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Two Kinds of Refugees
The plan put forward by Saudi Arabia for Middle East peace has received backing from the Arab world and tacit encouragement from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It sounds good in some respects -- in that it actually does call for the Arab world to recognize Israel. But the devil in this scheme is, as it has always been since the Saudis unveiled it in 2002, in the details.
One key sticking point, though hardly the only one, is demanding that Israel allow all descendants of Palestinian refugees from the War of Independence the right to "return" to pre-1967 Israel. That is an obvious tactic that would mean the end of Israel demographically as a Jewish state. So, although he has been careful to say that the plan is worth discussing, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has made clear there will be no Palestinian "return."
The United States needs to back him on this. But the reason for doing so isn't simply because of a numbers game; it's because the question of refugees is a doubled-edged sword of justice.
Along those lines, several hundred thousand Jewish refugees from that same era are also part of this equation. These people, however, have been forgotten by most of the world and literally ignored by the United Nations, which devotes an entire agency and untold billions to prevent Palestinian refugees from being absorbed elsewhere.
Jews from Arab countries were expelled or forced to flee their homes and property in the wake of Israel's creation. But unlike the Arabs, the Jewish people did not keep their refugees in camps as political props for nearly 60 years. Rather, with the help of the Diaspora, Israel took them in immediately.
Of all the tens of millions of refugees that were created by World War II and the wars that soon followed, only the Palestinians have been kept from finding permanent homes.
No discourse on the plight of stateless Palestinians should be heard without a similar mention of Jewish refugees. While there's no denying the suffering of large numbers of Palestinian refugees, their descendants cannot be allowed to stand as an obstacle to peace. Nor should the world allow them to continue to be used as a weapon in a war whose only purpose is Israel's destruction.