David Ignatius has been writing from Israel recently. His column from late last week included the following passage illustrating why Israeli-Palestinian peace might "still prove insoluble":
Listening to Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett at a conference (in Tel Aviv) Tuesday, it was clear how vehemently the right-wing settlers’ movement he represents would oppose a Palestinian state. “Our forefathers and ancestors and our descendants will never forgive an Israeli leader who gives away our land and divides our capital,” Bennett said, his voice almost a shout.
By focusing on the potential resistance of Israeli settlers, Ignatius articulates a conventional but highly problematic view regarding the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East. As Israel's disengagement from Gaza and its removal of Jewish residents from there demonstrated, the settlers are irrelevant if the Israeli public decides to move them. The fundamental obstacle to peace in the Middle East is, instead, the Palestinian obsession with the “right of return” to Israel proper.
This obsession explains why, 66 years after Israel's founding, millions of Palestinians still live in refugee camps throughout the Arab world instead of being absorbed into their host countries, and it also explains why Netanyahu's government is demanding that the Palestinians recognize the right to Jewish national self-determination in the land of Israel, or in other words, why Israel demands recognition as a "Jewish state."
Ignatius, it should be noted, casually mentioned this Israeli demand in the same column but passed over in silence Abbas’s refusal to grant such recognition. His latest piece likewise touches upon "the recognition" that Israel "wants as a Jewish state," but with the added caveat, articulated by a West Bank Palestinian, that such recognition might cause Christian and Muslim citizens of Israel to "feel unwelcome." As if the issue for Palestinians is civil rights, and not “the right of return.”
The Palestinian obsession with the refugee problem ignores the ancient Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 U.N. partition plan, which the Israelis accepted, the war that the Arab states then initiated in 1948 in order to destroy the incipient Jewish state and throw the Jews into the sea, and the subsequent expulsion of nearly one million Jews from Arab countries. Pundits and politicians alike would do well to focus less on Israeli settlements and more on this destructive obsession.