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RIGHT OF RETURN

Two-State Solution Again Sells Palestinians Short

January 25, 2004|George Bisharat | George Bisharat is a professor at the University of California's Hastings College of Law.

But this two-state solution would not address the concerns of 1.2 million Palestinians living in Israel as second-class citizens. Palestinian citizens there possess formal political rights -- that much Israel can afford after expelling most Palestinians in 1948. But these Palestinians have restricted access to land (most real property in Israel is owned by the state or the Jewish National Fund and is leased to Jews only). They are also forced to carry identity cards that brand them as non-Jews, and they cannot serve in the armed forces (the key to many benefits in Israeli society). Palestinian towns and villages are starved of resources, with many lacking connections to the country's electrical or water systems. Government policies, from immigration to family planning, are designed to counter the "demographic threat" Israelis fear in the higher birthrate of Palestinian citizens. Israeli law enshrines the principle that Israel is the "state of the Jewish people," and it lacks firm guarantees of the legal equality of all citizens.

Nor would the two-state solution fairly redress the rights of diaspora Palestinians -- permitting us only return to a new, already overcrowded and underfunded "statelet" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

There is no bar to implementing the Palestinians' right of return. If there is room in Israel for a million Russian immigrants (including many non-Jews), there is room for those Palestinians who would elect return over other legal options. The sole obstacle is Israel's desire to maintain a "demographic balance" favorable to Jews.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 01, 2004 Home Edition Opinion Part M Page 2 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Israeli Arabs -- A Jan. 25 Opinion article by George Bisharat, "Right of Return," stated that Israeli citizens who are Palestinians cannot serve in the Israeli armed forces. In fact, although they cannot be drafted and most choose not to serve, Israeli Palestinians can enlist in the service.

Why is it self-evident that our international legal rights should give way to cement dominance of Jews over Palestinians in Israel? Why is this assumption unquestioned -- especially in the U.S., which fought a civil war for the ideal of equal rights under the law? How do claims that are 2,000 years old trump our rights when we have modern deeds in hand? Why should Palestinians pay for a European holocaust? Why do U.S. officials -- including our two Democratic senators in this multicultural state -- unconditionally support Israel with billions in tax dollars while ignoring glaring contradictions between Jewish exclusivism and truly democratic values? Would Americans tolerate any group placing its religious symbol on the national flag, appropriating the state for some citizens rather than all and pursuing policies systematically giving privileges to its members over others?

Palestinians are prepared to sacrifice for a just and therefore lasting peace, but not to simply formalize our dispossession and exile or our institutionalized subordination in Israel.

Isn't it time to explore a way for Jews to co-inhabit Israel/Palestine without excluding, dominating and oppressing Palestinians? The past cannot be undone -- but the future can be. We, Israelis and Palestinians together, should be seeking to form a society founded on tolerance and mutual respect for each other's humanity, a country that would truly be the "light unto nations" that Israel always aspired to be. When title to our home is restored -- and the rights of its current occupants have been fully respected -- I hope one day to stand in front of it with my family and welcome neighbors and visitors of all faiths and backgrounds, as my grandparents did before 1948.

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