In a recent New York Times OP-ED piece, Yasser Arafat, (President of the Palestinian Authority and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization) demanded the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel. He’s been saying that for a long time and its becoming annoying. In fact, his refusal to negotiate the issue is one of the main reasons for the failure of the Clinton Camp David peace talks in July, 2000.

Separate and apart from the questionable legal basis for the demand, and the fact that compliance with it would create a ticking Arab demographic time bomb in Israel proper, the practical truth, as they say in Kentucky, is that ‘this dog don’t hunt and that’s why no one’s buying it”.

And here’s why…..

Millions of Moslems fled India for Pakistan following the bloody riots of 1947. India not only stripped them of their citizenship, but barred them, in its constitution, from ever returning to India. No one ever suggested that these Moslems had a “right of return” to their former homes in India.

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After World War II, Czechoslovakia expelled all its German citizens. No one ever suggested that the millions of Sudeten Germans had a “right of return” to their former homes in Czechoslovakia. In 1997, Germany even signed a treaty acknowledging the irrevocability of the Czech action.

When the Communists took power in Vietnam, millions of “boat people” fled to the United States and various Asian countries. No one has ever suggested that these people have a “right of return” to their former homes in Vietnam.

Between 1948 and 1953, Israel integrated and absorbed close to 500,000 Jewish refugees – half from the destruction wrought by the Holocaust and the remainder expelled from Arab countries. A similar number poured in over the next three years. As a result, the new State’s population doubled by 1953 and tripled by 1956. No one has ever suggested that these Jewish refugees have a “right of return” to their former homes in their Arab countries of origin. In fact, none of these Jewish refugees were even granted monetary compensation – another “inalienable right” claimed for the Palestinians.

Nor are these isolated events in human history for, objectively speaking, refugees are the inevitable and unfortunate by-product of human conflict. So why then, are the Palestinians demanding a “right” for their refugees that is enjoyed by virtually no other refugees in history? The answer lies in a circumstance that is also virtually unique to the Palestinians. Unlike most of history’s refugees, the countries to which the Palestinians fled refused to absorb them – preferring to leave them for half a century in squalid refugee camps for the sake of encouraging anti-Israel and anti-Western sentiment.

The Moslems who fled India became full-fledged citizens of a Pakistani homeland. The Sudeten Germans were fully absorbed into German society. The Vietnamese boat people are now productive citizens of the United States. Jewish refugees from the Arab world have now been fully integrated into Israel. Yet the Palestinians – whose Arab hosts bear direct responsibility for their plight as a result of their decision to declare war on Israel rather than accepting the UN Partition Plan in 1947 – still languish in refugee camps after 55 years.

Jordan, at least, granted its Palestinian refugees citizenship, but has made no effort to get them out of those camps. That’s why refugee camps were still flourishing when Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967, after 19 years of Jordanian rule. Nevertheless, the Palestinian refugees who fled to Jordanian-controlled territory were lucky by comparison. Those who went to Lebanon not only were not made citizens, but were also deprived of their basic civil rights such as the right to work in over 70 different professions.

Ironically, the only country that did try to improve the plight of the Palestinian refugees was Israel. In Gaza, some 36,000 refugees had been moved into better housing facilities by 1973 before international pressure and PLO threats against the refugees themselves put an end to the project. Incredible, but true!

The most astonishing element in this tale of neglect, however, is the role of the Palestinians themselves. Most of the refugees have been under autonomous Palestinian rule for the past five years, yet, the Palestinian Authority has not spent one cent of the millions of dollars that it received in foreign aid to improve their living conditions. It does, however, have sufficient funds to purchase a sea of weapons from Iran……..but that’s another ‘dog that don’t hunt’. The short of it is that these refugees have been living in misery for the last 55 years and there is absolutely no excuse for it.

The only just and rational solution to the Palestinian refugee problem is for the Arab world, and particularly the Palestinian State-to-be, to integrate and absorb them – just as Israel has integrated and absorbed Jewish refugees throughout the world ever since 1948.….which leads to the central issue…….that an end to the Palestinians’ circle of misery will come only when Palestinian leadership ceases to focus its attention on returning Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel proper (which Israel interprets as the first step in its eventual destruction) and begins to focus on returning, integrating and absorbing Palestinian refugees into a democratic, stable and economically viable Palestinian homeland (Palestine) adjacent to, and living in peace with (rather than in substitution for) Israel.