Ehud Olmert has made it clear to the Arabs pushing the 2002 Saudi peace initiative that Israel will not accept even a single Palestinian refugee under a notion of “right of return”. Olmert stated yesterday that the Arab nations created the refugee problem with their multinational war of annihilation against Israel, and they can deal with its consequences now:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in interviews published Friday that Israel would not allow a single Palestinian refugee to return to what is now Israel, and that the country bore no responsibility for the refugees because their plight resulted from an attack by Arab nations on Israel when it was a fledgling state. …
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Mr. Olmert seemed to rule out any negotiation on refugees. He would not accept any notional Palestinian “right of return” to their homes, telling the newspaper: “I’ll never accept a solution that is based on their return to Israel, any number.”
Mr. Olmert said that the refugee problem was caused by the Arab attack on Israel in 1948 and called it “a moral issue of the highest standard.” He said: “I will not agree to accept any kind of Israeli responsibility for the refugees. Full stop.”
Then he added: “I don’t think we should accept any kind of responsibility for the creation of this problem. Full stop.” He said the return of even one Palestinian refugee to Israel was “out of the question.”
Olmert went farther than Ehud Barak did during his negotiations with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat. In those talks, Barak agreed to a suymbolic return of a small number of refugees if the Palestinians would then agree to a compensation system for the rest of the original refugees. Arafat later rejected the settlement that Barak offered, calling for an intifada instead that claimed thousands of lives in the years since.
Israel understands that the right of return means the end of Israel. The Palestinians would flood into Israel with full voting rights, and they would overthrow the Israeli government and send Jews fleeing for their lives — again. Any national security system would be destroyed within hours of the return, and Palestinian terrorist groups would have a field day targeting Israelis. It would be preferable for Israel to annex the West Bank instead, although it would eventually produce the same results.
The Arabs know this, too, which is why any initiative that includes a right of return cannot be taken seriously. If the Arabs want to insist on this, they are just posing for domestic consumption. If they seriously want peace, then they have to acknowledge their own complicity in keeping the Palestinians as refugees for their own political purposes rather tham just insisting on a return of the West Bank to Jordan, to which it belonged prior to the 1967 war. Jordan then could declare it a free state on its own.
The entire sad history of Arab futility feeds this demand that Israel grant in peace what the Arabs could not win in war. Even a rather weak leader like Ehud Olmert understands that Israel cannot survive a massive migration of their sworn enemies into their country, and no nation could. If that means the Arab nations want to remain in a state of cold war with Israel, then so be it — but we will take them seriously only when Saudi Arabia allows a massive migration of Jews and Christians into Mecca.