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Tel Aviv University
[TAU, Law] About Eyal Benvenisti and his "Right of Return Myth"
About once a month, it seems that it is necessary to write about the Arab Peace Initiative (See Zionism and the Arab Peace Initiative) The initiative is constructed like a statement of the oracle at Delphi or a projective test. The point of the exercise is precisely that everyone can see in it precisely what they want to see. Even the Arab states that agreed to the initiative would probably be unable to say what it means. Consider each phrase of the initiative, and you will see that it is capable of multiple interpretations, and is sometimes self-contradictory.

The Arab Peace Initiative was designed to sow confusion in the ranks of the enemy, and that is what it has done. The promise of "peace" is so tempting, and the conditions so vague, that they can, and do, invite support from every well meaning and not-so-well-meaning analyst and adviser. The transition to a new president in the United States seems to many to be the ideal time to push for United States adoption of the Arab Peace Initiative. Surprisingly, not only Arabs, but Israelis and Zionists have jumped on this bandwagon. The latest to push for Israeli acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative is Eyal Benvenisti. His article is entitled The Right of Return Myth. Benvenisti, a most esteemed professor of international law, uses the most astute legal arguments to assure us that the Arabs could not possibly intend for the Palestinian refugees to return to Israel, since that would be contrary to international law and to the provisions of General Assembly Resolution 194 as he interprets them.

However, the truth is that in Resolution 194 there is no recognition of the refugees' right of return: Indeed, since the 1990s the Palestinians have been claiming that the resolution recognizes the right to return but their claim is baseless. On the contrary, the resolution denies the refugee's right to return to his home.

Moreover, the resolution set as a goal for the UN the solution of the problem of the refugees by means of resettling them in Arab countries. The formulation that was passed was amenable to convenient interpretation from Israel's perspective, because it left in its hands the judgment as to whether, when and how many refugees it would accept into its territory.
I am but a bear of little brain, and not a professor of international law, and could find none of these provisions in General Assembly Resolution 194. Clearly, Professor Benvinisti's superior exegesis must be based on his years of training.

Now it happens, that on almost the same day, Professor Benvenisti's call for acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative was matched in the Arab world, by a call imploring US President-elect Barack Obama to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative. One of the major points made by this advocate is that American Jews (presumably alluding to M.J. Rosenberg) are already calling for support of the Arab Peace Initiative. This Arab peace advocate, George S. Hishmeh, writes in Gulf News, a moderate Arab publication from a moderate Arab state, to explain that Barack Obama should heed Palestinian Views. And why are Hishmeh and Gulf News so enthusiastic about the Arab Peace Initiative? According to Hishmeh and his Gulf Arab publishers, this is the reason:


Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, puts it most succinctly in the forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs. Under the headline, "Change they can believe in," Mead writes:...

"Most Palestinians who left their homes and villages to protect themselves and their families were never allowed to return, and much of their property was confiscated by the new Israeli government. It is not a crime for civilians to flee combat, and international law recognises the right of such people to return to their homes."

This is what Obama needs to know.
Not only the Palestinians or Gulf News, but Americans as well, are evidently mistaken about the intent of the Arab Peace Initiative. They all believe that it will allow Palestinian refugees to "return" to Israel en masse. They have not been enlightened by Professor Benvenisti. Now I ask you, who are are we going to believe, a smart Jewish professor, or some Palestinians and Arabs and Americans? Isn't it clear that Benvenisti knows better than the Arabs and the Americans what the Arabs intend in the Arab Peace Initiative?

What is the logic behind urging the United States Government to adopt an initiative that is intentionally vague, rather than sticking by its own much clearer program that was set forth in the Clinton Bridging Proposals? How can anyone seriously advocating support for a document or a policy when nobody knows what it means? Are the Arab states going to take it upon themselves to announce that Eyal Benvenisti will arbitrate all disputes about the meaning of Resolution 194?

Analysts like M.J. Rosenberg and Eyal Benvenisti were quick to note that "Peace" is the middle name of the Arab Peace Initiative. If so, what could be bad? They forgot that "Arab" is the first name of the Arab Peace Initiative. It says "Arab" right on the label. If it was called "Israeli peace initiative," and originated from the Israeli government rather than the Arab League, no serious analyst in their proper senses would think that the United States would adopt it as the basis for peace with no reservations. By urging Israelis and the United States government to adopt it, they are in fact calling on the United States to to abandon all pretense of neutrality and simply adopt Arab policy. More improbably, they expect Israel to simply cave in to a vague set of Arab demands just because it has the word "peace" in it.

There are, of course, a number of easy resolutions to the problem at hand. The United States and Israel can announce that they accept the Arab Peace Initiative, based on the Benvenisti interpretation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, the Clinton Bridging proposals and the US and Israeli interpretations of UN Security Council 242. Or, more simply, someone can ask the Arab League to clarify, once and for all, what it means.

Ami Isseroff


Original content is Copyright by the author 2008. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000642.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.



The Right of Return Myth http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1049425.html
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