Kurtzer’s misleading parallel: refugees and colonists

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Yesterday I mentioned a panel on Israel/Palestine at the Middle East Institute that was on CSPAN. Former ambassador Daniel Kurtzer spoke last, a smart guy, and his talk was interesting as a reflection of the Reconstructed Israel Lobby’s views. Here’s what I heard Kurtzer say:

–We peace-processors believe in Partition. For 80 years we have known that Partition is the only answer in Israel/Palestine. The idea of one state is having a vogue, in fact I heard some praise for it on this panel, but it "has been proved not to work in the past" in Palestine.

–There is no threat to the region from the Israel/Palestine conflict. There is regional fear about Iran.

–There are two competing paradigms for solving Israel/Palestine. Undoing 1948 is the one-state paradigm. Undoing 1967 is the two-state paradigm. Because we believe in Partition, we believe that we can undo 1967–i.e., return to the ’49 Armistice borders. There are two competing human claims in each paradigm: settlers and refugees. Undoing 1967 means destroying the colonists’ dreams. Undoing 1948 means restoring the refugees’ dreams. Well, the Palestinians have to tell the refugees that the keys they still have to houses in Israel–very few if any will get to return. And as for the colonists– well, not every one of them will get to stay in their houses.

I am not a one-stater; I don’t know what I think. After all, partition has proved to be the realistic answer in many ethnic-religious conflicts. That said, I’m not sure why Kurtzer is exalting proofs (presumably the failure of Judah Magnes’s efforts to work with Palestinians on one-state back in the Mandate period) from such a distant historical era. Hasn’t consciousness/leadership changed since then? 

Also, the reason people talk about Undoing 1948 is that Undoing 1967 has proved to be such an illusion, and what kind of fools do you take us for? Oslo produced more colonies, more chopped down olive trees. The Israelis have done a very good job of Undoing 1948/Partition on their own.

I find Kurtzer’s parallel of the colonists and the refugees unsettling. He is saying in essence: Here’s the deal, very few if any (miserable, terrorized, dispossessed) refugees will return. But a lot of you (greedy, land-stealing, tax-subsidized) colonists will get to stay. Is that fair? And by the way, while we hold our panels on the unending peace process in Washington, nothing will be done to remove any colonist, including the one who moved there from Brooklyn yesterday. And meantime, 62 years after the fact, not one refugee claim will even be acknowledged, let alone property restored. It doesn’t seem very fair to me.

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Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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