The Jews who "left by choice" were motivated by pogroms, riots, theft and violence, together with a rising tide of demonization of Jews and a series of murders in various Arab countries, together with the knowledge that Arab nationalist movements used Nazi propaganda and had Nazi advisors. Jews in the region had every reason to fear what was coming. Given the subsequent history of many of the Arab governments, it is crystal clear that only the flight of most of the Jews from the Arab world prevented even more extreme repression or annihilation.
The claim that the Jews "left by choice" neglects to point out the nature of the choice. The evidence of the Shoah - then very recent - showed that it was smarter to get out before they had to watch their kids' blood running in the streets.
This year, in 2010, the last Jews of Yemen have not been expelled from Yemen either. But only a particularly cruel sort of madman would insist that they remain there as Islamist threats and violence against them grow more and more terrifying.
The claim that Jews from the Arab countries would be granted any kind of mass right of return - to anything other than a temporary "stay of genocide" - is simply not credible at this point in history. The heavily funded and promoted Anti-Semitism industry in the Arab world has worked for decades to indelibly poison those populations. For at least the next 100 years, and probably much longer, the toxin will be far too dangerous for any significant Jewish presence to exist in those lands. Hatred, demonization and conspiracy theories take a long time to wipe out, even with wisely designed democratic systems and general goodwill toward Jews, all of which are lacking in Arab countries.
In addition, society abhors a vacuum as much as nature does. Non-Jews have replaced the Jews of Iraq, Libya, etc., and there are too many Arabs with incentives to commit acts of violence against any Jewish returnees - whom they would see as a direct competitive threat. Arab Muslims in Iraq, who continue to slaughter each other in a bloody power game and in a bloody campaign of massacres, would unite to slaughter returning Jews.
No person has a right to require that an Israeli Jew whose parents helped to build the democratic State of Israel that he must go back to be obliterated in Iraq or Algeria. No person has a right, based on idealistic notions that ignore the facts on the ground, to pretend that it is possible to roll anything back to 1948 or 1967.
The only reasonable approach is to adopt the same model used by most nations throughout most of history: accept that wars happened, and that an exchange of populations happened, get over it and live in the present rather than trying to inhabit an imaginary past or an ideal world. There will be no "right of return" for Arabs who left Israel in 1948 - not to Israel, at any rate. If someone else wants to grant Arabs a "right of return" to its own sovereign territory, then they have every right to do so.
The sovereign state of Israel took up the challenge of relieving and mainstreaming the Jewish refugees from the Arab world, a challenge that no other country was willing to meet. It continues to do so to this day, providing the only reliable haven in a world that sees Jews fleeing from places like Yemen. Mizrahi Jewish refugees and their descendents were granted Israeli citizenship decades ago, have contributed to the construction of the State of Israel and have an absolute right to remain in Israel and in territories that Israel annexed during a decades-long defensive war in which its neighbors tried repeatedly to annihilate it.
The grandchildren of the Arabs who left what is now Israel back in 1948 - however brief or long their stay in "Palestine" and whatever their reason for leaving - have rights too. They have an absolute right to be sworn in as citizens in the Arab countries in which they and their parents were born. If a Palestinian leadership, with sovereignty established through a final peace agreement, decides to grant these people a "right of return" to territories that the Palestinians hold as a sovereign state, then that is a Palestinian prerogative. But the "Palestinian" Arabs abroad nevertheless have a right to stay exactly where they are if they wish to do so.
The West Bank
Over the almost two decades since Oslo I, it has become quite clear that the settlements are simply one of many (invalid) excuses for Arab violence and intransigence - no more, no less. The western press has piled on, as have pontificating demagogues and talking heads, but this does not make the excuse any more meaningful.
The West Bank is not Occupied; it is formally Disputed. There is a difference. A disputed territory is one to which multiple parties may have a claim, and there is no law that forbids a government from allowing populations to move into disputed territories. Were there such a law, would the Palestinians entering the West Bank with Arafat in the 1990s not have been in violation? After all, if there were such a law, then neither side should have been bringing populations into a Disputed territory.
Regarding Disputed territories, here is a list of disputed territories around the world (there are an awful lot of them). You have heard of Korea, Kosovo, Taiwan, Jammu and Kashmir, Nagorno-Karabakh, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and South Ossetia, but there are many more. And guess what? Virtually every government that holds any substantial disputed territory either allows or actively encourages "settlement" of that territory.
Can you imagine telling South Korea (or North Korea, for that matter - the whole peninsula is Disputed) that it can't establish a town, or expand an existing one?
How about telling India that it can't build anything in Jammu and Kashmir because that will change the facts on the ground in a way that could prejudice future negotiations?
How about telling the British that they can't build anything in the Falklands, or Gibraltar? Hint: the UK is now exploring for oil off the Falklands.
How about telling Taiwan that it can't build anything?
What about telling Russia that nothing can be built in South Ossetia and Abkhazia?
Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh?
Why is it only Israelis who are not allowed to exist normally?
Let's please stop repeating the "conventional wisdom" that the West Bank is "Occupied." Conventional wisdom is wrong.
Is the PA Serious?
Settlement blocs like Maale Adumim are expected to be part of a trade. Everyone involved knows this; various proposals exist. Lieberman, for instance, proposed turning over some of the largely-Arab areas of Israel to the PA in exchange, together with their populations - who don't accept a Zionist country anyway - if those people want to remain on their land. Again, the Arab leadership needs to get over it and stop pretending that the last 40 years never happened. Israel is pretty much expecting to have to trade some territory for these settlement blocs. There has been little expansion of anything outside of these blocs recently.
The Palestinians need to stop playing image/power/revenge games and start trying to close a deal. The thing that will end the expansion of settlements forever is a real, meaningful, implemented and permanent peace agreement, one that defines a national border.
Anyone who is serious about ending the expansion of settlements would push hard to conclude a treaty that would define a workable national border. Any person who claims to want an end to the growth of settlements should be hammering on the PA's door, demanding that they stop playing games and start pursuing a real agreement. The fact that Abbas would rather play stupid PR games about settlements rather than hastening that day shows that he simply is not serious.
So, using this metric to measure the how serious Abbas and his cronies are about resolving the disputed status of the West Bank and Gaza, we find that they are not serious at all. What is more, they have never been serious. They have run away from every single opportunity to negotiate a peace that would end the growth of settlements.
Every single opportunity.