Abu Mazen and the refugees I

The Abbas episode reinforced Israeli skepticism about the credibility of a grand bargain with the Palestinians.

refugees i 521 (photo credit: Mohamad Torokman)
refugees i 521
(photo credit: Mohamad Torokman)
Most of those attempting to unseat the center-right coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have opted to define the electoral battleground on socioeconomic and other domestic issues, while steering clear of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Labor Party chair Shelly Yacimovich signaled this approach early on in the belief that the Arab-Israeli conflict was not susceptible to a solution in the near term, and that therefore one could, at best, hope for conflict management rather than conflict resolution. With missiles flying from Gaza, the deteriorating security situation in the Sinai and the growing skepticism about the Islamist Spring, this approach demonstrated political wisdom. To judge by the polls Yacimovich has been rewarded and Labor has witnessed an impressive resurgence.
In an attempt to reinject the Palestinian issue back into the Israeli political debate, the Palestine Authority’s interminable President Mahmoud Abbas, (whose term has long expired), gave an interview to Israel’s 2nd TV channel in which he hinted at flexibility on the right of return of Palestinian refugees to sovereign Israel. He would like to visit his native Safed (from where seven generations of my family hail), but does not intend to live there. Abbas (Abu Mazen) also appeared to accept Israel within the 1967 borders.
His performance was reminiscent of the farce during Yasser Arafat’s time surrounding the spurious revocation of the Palestinian National Covenant, which was also calculated to influence an Israeli election (in 1996). Unlike Abbas, Arafat at least commanded sufficient authority to persist with the charade. Abbas, the Duke of Ramallah, was forced to turn his back Saturday on the political feint that he had made on Friday, telling the Egyptian Al Hayat channel, “It is not possible for anyone to give up the right of return.” He clarified further that the Arab position remained UN Resolution 194, under which pre-1967 Israel would be compelled, according to the Arab interpretation, to admit all the Palestinian refugees.
As Jonathan Dahoah Halevi of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has noted, in 2008 the Palestinian Legislative Council ratified the Law of the Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees. This states, inter alia, that “the right of return … is not canceled with the passage of time or by the signing of any agreement, and it is not possible to cancel it or relinquish any aspect of it.” The law further states that “whoever acts in contravention of the injunctions of this law will be viewed as perpetrating a grave crime of treason.”
Indeed, if anything the Abbas episode reinforced skepticism among Israelis about the credibility of a grand bargain with the Palestinians. The handful of Israeli politicians who rose to the bait had their own self-serving reasons for doing so.
President Shimon Peres (now pushing 90 and who still brings the house down by protesting that it is far too early to write his political memoirs) wants to protect his historical reputation. It was Peres through Oslo who plucked Arafat, Abbas and company from Tunis and implanted them next door to us, where they took like Asian carp to the waters of the Great Lakes.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who by the time this piece appears may have already tossed his hat in the ring, needs to make Abbas look credible to fuel his would-be campaign. As prime minister, Olmert offered Abbas the 1967 borders and came away with nothing. As a flamboyant practitioner of the good life, any attempt by Olmert to run on social issues would evoke derision. He (and this applies in large measure to former foreign minister Tzipi Livni too) can only run on foreign policy, despite a record of political inconsistency that has taken him from opposition to the peace deal with Egypt to diplomatic positions on the Palestinians identical to those of left-wing Meretz and J Street.
The “Abbas effect” lasted one news cycle. In economic terms this would be called “fair value.”
Contributing editor Amiel Ungar is also a columnist for the Hebrew weekly Besheva.