A leading Palestinian diplomat – Manuel Hassassian – has said that ‘the Palestinian leadership must officially recognize Israel as a Jewish state and heavily revise current demands for a full-fledged right of return for Palestinian refugees’. Hassassian who has been the Palestinian ambassador to the UK said that this was how a truly lasting peace agreement could be achieved. It is unclear how this argument would fly with pro-Palestinian groups in Europe, North America, and Australia. Probably like a lead balloon
Alongside an Israeli counter-part – Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor – Hassassian outlined the steps that would need to be taken for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli government to realise a final peace deal. They said that the conflict could only come to an end if both Israel and the Palestinians recognised the right of the other to self-determination – something that hitherto, the extreme Palestinian elements (in Gaza for example) had failed to do. Concession would have to be made. At the same time that Israel recognised a State of Palestine, Palestine too had to recognise the Jewish State of Israel.
Of course, the stance taken by Hassassian is quite contrary to that taken by PA President Mahmoud Abbas who has insisted that there was ‘no way’ the Palestinians would ever recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
Another area of contention was the drawing up of a plan to resettle and rehabilitate Palestinian refugees, as this issue has always posed a major obstacle to the peace process. Hassassian and Cohen-Almagor have suggested that 1948 Palestinian refugees should be allowed to settle in the future Palestinian state while other Palestinians would be absorbed by different countries based on previously set quotas. Israel, however, would not be forced to accept a massive influx of refugees and their descendants into its territory, though unification of families living on either side of the Jewish state’s border would be allowed on a limited scale.
A push for this by Hassassian is, again, contrary to the position held by Abbas, who said as recently as January 2014 that he could not negotiate away the absolute right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to sovereign Israel. The Abbas position on the ‘Palestinian’ and his/her ‘rights’ is of course at great odds with the experience of Pakistanis and Indians in the late-1940s when they too left the soil of their birth to settle elsewhere… or indeed the experience of ethnic-Germans ejected from Poland and Czechoslovakia after 1945. Pakistanis have won no absolute right of return to sovereign India.
Hassassian has also put forward the position that Israel was entitled to annexe large settlement blocs in the West Bank as part of an agreed-upon land swap scheme with the PA. The major settlement blocs – Maaleh Adumim, Givat Zeev, Gush Etzion, Modiin Illit and Ariel – which account for approximately 70 percent of the Jewish population in the West Bank and for less than four percent of its territory, may be annexed to Israel upon reaching an agreement with the PA as part of the land swap equal in size and quality.
Who will win the day – or which standpoint will win the day – in future peace negotiations though? That is the big question. Another big question for the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign to discuss on their little away-weekend in July.