Jerusalem – With the genesis of the Oslo process in 1993, what escaped the attention of the mainstream media in Israel and abroad was the continuing insistence of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants who left Israel in the wake of the 1948 war, by their own free will or by force, maintain an inherent right to return to their [currently non-existent] homes and villages.
About a quarter of the Israeli Arabs define themselves as refugees or dispossessed, and demand that they be allowed to return to the villages where their previous generation had lived, even though, in many cases, Israeli Jewish communities had replaced them.
In contrast to other conflicts in the 1940s, in the wake of which residents were uprooted from their homes, such as the conflict between Hindus and Muslims, where 45 million people were uprooted, or where nine million Germans were uprooted from their homes in Russia, Poland and Czechoslovakia, the U.N., through UNRWA, and in cooperation with the PLO, has eternalized the Palestinian refugees is an eternal issue, while nourishing their refugee status and maintaining the 1948 Arab refugee population in 59 UNRWA Arab refugee camps, so that Palestinian refugees and their descendants can still identify themselves as sons of their destroyed villages. The yearning for their “home,” for “their” parcel of land, and their “right of return” has been amplified by the Palestinian Authority, which was founded only 12 years ago.
With the development of the Oslo process, the PLO embarked upon an extensive drive to place their issue on the public agenda in Israel.
The PLO has gone so far as to enlist Israeli courts and legal precedents in Israel to return to their old villages. To that end, the PLO thinks that it has a chance of succeeding.
The PLO argues that the return to abandoned villages will ease overcrowding which prevails in the villages where they now live, and will restore land and real estate to its owners.
While the current Israeli government agreed to “two states for two peoples” as a solution to the conflict – Israel as a Jewish state and the areas of Judea, Samaria and Gaza as an Arab state – the PLO demands exclusive rights to a “homeland” in the whole of Palestine.
It now seems that Israel’s relinquishment of areas in Judea and Samaria will not bring closure to the conflict. On the PLO agenda is a drive to change the Jewish identity of Galilee, the Western Negev, and cities such as Ashkelon, Ashdod and Tiberias, because “El-Galil mital el-Khalil,” (Galilee is like Hebron), which is now being echoed by Israeli Arabs who call for recognition as a native minority and non-recognition of Jewish nationalism in the Land of Israel. All this is reflected in the school books and all publications of the nascent Palestinian Authority, where all of Palestine, inclusive of Israel, is presented as the vision of a Palestinian Arab state.
Israel’s National Security Council
Cries It’s Now A ‘Paralysis Council’
As preparations for the Annapolis summit are moving ahead, members of the Israel National Security Council (NSC) – meant to advise the prime minister on security and foreign policy – have claimed that they have been left outside of the decision-making process.
The National Security Council was established in 1999 to coordinate the recommendations of the army and intelligence, and to process them into a document that would aid the prime minister in making judicious decisions.
Indeed, the Winograd investigation committee’s interim report criticized the prime minister for not consulting with it in the course of the Second Lebanon War and recommended that the NSC be strengthened.
However, in contrast to the explicit recommendation of the Winograd investigation committee, which was created by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister’s Bureau has not included the council in preparations for the Annapolis conference. Instead of updating the council, every government body involved in the preparations for the Annapolis summit – the Foreign Ministry, Israeli intelligence and the IDF Planning Branch – corresponds separately with the Prime Minister’s Bureau. Mr. Olmert is therefore ignoring his own National Security Council.
Yet in the wake of the Winograd recommendations, the cabinet passed a series of decisions meant to create the impression that the NSC had been given teeth. The budget that the NSC will receive next year is meant to leap by 170 percent – from he equivalent of $1.5 million dollars this year to $4.3 million in 2008.
Declarations are one thing, and reality another. National Security Council Director Ilan Mizrahi is to end his term in two weeks after a year and a half of frustration. Mr. Mizrahi, who is usually careful not to speak publicly about how he feels, has despaired of the institution that he heads ever being included in any significant foreign policy matters.
“The Prime Minister’s Bureau has turned the council into a bad joke,” say senior security officials in private conversations. “The government granted it authorities to try and impress the Winograd Committee, but in practice, it left the NSC out of the loop.”
Indeed, in scheduled meetings that are being held this week between high-ranking American administration officials in Washington and Mr. Olmert’s envoys, Israel will be represented by two officials from the Prime Minister’s office, Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turjeman, Israel Foreign Ministry Director General Aharon Abramovitch and Israel Defense Forces Planning Branch Director Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, while representatives from the NSC will remain in Israel. Nobody from the NSC was included in the discussions that took place before the delegation left.
©The Bulletin 2007