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Monday, January 30, 2012

Nasser, in 1955, felt most refugees wouldn't want to "return"

In 1955, the US was still trying to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Arab states. Egypt insisted that any peace plan include Israel giving Egypt significant territory in the Negev in order to form a strong connection between Egypt and Jordan. This would mean that Israel would either give up Eilat, which is what Egypt wanted, or Eilat would be effectively cut off from Israel.

As always, the issue of Palestine refugees came up, and Gamal Abdel Nasser said something surprising.

From a telegram from the Embassy in Egypt to the Department of State, November 27, 1955:

[Nasser] agreed majority of refugees would no longer desire return [to] Israel or would not remain after they saw present conditions. (He referred to lot of the Arab in Israel as that of “Class B” citizens.) He thought however it would be most difficult for any Arab leader to take a position which deprived the refugee of his right to return. He therefore favored an approach which would allow the refugee to make his own decision about repatriation vis-à-vis resettlement and compensation. He agreed that this would be most difficult for Israel and wondered whether some impartial sensing of the real refugee opinion was possible through an agency such as UNRWA which could relieve both Israel and Arabs of difficult political problem. Told him I feared any such poll would indicate a far greater desire to return to Israel than would be actual case if opportunity were in fact presented.
Diplomats and Arab leaders knew that in the end, the majority of Palestinian Arab refugees wanted to move on with their lives as full citizens of any Arab state. But the rhetoric about "return" was so extreme that no one would dare admit it publicly - not the leaders, not the diplomats and not the refugees themselves. UNRWA, for its part, continued to insist that the refugees would never accept any alternative to full repatriation.

This is a small example of the playacting that Palestinian Arabs do to this very day. They are so afraid of saying anything against what is considered politically correct for them that they will reflexively say the standard line if they perceived any chance that their true thoughts would get them into trouble. In 1955, it was "return," today it is the many "eyewitnesses" to events that never occur.

It is an interesting footnote.