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The Day After

If Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders, what then?

Jan 20, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 18 • By ARYEH TEPPER
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Viewing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from this relatively stark but straightforward perspective also helps to render intelligible the present negotiating positions of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu demands that the Palestinians recognize the right to Jewish national self-determination in the Land of Israel because he believes that the failure to grant such recognition is the root problem of the present conflict. Likewise, Abbas refuses to grant such recognition. As the talking points outlined in the internal Palestinian Authority documents published by Al Jazeera as “The Palestine Papers” explained, “recognizing Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ would likely be treated by Israel and third states as Palestinian recognition of Israel’s demographic objections to the right of return and, by extension, an implicit waiver of the right of return.” 

The pursuit of peace in the Middle East can be intoxicating stuff, but a sober approach to peacemaking would be to treat the Palestinian refugee problem before trying to conclude a deal. 

President Obama has spoken eloquently in various contexts about the importance of compelling different sides to a conflict to face difficult truths. That’s why the president went to Jerusalem and told an Israeli audience that the occupation must end. For the sake of peace in the Middle East, President Obama can also tell a Palestinian audience that there will be no right of return. 

If, however, the Palestinian position regarding the refugees proves to be uncompromising, then at least the Americans will know that the enticing yet ever elusive vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace is, at present, no more than a Middle Eastern mirage.

Aryeh Tepper is author of Progressive Minds, Conservative Politics (SUNY Press). He is presently a visiting scholar at the  Herzl Institute in Jerusalem. 

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