Israel Resource Review 16th May, 2008


Anatomy of the "Nakba"
Arlene Kushner
Senior Policy Research Analyst, Center for Near East Policy Research

The Nakba wrought by the founding of Israel and corresponding roughly to Israeli Independence Day is the purported national "catastrophe" for the Palestinian Arabs. They had been commemorating the 60th Nakba for some days prior, but Thursday was the official day when thousands marched in Judea and Samaria, in Gaza and in Lebanon. Sirens were sounded and clouds of black balloons, signifying mourning, were released.

Where Palestinians rallying close to the Gaza crossings became rowdy, IDF troops who were watching in anticipation of threatened trouble released tear gas and shot live bullets in the air.

The true nakba (catastrophe) is the failure of the Palestinian Arab community to accept Israel's existence as a Jewish state, and to make peace.

When Mahmoud Abbas addressed a Nakba rally in the course of the commemorations, he spoke, ostensibly, on behalf of peace: "After 60 years, I say again that our hands are extended for peace, that is our strategic choice."

This sounds promising, until you examine his words and associated actions more closely.

For Abbas also said:

"Israel has failed in wiping out the memory of the Nakba from the minds of successive Palestinian generations. They [Israel] thought that perhaps the elderly would forget. But today we see that neither the elderly nor the young have forgotten. Everyone remembers the Nakba."

The reason they haven't forgotten the Nakba, of course, is because of the policies promoted by UNRWA for 60 years. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which cares for all refugees in the world except Palestinians sustains a policy of helping refugees get on with their lives fully. This sometimes means settling them in a new country if they cannot return home.

But UNRWA has declared for all of these years that Palestinians who fled Israel at the time of her founding are to be considered refugees even if they have acquired new citizenship and have succeeded in their lives in other ways until they and their children and grandchildren "return" to Israel. For 60 years, the Palestinian "refugees" have been kept in legal and emotional limbo and told that their inability to get on with their lives is Israel's fault.

It is most certainly the case that "return" was not promoted for peaceful purposes: It was conceptualized, quite openly, as a way to destroy Israel from within. Today, if the 4.5 million Palestinian Arabs who call themselves refugees, a vast number of whom have been radicalized, were to enter Israel, it would finish the nation as a Jewish state.

And so, if Abbas talks Nakba even as he talks peace, what is it that he truly has in mind?

He challenges Israel to halt the growth of settlements and all building in eastern Jerusalem, which he says destroys the hope of peace. The implication, as he speaks thus, is that if Israel were to withdraw to the Green Line there could be peace.

But the Nakba mourns the founding of the state WITHIN the Green Line. Yet, he doesn't say that it's time to release this mourning and to enter a new day, with building of a state at Israel's side. He promotes the Nakba.

And here is the clincher: He, along with other Palestinians at the rally on Thursday, signed a document that pledges him to continuing the "struggle" until all of the refugees have been permitted to return.

There is a wealth of material that provides evidence that Abbas is not a partner for peace. But every now and then some incident arises that makes the case so blatantly, so strongly, that no other documentation is needed.

Abbas' signing of this pledge is such an incident. He is not promoting a two-state solution, but rather the destruction as a Jewish state. What is more, the term "struggle" is a euphemism for terrorism and violence. He is not even promoting the return of all refugees via peaceful means.

It is important to realize that, although it is likely that Abbas truly does favor "return," he would have no option other than to support it in any event. The Palestinian political discourse is being set by Hamas that discourse has radicalized over the last few years with the growing influence of Hamas. If Abbas values his life (quite literally), he cannot promote compromise on this issue.

A somewhat desperate President Bush came to Israel on Wednesday with a new plan: Israel should agree to borders that would provide the Palestinian Authority with a contiguous state (meaning that many settlements would be dismantled). If these borders were satisfactory to Abbas, he would then be encouraged to modify his stance on refugees, which is considered the "hot" issue.

Abbas's actions expose the nonsense inherent in this plan. In fact, Abbas's actions demonstrate the futility of imagining that a genuine peace can be forged between Israel and the Palestinians, either now or for some time to come.

This article appeared at | 5/16/2008

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