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A Real Right of Return

Europe Should Atone for Its Sins

by JOHN V. WHITBECK

Paris.

Now that the American-monopolized “peace process” has expired, Europe should seize the initiative and try to do something useful for Israelis, Palestinians and peace.

If European states still believe that a decent “two-state solution” is conceivable, several useful initiatives are immediately available. They could support and reinforce the current two-state legality by joining the 134 states which have already extended diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine. They could also require Israelis seeking visas to visit their countries to produce documentary evidence that they are not resident in occupied Palestine. Most constructively, they could impose economic sanctions on Israel and intensify them until Israel complies with international law and relevant UN resolutions and ends the 47-year-long occupation.

If European states are unwilling to take such initiatives or if they have concluded, not unreasonably, that a decent “two-state solution” is no longer conceivable and that the only issue now is whether the current one-state reality will continue to be an apartheid reality or can be transformed into a democratic one, they should reflect upon their own histories and responsibilities in order to identify the most useful way forward.

The harsh reality is that Zionism is, and has always been, an anti-Semite’s dream come true, offering the hope that one’s own country’s Jews can be induced to leave and move elsewhere.

The British politician Arthur J. Balfour, who gave his name to the fateful 1917 declaration, was an earnest supporter of the 1905 Alien Act, which was specifically designed to stem the inflow into Britain of Jews fleeing from persecution in czarist Russia. Subsequently, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, a wholly European abomination, European governments, as well as those of the United States, Canada and Australia, shamefully brushed aside Arab pleas to treat the resettlement of displaced Jews as a duty and obligation for the whole world and refused to relax their immigration restrictions, thereby forcing most of them to seek to build new lives in Palestine, even though many would have preferred to settle elsewhere.

Rather than continuing to oppose justice, human decency and international law through unquestioning support for an ethno-religious-supremacist, settler-colonial experiment, European states, which are no longer anti-Semitic, could and should be opening their doors wide to any and all Israeli Jews who might be tempted to build a new and better life for themselves and their children, with less injustice and less insecurity, by returning to their countries of origin or emigrating to other countries of their choice, offering them immediate residency rights, generous resettlement assistance and a fast track to citizenship (if they do not already have it).

Such genuine “Laws of Return” would be profoundly philo-Semitic, pro-Jewish and, yes, anti-Zionist. They would reflect a moral, ethical and self-interested recognition that political Zionism, like certain other prominent 20th century “isms” which once captured the imaginations of millions, was a tragically bad idea – not simply for those innocents caught and trampled in its path but also for those who embraced it – which, even if sustainable with Western support, does not deserve to be sustained and which has already caused and, if perpetuated, will continue to cause profound problems for the Western world and its relations with the rest of the world.

Western states like to call for “confidence-building measures” from Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs without offering any themselves. A multinational initiative to atone for Europe’s past sins against Jews by welcoming Israeli Jews to resettle in European states would constitute a hugely constructive confidence-building measure which should, logically, be opposed only by people who are either anti-Semites or Zionists – or both.

In the land which, until 1948, was called Palestine, democracy and equal rights in a unitary state, coupled with freedom of choice and attractive options for resettlement elsewhere for those who would prefer not to live in such a state, should offer more realistic hope for peace with some measure of justice than continued recycling of a partition-based “peace process” which is widely recognized to have been a cynical exercise in killing time and which, even if “successful”, would simply legitimize, reward and perpetuate ethnic cleansing, racism and apartheid – scarcely a recipe for lasting peace, let alone for any measure of justice.

Old assumptions, including the irreversible “success” of the Zionist experiment, should now be questioned. Even once heretical ideas, including the peaceful rollback of the Zionist experiment – at least in its current, aggressively exclusivist, “nation-state of the Jewish people” form – and its replacement by democracy through voluntary personal choice rather than through violence, should now be considered.

If Western politicians cared more about the welfare and happiness of individual Jewish human beings than they do about the money and ability to hurt them of a few wealthy and powerful Zionists, most of whom live comfortably and safely far from the Middle East, democracy, equal rights and freedom of choice, all principles to which Western states profess devotion, might actually come to the “Holy Land”.

To encourage European states to act, the governments of Muslim states from which Jewish citizens emigrated to Israel could and should issue a new, post-Balfour declaration that their own former Jewish citizens, as well as their descendants, are welcome to return to their countries of origin and publicly call upon European states to follow their example.

John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel.