It has long been a conviction of Israeli leftists that if they bend over backward far enough, Palestinians and other Arabs will respond in kind, resigning themselves to the idea of peace with the Jewish state. If a historic reconciliation with the Arabs could not be achieved through a policy of military deterrence, might not a new start be made by taking positive steps to accommodate Arab demands? By acknowledging Israeli guilt for Arab suffering? By striving, through political and territorial concessions, to mitigate the “original sin” of the Jewish state’s very existence?

Paradoxically, for proponents of this thesis, the launch of the Palestinian war of terror in September 2000 made it more necessary than ever to cling to the idea of Jewish culpability. Speaking in June 2002, three months after Israel had experienced the bloodiest terror assault in its history, with 126 citizens massacred in near-daily suicide bombings, the novelist A.B. Yehoshua blamed Israel for having driven the Palestinians to “a situation of insanity.”

Now, Amos Oz, perhaps Israel’s most prominent living novelist, has taken up the same theme. “The time has come to acknowledge openly that Israelis had a part in the catastrophe of the Palestinian refugees,” he wrote last Saturday in Canada’s Globe and Mail:

We do not bear sole responsibility, and we are not solely to blame, but our hands are not clean. The state of Israel is mature and strong enough to admit to its share of the blame, and to reach the necessary conclusion: It behooves us to take part in the effort to resettle the refugees, in the framework of peace agreements, and outside Israel’s future peace borders.

Oz fails to explain why Israel should be culpable for the adverse consequences of the violent attempt to destroy it at its birth. (Had there been no such attempt, there would have been no refugee problem in the first place.) Nor does he seem to realize that his proposed resettlement of the refugees “outside Israel’s future peace borders” falls far short of offers made by various Israeli governments during the past sixty years (e.g., the 1949 offer to take back 100,000 Palestinian refugees—equivalent to some 2 million refugees in today’s terms).

Why should the Palestinians settle for a worse solution than the ones they have adamantly rejected for decades? According to Oz,

Israel’s admission of its share in the blame for the Palestinian refugee catastrophe, and its expression of willingness to bear part of the burden of a solution, are capable of causing a positive shiver to run through the Palestinian side. It would be a kind of emotional breakthrough that will make further dialogue much easier.

This, frankly, strains credulity. As is well-known, the refugees have not been kept in squalid camps for decades for lack of ability to resettle them elsewhere, but as a means of besmirching Israel in the eyes of the West and arousing pan-Arab sentiments. The Palestinian government, such as it is, is not going to give up this trump card.

Indeed, throughout the 1990’s, successive academic study groups, made up of the most earnestly forthcoming Israelis and the most grudgingly tractable Palestinians, devoted themselves to formulating a compromise proposal on this issue. They all failed, and the reason for the failure is plain enough: the “right of return” is not, for the Palestinians, a bargaining chip; it is the heart of their entire political strategy.

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