refugees currently residing in the West Bank or Gaza, and around five million Palestinian people living in the Diaspora, only about 2.9 million of whom are “registered” with UNRWA.
These are fellow-humans who have been living– the vast majority of them for all their lives at this point– while stripped of the most basic right of residing in their family’s homes.
Many of them– especially, today, those in Gaza, those in Lebanon, and those in Iraq– live in extremely tough situations, in great poverty and subject to continuing threats to their physical wellbeing.
So are all human persons equal? Do we consider that the legitimate claims and concerns of one Palestinian refugee should have the same priority as the legitimate claims and concerns one Israeli settler?
How should we weigh the legitimate claims and concerns of 6.8 million refugees against those of 500,000 settlers?
Why would we ever think it is acceptable to fail to address the legitimate claims and concerns of Palestinian refugees? Why would we think it acceptable to allow any further delay in addressing their concerns, thereby continuing to consign them to the situation of insecurity and impoverishment that so many of them have lived in for 62 years now?
… In the Q&A period of Thursday’s discussion, both my friend George Hishmeh (a longtime refugee from Palestine) and I asked questions about the need to include the refugees in the peacemaking, rather than continuing to exclude them from it. In Malley’s response to me, he referred to the the formula Hamas has proposed, whereby it would allow some non-Hamas negotiator to proceed with negotiating the peace, but any peace agreement conclided should thereafter be submitted to a referendum of all Palestinian people– and Hamas would abide by the results of that referendum..
Malley agreed with my assessment that the Diaspora Palestinians would need to be included in that referendum.
That was good.
However, at some point in the Q&A he also rephrased the point he’d made earlier about Israel “needing” to get some recognition of its status as “a Jewish state”, by talking about “Israel’s need to get recognition as the homeland of the Jewish people.”
That sounded like a serious change. The “homeland of the Jewish people”? All of them? When a Jewish American like Rob Malley is talking like that, is he implying he sees Israel as his homeland, too? I found that reference mystifying, and disturbing.
At the end of his main presentation, he summarized his current expectations thus: “I am not optimistic. Maybe we have to lower our sights for the next few years.” Later, he talked about the possibility of “a longterm interim.”
Very depressing– as if we didn’t have reason enough to be depressed before he spoke…

7 thoughts on “Malley on refugees, settlers, etc

  1. Delinda Hanley

    I also attended the event. I left wondering how many people have made a living out of this terrible conflict and may really want it to continue! I really think it could have been solved decades ago. Take away the $$$, declare a Palestinian state and see what happens. Anyway, I am minding our bookstore right now, and our bookstore director said someone might come for her credit card today! I just saw that it is YOURS. Come back to the bookshop and come upstairs to see the Washington Report’s magazine staff next time!!! You’re our hero…. Or I can mail it.

  2. David

    While I share your political assessment of Dr. Ibish’s position paper, I would not call it a “screed.” A screed can, of course, be a long and boring piece of writing, but it is usually “malevolent” or a “harangue” of some kind — other than his snarky remarks about Hamas.

  3. mehrdad

    some antisemits want to kill jews by shooting rockets on them. these are mostly muslims and nazis.
    and some antisemits want to kill jews by forcing them to let 7.000.000 arabs into israel so the jews get under the sword of the islam. looking around israel, we see nearly the whole ummah is made “judenrein”. so a normal human knows, what this “wet dreams” of the leftist antisemits mean for jews and their lives.
    beside that:
    in the definition of the UNHCR, a refugee-status can not be bequeathed. that goes for the 1.000.000 jews who fled from the arab world and for any other refugee group in the whole world…except the palestinians. of course, they have their own private UN organisation which causes the number of this so calld “refugees” exploding every few year.

  4. Helena

    Mehrdad, please keep your contributions here within the guidelines on civility. Also, of course, based on fact.
    Of course under all the provisions of international refugee law including those governing the work of the UNHCR, refugee status is inheritable. Otherwise, what do you think happens to the babies born in, for example, refugee camps of Congolese nationals in Rwanda when their mothers go home?
    Also, inheritance rights to family properties are evidently inheritable, regardless of the refugee or non-refugee status of the family members concerned.

  5. Michael W.

    IMHO, the best way the lives of the Palestinian refugees could be improved is if the governments of the Middle East to consider those born under their jurisdiction to be their own citizens.

  6. mehrdad

    —Of course under all the provisions of international refugee law including those governing the work of the UNHCR, refugee status is inheritable.—
    your informations are totaly wrong. its not included in the definition of a refugee by UNHCR. also i called the berlinc enter of UNHCR and asked the same question (about refugee-status beeing inheritable or not?) and the clear answer from UNHCR was: “NO, its not inheritable”.
    what is fact for all refugee-groups of the world (also for jewish refugees) must also count for pali-“refugees”.
    the main difference is:
    all other nations (germansy, israel…) absorb their refugees while the arabs abuse theirs as a weapon to destroy israel and the jews. and the UNRWA only manages and increases the misers instead of solving the problem.

  7. Noam

    I am often struck by how people discuss the Palestinian refugee problem today as if this was 1950.
    If the voice of Palestinian refugees born after 1948 must be heard, it is because their legitimate interests may differ from those of non-refugee Palestinians. For example, their participation would be important if there was any question as to the form Palestinian self-determination should take, or if their status in Palestine was at stake. It seems, however, that neither is true. The aspiration to independent statehood seems universal, and all proponents of of a Palestinian state envision it (to my knowledge) as open to Palestinian immigration.
    The only plausible issue on which the interests of refugee and non-refugee Palestinians may diverge concerns the importance of the “right of return” (in the sense of settling in pre-1967 Israel). But what is that right today? For the vast majority of Palestinian refugees, it is not the right to return to their homes. It is indeed the “right of residing in their family’s homes.”
    Several generations have passed; people driven from their home in 1948 may have tens – even hundreds – of descendants. What is more natural than for people to assert this, their “most basic” right? Well, imagine the line to use the bathroom if they did!
    A right to “return” to the land of one’s ancestors and to reside in their home is not only practically impossible (and normatively dubious at best – is such a right recognized anywhere?). In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it sounds awfully familiar, and its trumpeting seems disingenuous.
    The 2010 version of the Palestinian right of return has less in common with the 1950 version of the same than it has with the claims of Jewish settlers. There was once was a vivid distinction between a Palestinians’ claims to their lands and homes and the Zionists’ claims to the “land of their forefathers.” People seem to be so caught up in their old arguments to notice that things have changed. Supporting Palestinians’ right of return today and denying Jewish settlers’ claims requires accepting “my great-great-grandparents lived there” as a valid claim while viewing “my great-great-great…-great-grandparents lived there” as silly. Big difference? Could be, but I can’t see it.

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