“Revealed: how Palestinian leaders gave up on refugees”. There were no two readings which either the quick-glance or the pause-and-reflect-on-it reader could make of the front page headline on 25 January.
Or of the smaller bullet-point straplines:
“Papers show PLO accepted just 10,000 to return”. “Rice suggested resettlement in Latin America”. “Negotiations accepted Israel as ‘Jewish state’.”
This was all presented as “revelations” from leaked Palestinian documents, but, as John Strawson pointed out in a letter to the paper the following day, none of the information was new.
Which paper was this? Socialist Worker? The Morning Star, self-proclaimed “paper of the left”?
The fact that seriously critical letters were published shows that it couldn’t be either the Morning Star or Socialist Worker. Of course, it was the Guardian, headlining an article by Ian Black and the paper’s associate editor, Seumas Milne. The page one headlines set the keynotes for all the coverage in the paper.
Everything in those four headlines was more than merely questionable. The substance, tone, manner was that of an agitation exposing and denouncing outrageous departures from long-agreed positions and ideas — indeed, of a finger-pointing, hoarse-voiced heresy-hunt.
The headlines begged all the important questions in the conflict between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab and Islamic states.
In the real world, they lined up the Guardian behind the positions and demands of Arab and Islamist forces committed to war until Israel goes down, and against those prepared to make peace with Israel.
The Palestinian leaders “gave up” on refugees? But who among even half-informed people in Britain over the last 60 years ever believed that the bulk of “the refugees” could “return” other than in the wake of conquering armies that had first smashed the Israeli state?
Who thought that any negotiated “return” would be anything but token thousands?
Who advocated full “return”, except those who wanted, or were prepared reluctantly to accept, the elimination and destruction of Israel (and in fact of the Hebrew nation).
Who has ever supposed that short of such conquest of Israel, there could ever be a re-rolling of the film of history, back to before 1948, when as a result of a 1947 UN resolution both Israel and a West Bank/Gaza Palestinian state were set up? (The Palestinian state was eliminated, most of it going to Jordan and Egypt).
“Just ten thousand”? The Guardian thinks the five or six million defined as Palestinian “refugees” (there are varying figures) can and should “return”, and accepting anything less — “just” some token number — is treachery by the Palestinian leaders to the true Palestinian cause (the “cause” embodied in Hamas?)
Let’s break that down a bit. In 1948 and in the years after, there were (mainly forced) “population exchanges” between the new state of Israel and Arab and Islamic countries — about 750,000 Arabs driven out from the territory assigned to the Jewish state by the UN, and about 600,000 Jews pushed out from Arab countries.
By now, of course, most of the five-million-plus Palestinian “refugees” are descendants of refugees, not “refugees” in the usual meaning. “Refugee” here is a political definition, almost the name by now of an Arab sub-nation. To a large extent, the “refugees” are forced into living like refugees by the policy towards them of Arab governments, denying them rights to become citizens or sometimes even to work.
The “right of return” for those millions, who are as numerous as, or more numerous than, the Israeli Jews, implies the displacement of the Israeli Jews born in Israel, or most of them.
In some rational and benign other world, maybe, over five million Arabs could be added to the existing five million Jews within Israel. That is not our world. Nations and national identities are powerful things.
There are a lot of people on the left who don’t think it through beyond the impulse for a benign solution. But by now, there can’t be many people who have thought about it and yet don’t know that the “right of return” is code for the destruction and elimination of Israel. I doubt that Seumas Milne, who in politics is a man of the would-be left, is among those who don’t know.
“Accepting Israel as a Jewish state”? That is what exactly? Accepting that it is not a Palestinian or an Arab or a binational state? That it is, in its national character, what its big majority want it to be, their state?
And the Guardian’s alternative? How are the people of the state to be prevented from making it their state? By the Hebrew nation being deprived of the right of self-determination?
The rights of the one-million-plus Israeli Arabs can be improved by negotiation and reciprocal agreements. Certainly they should be.
For a certainty, the overall Jewish or Hebrew character of Israel will not be altered by negotiations or as part of a general Middle East peace settlement.
There are good-hearted people who consult only what they would like to see happen, and substitute that for what is conceivable now in the way of improvements — an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Unable to face the harsh realities on the level of calculation, they are easily led out to face them blindfolded with the realpolitik logic of those who want to conquer Israel, and in practice commit to further decades of conflict and war, and more decades of hell for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
There are malicious pedants who quibble about the meaning of Israel being a “Jewish state”: isn’t it just a religious thing, etc.? The point is that the Hebrew nation in Israel is. It exists. It is a national entity. Full rights for Israeli Arabs can be secured within it, as rights can be secured for national minorities elsewhere; but cancelling out or suppressing the national entity itself is another matter.
Much more could be said about the coverage in the Guardian, did space permit.
It is an old joke in Solidarity that the SWP are “Guardian readers with placards”. Here we had the Guardian’s front page, and five more pages of that issue, turned into crude pseudo-left (indeed, pseudo-ultra-left) placards.
“Intransigence” was used as pseudo-left gloss on the politics of Arab and Islamic revanchism. The Guardian became a conduit for “revelations” and “exposures” that help Hamas and Hezbollah against the saner Palestinian politicians.
And against all the real political interests of the Palestinians.
It is the Palestinian people who have over decades suffered terrible consequences from Arab and Islamic “intransigence” and refusal to make peace.
Today it is Israel, from a position of great strength, that refuses to make a peace which the Arab states and the Palestinian majority offer it. But the other millwheel that combines with Israel to grind down the Palestinians — and perhaps, as settlements expand in Palestinian territory, eventually to remove the very possibility of an independent Palestinian state — is Arab and Islamist obsession with eliminating Israel. Demagogy about the “right of return” is today the standard code for expressing that obsession.
The Guardian is the organ of the invertebrate liberals — those who feel an inner compulsion to accommodate to reactionary forces, in the Middle East as elsewhere. Its “liberal” backbone crumbled long ago. The Guardian of 25 January is further proof that — as the would-be left shows painfully — demagogy rots your brain.